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Vegas-area park hits its own jackpot: dinosaur tracks

November 22, 2011 |  6:00 am

Vegas dinosaur
Hundreds of thousands of people tromp through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas each year. How did they miss the dinosaur tracks?

Federal paleontologists announced this week the discovery of Nevada’s first formally documented set of dinosaur tracks, which were recently found by some volunteers in the conservation area’s fire-colored Aztec sandstone.

The dozens of prints likely belong to two-footed, three-toed carnivorous dinosaurs that were maybe 3 feet long, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. They are roughly 190 million years old, a near-incomprehensible age in a city where decades-old casinos are treated as relics.

“For those tracks to lie buried for tens of millions years and then be lifted and exposed by erosion at just the right time to be spotted by humans is about the least likely chance encounter imaginable,” the paper said.

There are several possible reasons why so many visitors bypassed the tracks. First, they’re hard to find. You’d need to complete a difficult two-hour hike, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which runs Red Rock and hasn’t yet revealed the tracks’ exact location.

Second, the tracks are each less than six inches long and, judging from photos on the R-J website, no more distinctive than other ripples and scuffs in the conservation area, a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers.

Also, Nevada has never been a hotbed of dinosaur discoveries.

"People don't think about dinosaurs in Nevada and if you don't think about finding dinosaurs in Nevada, you don't think about bones or footprints," paleontologist Brent Breithaupt told the Associated Press. “It's possible that people have wandered by this area and not known what they were looking at beneath their feet.”

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--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Twitter.com/ashleypowers

Photo: A climber in Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, where dinosaur tracks were recently found. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

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