Located on an almost vertical wall in Sucre, Bolivia, the Cal Orck'o has over 12,000 dinosaur footprints...
A quick 15 minute drive away (or a slightly longer bus ride) from Sucre, Bolivia is a must see if you are in Bolivia.
The Cal Orck'o and the Cretaceous Park are home to a wall of limestone with dinosaur footprints over 50 million years old that crisscross along its layers.
The footprints are located on a near vertical wall 80 m tall and 1,200 m long in a still active cement quarry around 7km from Sucre. They were first discovered by miners in the 1980's, but the full reality of the wonder that had been uncovered wasn't realized until the late 199's when European paleontologists came to Bolivia to check them out.
Today the footprints are a popular attraction in Sucre, with the Cretaceous Dinosaur Park being built nearby. The park is a collection of fossils and scale models of dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period. The park also has a restaurant, and viewing point for the Cal Orck'o footprints. If you are interested in a closer view, a walking tour through the still active quarry to the footprint is included in admission to the park.
The footprints were made by many different types dinosaurs during the cretaceous period, but are key groups to understand.
The easiest to identify and most common footprints belong to the sauropods. Sauropods are herbivores with long necks, long tails and massive trunk-like legs. Examples of sauropods include the diplodocus, the brontosaurus, the brachiosaurus and more.
From the trails of footprints, paleontologists have assimilated that sauropods traveled in herds with the youngest staying towards the center. The footprints also show the unique way the sauropods walk. Unlike other large and heavy animals like elephants, sauropods walk in a diagonal couplet pattern, meaning that on each side of their body there is always one foot on the ground and the other 2 move almost in sync. Their back legs step directly where the front leg had previously stepped. The footprints are easily identifiable because they are practically circles.
Theropods are what you think of as classic dinosaurs, carnivorous apex predators that run on their back lags and hunted solo. Theropods include the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Megalosaurus, the Spinosaurus and more. Theropod footprints are identifiable by their 3 toes and 2 legged gait.
How the footprints were preserved
The dinosaurs walked and left footprints over 50 million years ago, so how are they still there? The footprints are still here because of specific climatic conditions. The footprints were set in soft, moist mud and then solidified after a drought. As time went on more and more mud, branches and sediment covered the prints. Over 50 million years, alternating rain and drought solidified the prints.
As the tectonic plates shifted to create the Andes, the layers of rock that the footprints were on folded, kind of like pages in a book. If you take a book, and gently apply pressure to each side the middle will go up, with all the different pages bending and folding together. This is what happened that the different layers of rock with footprints on in.
This how we ended up with the impressive wall there is today.
While it was quite hot out, I thoroughly enjoyed the dinosaur park, even more than I thought I would. The Cretaceous Park at the top of the hill has fun, scale models of dinosaurs, facts about the wall and more. The walking tour to the wall was very, very interesting. Our tour guide spoke both English and Spanish, so he explained more about the history of the wall, the different dinosaurs that walked there, information extrapolated from the footsteps.
JC, our guide, even had his satchel of model dinosaur to help visualize different groups and the passing of events. It was fascinating, especially since I had taken a an earth science class a while ago.
This may be a bit obscure, but when I saw the dinosaur models all i could think was the intro to a kids show called Harry and his Bucket full of Dinosaurs but with the lyrics changed to JC and his satchel full of dinosaurs.
One thing that I am still not clear about after visiting the footprints is how they are being preserved today. The cement quarry is still very much active, which can damage the footprints and cause parts of the wall to fall apart. Someone had told me that the mining and lack of preservation efforts had caused parts of the wall to crumble away. Someone had also told me that the park had turned down offers of grants to help preserve the wall. Other had told me that the park had been denied preservation grants and were halting mining efforts to prevent deterioration. I just hope that the footprint's deterioration is not accelerated in any way because it truly is a magnificent sight.
Check out some photos from our visit, including the full scale for the wall and some of the models from the park!