Arizona is a land known for ancient people, petrified forests and huge expanses of spectacular desert scenery. While the Grand Canyon, Sedona and the Petrified Forest are just about on every tourist’s list of stops, a secluded patch of red desert off the beaten path just outside of Tuba City is a place of wonder in its own right.
Some road atlases indicate the location simply by stating “Dinosaur Tracks” at the intersection of Highway 89 and 160. Neither elaboration nor a cross reference to any further information is listed. The tracks are about an hour’s drive north of Flagstaff, located on the north side of 160 about a mile east of 89. While it’s only an hour away from Flagstaff and Tuba City is an actual town, the drive through vast desert lands makes the site feel far removed from civilization. A simple homemade sign saying “Dinosaur Tracks Here” on the side of the road announces the site.
Don’t expect a visitor center or museum here. Instead, expect plywood shelters and friendly Navajo Nation vendors selling turquoise jewelry and Navajo art. They do not charge to view the footprints however a donation or purchase is implied and appreciated.
A knowledgeable Native American guide greets the cars and shows the visitors around. He carries a water bottle and begins to squirt water into the footprints which become visible just steps away from the parking lot. He explains that this area was once a swampy feeding ground and points out literally hundreds of dinosaur tracks. The tracks are everywhere, underfoot and hardly noticeable until the guide points them out. Walking among the ancient dinosaur footprints is an eerie experience, for millions of years ago dinosaurs walked the earth directly underfoot.
Laws prohibit digging in the area and an actual skeleton of what the guide identified as a dilophosaurus is partially exposed in the earth. A circle of rocks surround the skeleton so that it is easily found again after sandstorms and to keep people from inadvertently stepping on it.
In addition to the footprints and the dinosaur skeleton, the guide pointed out a fossilized claw that he said belonged to a raptor type of dinosaur. Over the years, souvenir hunters have chipped out portions of this claw so that only a thin impression remains. The guide mentioned that the entire valley is a treasure trove of dinosaur tracks, footprints and fossils.
For a truly off the beaten path experience and an educational one at that, be sure to visit the dinosaur tracks just outside of Tuba City.