An unremarkable wall loomed in front of me, its lime green surface standing obtrusively high at 110m. I was instructed to peer closely at it by my guide at Cretaceous Park, Sucre. “You see those tracks going from top to bottom?” she asked. “They’re dinosaur trails. They were formed more than 68 million years ago.”
I could make out several pockmarks on the surface, but they could have been caused by the neighbouring quarry mine for all I knew. I found myself giggling – I had visions of T-Rex abseiling down the cliff to his next meal and was failing to take any of this seriously. Perhaps arriving at the park in the ‘dino truck’ complete with a protruding scaly head and tail wasn’t exactly helping matters.
Recognising our bemused faces, Maria soon wiped away our disbelieving smirks: “The land all around us was flat at the beginning of the Cretaceous period, the Andes mountain range didn’t even exist back then. During this time, the titanosaurs – the last giant long-necked dinosaur – roamed the plains leaving its footprints in the clay soil of what is now Cal-Orck’o.”
I later learned that it was only towards the end of Creatious period, some 65 million years ago, that the world’s longest mountain range took its undulating form. Pressure between several tectonic plates caused an uplifting in the earth when the Andes (and Cal-Orck’o wall) took their current shape.
Indeed, Maria was well-informed on her dinosaur history. Several of the giant reptiles gradually travelled down from North America, bringing immigrant species into the lower half of the Americas. Herbivores such as hadrosaurs which travelled in large herds, ankylosaurs and ceratopsians made their way to Bolivia and other parts of South America. “The herbivores footsteps are the round-toed ones,” I was told. Although standing 250m away on a viewing platform was not beneficial to determining different foot shapes.
The prints were preserved after mud was deposited on the surface over millions of years, then a layer of sediment was formed that encapsulated the tracks. There are over 15 different species of dinosaur tracks on the wall “which amounts to 5,000 footprints” Maria added. “It’s the longest and most diverse find in the world. And the most important trail for us is of the ankylosaurs, an armoured herbivore with four short limbs. This was the first place in South America to find their prints.”
With the additional find at Creatious Park, this group of dinosaurs have now been located on every continent except Africa.
“What’s happened to that part of the wall?” I asked, pointing to a triangular shape that appeared to be missing from Cal-Orck’o.
“It fell down 10 weeks ago. It’s a real shame because there were quite a few track marks on it,” Maria lamented.
Although the wall was discovered 25 years ago by a quarry mining company (who own the park), preservation methods were only put into place lately. A recent visit by a Swiss team of geologists have estimated that the limestone wall will last for only another 10 years. “It’s been exposed to too many elements. Before the find in the 1980s it was still under layers of rock. The only reason it still exists is because the mining company weren’t interested in limestone so they stopped bulldozing.” She beamed however at the possibility of another layer of tracks beneath the ones we were staring at. “We hope to be able to save these ones.”
So do I. The footmarks have been in existence for 68 million years, yet in less than my lifetime they face extinction, just like their creators.
WHERE ON EARTH?
- Bordered by five countries in South America, it is one of only two landlocked countries in the continent
- The population is 10 million
- La Paz is the country’s capital, the highest capital city in the world standing at 4,000 metres above sea-level (and where I suffered altitude sickness for five delightful days)
- Located 5km from Sucre, southwest Bolivia
- The wall stands at 110m high and 1,200m long
- Will only be able to preserve the wall for another 10 years due to inadequate measures that were taken earlier
HOW TO GET TO CRETACEOUS PARK
Two Dino Buses lave daily from outside the cathedral in Sucre. One at 9.30am or the other at 2.30pm. Unfortunately, they only give you one hour at the park, which if you want to watch any of the information videos (BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs is screened) isn’t sufficient. I think that bus number 40 goes there too, ask at the main market where the buses congregate. The Dino Bus costs BS15 return and the entrance to the park is BS30, although you can see the wall without going in.