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The footprints of Noah's raven

My neck of the woods turns out to be one of the best places in the United States to see dinosaur footprints. Not bones, but footprints. Who knew?! But it's true. I've known for years that there was a rather idiosyncratic, privately run place nearby ("Nash Dinosaur Tracks") where one can see dinosaur tracks, but I'd never been. But this weekend, wakanomori and I went there, and it was fabulous.

The back entrance to Nash Dinosaur Tracks, which was the way we ended up entering
back entrance


Kornell Nash, the current curator, is the son of Carlton Nash, who bought the site in 1939 and ran it until his death in 1997. He told us that a farm boy with the magnificent name of Pliny Moody found the first dinosaur tracks in 1802. He brought them home for a doorstep to his family home,1 and then when he went off to school, he sold them to a doctor, Elihu Dwight, who told the neighborhood children that they were the tracks left by Noah's raven when he was sent out to look for land after the flood (Noah's raven must have been much larger than the ravens we have nowadays... an antediluvian raven).

Mr. Nash, telling us the story of Pliny Moody, Elihu Dwight, and Noah's raven
Mr. Kornell Nash

The footprints of Noah's raven (source)

Dinosaur tracks on display
dinosaur tracks

Mr. Nash's father grew up near the Moody homestead and was fascinated with dinosaurs. In 1933, a year out of high school, he discovered some tracks while prospecting. In 1939, he bought the land he'd found them on. After we talked for a while longer, Mr. Nash let us wander out in the quarry area where to this day he cuts out tracks--and not only tracks: also fossilized fish and wood.

In the quarry
exploring the quarry

A track in situ
track still in the quary

This painting, at the front of the establishment, was painted by an enterprising Hampshire College student who came calling, asking if she could do some painting for him. The website has a page devoted to past signs and paintings here--they're quite fun.


(There are more photos from our visit here.)

Mr. Nash also knew lots about local history, including about a beautiful mill building we had passed on our way over--but I'll save pictures of that for a separate entry.

1Paving your walk with dinosaur tracks was apparently all the rage for a while. Wistariahurst, a stately home in Holyoke that was built by the Skinner family, who were silk and satin manufacturers, paved their driveway with them:

Photo by Bill DeGiulio (source)


( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 10th, 2015 03:46 am (UTC)
This painting, at the front of the establishment, was painted by an enterprising Hampshire College student who came calling, asking if she could do some painting for him.

I was just looking at one of these tracks on Friday with my ungodchild! It's the Boston Museum of Science; it was purchased by the museum in 1955, I believe. I remember the name Eubrontes and the exhibit's note that this is the name of the footprints, not of the dinosaur that made them. That's really cool.
Aug. 10th, 2015 11:14 am (UTC)
Wonderful! One thing that was cool about the quarry was getting to see the spots where he'd extracted stuff--you can see how close to mud the rock still is:

spot where Mr. Nash has taken out a slab
Aug. 10th, 2015 04:00 am (UTC)
Aug. 10th, 2015 11:15 am (UTC)
It was a truly wonderful afternoon.
Aug. 10th, 2015 08:20 am (UTC)
What a great place to visit! There is a place near where my parents live where the cliffs are constantly eroding and revealing new fossils. One girl uncovered an entirely new species a few years ago.
Aug. 10th, 2015 11:20 am (UTC)
How neat!

When we lived in England, we were near Charmouth and Lyme Regis--also famous for fossils!
Aug. 10th, 2015 10:27 am (UTC)
They have some of the tracks from there at Stanley Park in Westfield, in the rose garden. That's one of those places I always meant to go to when I lived out that way. Thanks for the tour!
Aug. 10th, 2015 11:21 am (UTC)
If you're out this way again, you should definitely stop by. It's idiosyncratic and informative and intimate--really a wonderful, unique experience.
(no subject) - stormdog - Aug. 11th, 2015 04:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Aug. 11th, 2015 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 10th, 2015 10:50 am (UTC)
What a great excursion. Thanks for sharing it!
Aug. 10th, 2015 11:21 am (UTC)
My pleasure--thanks for stopping by!
Aug. 10th, 2015 12:58 pm (UTC)
There's a place way out in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico that also has bunches of dinosaur tracks. It's been largely left alone, as few know about it. You can get a sense of their walking patterns, looking at them--but of course we do not know what they saw.
Aug. 11th, 2015 11:31 am (UTC)
Apparently at the time the dinosaurs were walking around here, this area's climate was much more like New Mexico's is now--hard to imagine!
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 11th, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 10th, 2015 01:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, I would like to go there sometime.
Aug. 10th, 2015 01:21 pm (UTC)
Next time you come! Sometime before it gets too cold--he closes in the winter.
Aug. 10th, 2015 02:18 pm (UTC)
A few years ago Chun Woo and I went with his fossil club to a dinosaur track museum then housed by the Auraria Campus shared by three Colorado universities. It was a wonderful experience.

