It may seem hard to believe now, but the area below Mount Cristo Rey was once a beach populated by dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.
While the landscape – and the wildlife – have changed drastically over the past 80 million years or so, those willing to make the trip to Sunland Park, will have the opportunity to walk the very same path that the dinosaurs once did. On the first Saturday of each month, Insights Science Discovery is offering a DinoTracks Public Tour, which is a guided hike of approximately 1.5 miles through 211 acres of fossilized dinosaur tracks and giant fossil beds from the Cretaceous Period.
“I think it’s just a hidden gem,” said Alysha Swann, Insights Science Discovery executive director. “Not a lot of people get to go see actual dinosaur footprints that have been fossilized. For it to be here in the middle of the desert, it’s pretty exciting.”
DinoTracks tours began prior to COVID-19 but have been on hiatus – with the exception of private excursions – for the past three years. For a $15 ticket, visitors will be able to see fossils of theropods (three-toed dinosaurs), iguanodons, prehistoric crocodiles and much more.
“We also have something that looks similar to a T-rex,” Swann said.
The tours are led by guides who undergo a two-week training process followed by a shadowing and evaluation period. They help enhance the experience by offering insights and historical information during the hikes.
“We go into depth explaining what you can see and just as far as it being an actual track, there’s multiple dinosaurs that cross on top of each other and you can actually see that laid out,” Swann said. “There’s a really cool track where you can see a huge footprint and then you’ll see this little baby footprint, and you can tell that was a family walking through.”
Thus far, interest has been high as the tour makes its return, and each offering tends to attract visitors from Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. The hikes are normally capped at 50 people, but Swann said that the number could increase to 90 if additional tour guides are added to the event. Depending on future demand, DinoTracks could also expand beyond one weekend per month.
“Right now, we’re getting a lot of attention,” Swann said. “I think everybody’s trying to find that sense of normalcy after COVID and (getting) back out there and (doing) interesting things that incorporate healthy living and getting outside … and just embracing life. I feel the feedback that we’re getting is extremely positive.”
For those who don’t want to be accompanied by a tour guide on their DinoTracks hike, there’s the option to do an augmented reality version. This is available via app for a modest $5 fee, and it will take users on a self-guided tour, where they will be able to see dinosaur footprints by scanning QR codes along the 1.5-mile hike. The Explore AR DinoTracks tour comes complete with images and audio to provide additional background.
According to Swann, there’s value in doing both versions.
“People say they love both. Each have a different component,” she said. “The guided tour is someone speaking about the history, but when you do the augmented reality tour, there’s visuals. You’ll see pictures of what the dinosaurs possibly looked like versus when you’re with the guide, they’ll have laser pointing out the tracks (and) where they’re at. You can hold up your phone with the augmented reality and it’ll show you where the tracks are placed within the walls.
“It’s two different experiences, and I recommend everybody do both so you can get the variety of it.”