If you’ve lived in San Antonio, Texas, for more than a week, you’ve probably heard that you can find real dinosaur tracks in a certain part of the Government Canyon State Natural Area. At least I did — very soon after moving here.
Per usual with many military families, the thought crossed my mind that I might not be in this city very long. With that in mind, I set out to make sure my kids and I did not miss this opportunity (Because real dinosaur tracks!).
I mulled over several factors:
The heat index (we went mid-July), arguably the hottest month in south Texas.
The amount of complaining I expected to hear from my 5-year-old.
The fact that I don’t own a good hiking backpack carrier for my 3-year-old. And even if I did, I wanted to avoid feeling like he and I were superglued together after a five-mile hike in summer temperatures.
Given all that, I ended up dragging only my oldest son to see the tracks. And it was more than worth it. It became our little mommy-son morning; complete with a Starbucks trip afterwards for a job well done.
As it turns out, despite the sweltering heat, we chose the best time to see the tracks. In the spring, rainwater can cover the tracks, and in the fall, leaves and debris can cover the tracks.
Entrance to Government Canyon State Natural Area requires adults to pay $6 each. But children 12 years old and under enter for free. That $6 gives you access to miles and miles of trails.
NOTE: On Sunday November 12, day-use entrance fees will be waived for visitors in honor of veterans and active duty military.
To see the dinosaur tracks, we found the Joe Johnston trailhead with the help of a very friendly park ranger. He advised us to take plenty of water. And, “once we were halfway through our water supply to turn back. No matter what.”
He pointed us toward the dinosaur tracks, a straight shot 2.5 miles down the Joe Johnston trail, and we were off.
My oldest did great, despite the above 90-degree temperatures at just 10 a.m. in the morning. He didn’t complain. He drank plenty of water and took lots of rest breaks at the benches dotted along the path. We even saw a bunny — and that was all the wildlife we saw, despite the warnings of mountain lions and rattlesnakes.
My son let his thoughts flow and shared them with me. He had several ideas for books he wanted to write, and I encouraged him to do so when we got home. But often, he walked along quietly, immersed in his own thoughts as we were surrounded by nature. We passed many other people who, like us, dared to brave the Texas heat for a glimpse at actual dinosaur tracks. Just as the ranger said, it took us a little over an hour to walk down to the tracks in the heat, and the same to get back. Plus, sightseeing time.
My son’s eyes lit up when we made it. He immediately posed for a picture next to the information sign. The sign was loaded with images of the tracks that lay no more twenty feet away, including information about how the tracks were formed and what type of dinosaurs left the two different sets of tracks.
After a few minutes of casual reading, we stepped around a bend in the trail and set our eyes on the first set of tracks, the more claw like print of the Acrocanthosaurus. The tracks were behind a rope that didn’t hide them from view but did reinforce the fact that in order to maintain the tracks for all to see, we would have to stay off them. But we were still close enough to reach out and touch them (even though we didn’t out of respect for the park and others).
A short distance away we viewed the tracks of the Sauroposeidon, the more rounded print, and they were just as visible and amazing. My son happily posed with each set.
And then he saw it: a cliff about 50 feet above us where people stood and gazed down at us. He wanted to go. But the overlook, although it seemed closer, was another mile up the trail. This tiny fact did not deter him. He insisted. And I couldn’t resist, so we headed that way.
About a quarter mile into the hike up to the overlook, the heat became too much and we turned back. That part of the trip is an adventure we’d much rather save for cooler days. We made our way back down the Joe Johnston trail and headed home, which seemed to go much faster than the hike up.
I was proud of my son, and I hope he was proud of himself. He made it there and back in less than ideal conditions, and we saw something we might not get a chance to see again before military orders toss us across the world. My advice? Always see what you want to see at your new duty station as soon as you can, even in the heat!
For more information on Government Canyon State Natural Area, check out its site here.