And now, suddenly, it strikes me as poetic that the collection was removed from those rooms, and now wanders secretly in storage in Boulder.
Aug. 11th, 2015 10:46 am (UTC)
A restless collection--I like that idea, too!
Aug. 10th, 2015 08:20 pm (UTC)
How cool! I wonder how the tracks managed to get fossilised though? This must be a truly unique place, animal tracks don't fossilise like that as a rule!

There are plenty of fossilised dinosaur eggs near my home, and apparently they are here because of the unique stupidity of the dinosaurs there--they made their nests near rivers which tended to overflow with sediments and drown the eggs in mud, and they never caught on, hence the sheer quantity of fossilised eggs that can still be found today...
Aug. 11th, 2015 10:50 am (UTC)
Poor foolish dinosaurs! "I keep laying my eggs here and they keep not hatching! I guess I must just try harder!"

As for the tracks fossilizing, he explained it: The footprints are made, then sand and other material fills them in (but is a different consistency from the mud, I guess--like plaster pour into a mold), then more mud gets laid down on top of that, and this process repeats. Then, over the centuries, that whole mass, in layers, turns to stone. So as he excavates, with the tracks, he gets two items from any one set of footprints: he gets the the cast--the stone version of the sand, etc., that filled in the prints--and he gets the footprints themselves.
Aug. 11th, 2015 12:24 am (UTC)
Who knew? Not me, that's who.

Even though I was (and still am) fascinated by prehistoric life.
Aug. 11th, 2015 10:59 am (UTC)
Maybe one day if you come this way you can visit it! Check the website, though: I think he said he's closed on Wednesdays.
Aug. 11th, 2015 12:41 am (UTC)
We know that dinosaurs became extinct because Homer Simpson built a time machine, went back in time, sneezed and gave all the dinosaur colds. Perhaps the dinosaurs in your area escaped the Homer cold and wandered for a few more years. Or perhaps there is a time portal nearby and you will encounter one of the track makers on your walk. In any case, very cool, because I come from the west where dinosaur fossils and tracks were abundant.
Aug. 11th, 2015 11:14 am (UTC)
I thought all the dinosaur-related stuff in the country was out west! When we first moved here, I had that thought so firmly in my head that when I saw roadside signs talking about dinosaur tracks, I thought they were for some mini museum that had purchased some from out west. But on the contrary, the area has its own.

Mr. Nash explained all about the geology of the area--it was great.

I hope I do get to see a dinosaur that's survived Homer's cold!
Aug. 11th, 2015 04:41 am (UTC)
What a neat place and thing to see.

And the driveway paved with dinosaur tracks? That breaks my brain. I'd never use it!
Aug. 11th, 2015 10:45 am (UTC)
Yeah, they don't actually allow cars onto it--but I guess they must have permitted carriages, back in the day!
Aug. 11th, 2015 10:37 am (UTC)
How brilliant! What a terrific thing to have so close at hand.
(That's pleasingly whimsical of the Skinners, to enjoy imagining dinosaurs trampling up to their front door!)
Aug. 11th, 2015 11:15 am (UTC)
Yes, it just goes to show that people have really enjoyed fossils--and dinosaurs--for as long as they've been aware of them.
(no subject) - heliopausa - Aug. 11th, 2015 11:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 11th, 2015 01:09 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. What fun!
Aug. 13th, 2015 11:50 am (UTC)
It was excellent fun. One day you should bring the grandkids.
Aug. 11th, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a cool place to visit. :D

I like the idea of antediluvian ravens being Other to today's ravens.
Aug. 13th, 2015 11:51 am (UTC)
I suppose, paleontologically speaking, antediluvian ravens are, precisely, dinosaurs!
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