By Angela Peacock
Less than a three-hour drive north of Clovis is one of the largest discovery of dinosaur tracks in the world.
Clayton Lake State Park, located 12 miles north of Clayton, is home to more than 500 dinosaur tracks. The prehistoric footprints, which experts say were made more than 100 million years ago, were discovered by an amateur paleontologist from the Texas Panhandle in early 1982.
The site annually attracts 30,000 tourists, prehistoric buffs and geologists from all over the world
“What’s really fascinating that I’ve learned observing paleontologists work is that (studying) tracks is just as important as dinosaur bones because the tracks help paleontologists learn how the dinosaurs behaved,” said park manager Charles Jordan.
The site is also an example of how New Mexico’s landscape has changed dramatically since the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
David Gillette, curator of paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque, said Clayton was once part of the shore of a prehistoric ocean, and said the strange rock formations seen below the lake’s spillway are the petrified sand dunes of an ocean front.
At one time, (Clayton Lake) sea shore was teaming with life, which Gillette said attracted a large number of dinosaurs.
Jordan, who grew up near the modern day Gulf of Mexico, said he has rocks in his visitors station that “actually prove Clayton really used to be the western edge of the Gulf of Mexico.”
The tracks, found in several thin layers of the region’s native Dakota sandstone, were made late in the era of dinosaurs, Gillette said. He added all of the tracks were likely made during a short span of time, an estimated three to four years.
Clayton Lake State Park is also home for other phenomena, such as worm borrows and the fossilized prints of plants. Those findings indicate there were at least three types of dinosaurs — herbivores, carnivores and another unknown type.
Jordan said the site has another unique trait.
“Just like in Jurassic Park (the movie), dinosaurs really did travel with their tails held up usually over their backs. So what’s really amazing is that there are probably more tail drag tracks (at Clayton Lake) than any other place in the whole world, which means it was muddy enough here that they had to drag their tails on the ground to help their balance in order to keep them from falling,” Jordan said.
Clayton Lake State Park entry fee is $4; camping with electrical and water hook-ups is $14 per night and camping with without water or electricity is $10 a night. Hot showers and drinking water are available.
Developed camping sites (37)
Electric camping sites (7)
Located 12 miles north of Clayton, the park is approximately 147 miles from Clovis and 166 miles from Portales.