Dinosaur Freeway Found in Colorado

//
An ornithopod dinosaur that was probably an Iguanodon-like species made the most common prints in the area.
Wikimedia Commons/Heinrich Harder

THE GIST

- A Dinosaur Freeway, serving as a primary thoroughfare for dino travel, existed 98 million years ago in Colorado.

- Dinosaurs that traveled on the freeway included large plant eaters, armored species, and dinosaurs that looked like ostriches.

- Tracks made by crocodiles and pterosaurs were also found at the site, which was once a coastal plain.

Colorado's bustling thoroughfare 98 million years ago was the Dinosaur Freeway.

Over 350 newly discovered tracks, made by various dinosaurs, crocodiles and a few pterosaurs, were identified at the site, which is now the John Martin Reservoir in Bent County, Colorado. When added to previously found tracks there, the total number of fossilized prints is well over 1,000. The dinosaur freeway is described in the February issue of Cretaceous Research.

PHOTOS: Dinosaur Feathers Found in Amber

"The Dinosaur Freeway runs from Northeast Colorado, near Boulder, to east central New Mexico, near Tucumcari," co-author Martin Lockley told Discovery News. "It is a trampled zone in Cretaceous rocks representing an ancient coastal plain like the present day Gulf of Mexico."

Lockley is a professor of geology at the University of Colorado Denver and serves as director of the Dinosaur Tracks Museum. He and colleague Reiji Kukihara found and analyzed the animal tracks.

An ornithopod dinosaur that was probably an Iguanodon-like species made the most common prints. Iguanodons were bulky, large, plant-eating dinosaurs, with some having large thumb spikes that were possibly used for defense against predators.

Based on the prints, other travelers along the Dinosaur Freeway included armored Ankylosaurs and ostrich-like dinos that were probably ornithomimids.

"Sometimes the ornithopod dinosaurs appear to have walked in herds," Lockley said. "Their trackways are parallel and equally spaced, and sometimes they all belong to individuals of similar size."

SCIENCE CHANNEL: Best of Mammals Vs. Dinos

Swim tracks for large crocodiles, some over 13 feet long, were also found near the Dinosaur Freeway.

Lockley explained that, back in the dino day, the freeway was the coastal plain to the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, which ran north to south and split North America during this period of time.

"It was riddled with waterways and wetlands ideal for crocs," he said. "The crocs were not wimpy."

Dinosaurs therefore probably sped on by, likely migrating to find new forage. The animals may have traveled in groups by age. Juvenile and subadult dinosaurs were more dominant in the south, accounting for almost half of all identified tracks in that region. The proportion of juveniles sharply reduces in the middle area, and almost disappears in the north.