Local students working to trace dinosaur tracks at Clayton Lake

New Mexico

Researchers and CNM students are going back to “the land before time,” as they call it. In this case, they’re going to Clayton Lake State Park, where 100-million-year-old dinosaur tracks can be found.

They’re teaming up with State Parks and the New Mexico Natural History Museum to better preserve and research the tracks with modern technology.

It’s like a scene straight out of the movie Jurassic Park. At Clayton Lake State Park, researchers were able to walk among the dinosaurs…well, at least walk along their tracks.

“History is right here,” said CNM student Althea Atherton.

These tracks are about 100- million-years-old.

“So here’s the footprint,” said NM Natural History Museum Paleontologist Dr. Spencer Lucas. “See this? These are three toes.”

Researchers said millions of years ago, this part of Clayton Lake was near the sea—a place dinos would often visit.

“The dinosaurs that made these tracks were mostly, they’re best-called ornithopod dinosaurs,” said Dr. Lucas. “They were the ancestors of duck-billed dinosaurs.”

Researchers said these prints could possibly be from plant-eating dinosaurs, like the Iguanodon. But there are other prints out here that could be from scarier dinos.

“One of the meat eaters is one in that raptor range on the smaller meat eater,” said Dr. Lucas.

Now, armed with brushes and dustpans, CNM students and researchers are cleaning up the site to study it with modern technology: drones.

“We’ll be able to map the tracks and recreate them in an environment that can be put on the internet for instance,” said John Beltran with CNM’s drone program. “And you could virtually explore the tracks, rotate them, measure them, that kind of thing with them.”

They will be creating a 3D model of the site using drones. This type of project has never been done before at the Clayton site, but it will give more insight as to which dinos were here, where they were going, and how modern-day erosion shifts these tracks.

For students and researchers, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

“I’ve been to this site as a tourist once but I’ve never been off the boardwalk, so this is quite a treat actually,” said Rogers.

The group will continue their work for the next few days at the site. They hope to publish the 3D map in a scientific journal.

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