Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tracking Dinosaurs

Yesterday, this hand painted sign along Highway 116 in South Hadley, Massachusetts beckoned us down a winding dirt road into the woods. We had a few minutes before the lecture at the Eric Carle Museum, and I have a weakness for funky roadside dinosaur attractions.

The parking lot at the Nash Dinosaur Tracks Museum and Curio Shop was more like a bulldozed clearing, empty except for a scattering of pale yellow leaves, a rusting truck bed and a cement dinosaur.

Inside the cinderblock building we met Cornell Nash, museum director, amateur paleontologist, and gift shop manager. He has collected dozens of dinosaur footprints from the quarry behind the museum. Most prints are three-toed, roughly the size of a human handprints, from a dinosaur the size of a Coelophysis. A few are larger—a foot and a half or so—from a meat-eater often identified Dilophosaurus.

Nash doesn’t have enough glass cases to house the rest of his oddities, most of which are for sale—trilobites, ammonoids, cereal-box plastic sauropods, and yellowed trading cards.

He told us that when early American settlers found the trackways in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they had a very different explanation for them. The most popular idea was that Noah had released some giant ravens from the Ark, and let them run around on the vast mudflats after the Deluge.

When I first saw tracks like these many years ago, it sparked the idea for the Dinotopian footprint alphabet, which is the way in Dinotopia many dinosaurs are able to compose their thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, I went there many years ago, when Mr. Carlton Nash (Cornell Nash's father) ran the place. I've been meaning to go back- it was one of the only times as a kid I could actually go out and see a fossil quarry for myself. It's so funny to see it come up here!

Colin said...

I saw that sign on my way to the museum yesterday and thought it apporpriate but I didn't have time to stop. Great presentation and thanks for signing my book!

Bill Robinson said...

I'm from western MA (now I live in CA) and I remember seeing that sign multiple times, but have never followed it! I also love the Eric Carle museum and it's too bad I wasn't in town to hear you speak.

tlchang said...

(That first photo of you and the sign is great!)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only nut for roadside arcana.

If you want to see some magical illustrations and delicious sketchbook pages, take a swing over to Tara Chang's "Silver Apples of the Moon." (

Anonymous said...

Bill, I checked out your great blog. I'll be going to your alma mater, RIT, in November, and I'll be at Cody's in Berkeley on December 5. If you come by, please say hi.

Anonymous said...

The alphabet and quote to Noah' s just wonderful.
you and Jeannette and your kids are geniuses.