Nineteen years ago, near the town of Sucre in Bolivia, a group of cement factory workers were clearing a plot of land intended for use as a quarry. Shovel struck dirt and a worker noticed a strange formation in the ground, odd in both its shape and angle. It appeared to be a large footprint of some kind, far larger than the mark of any animal that roams around southern Bolivia today. Even stranger, the footprint was not flat and parallel to the ground but rather almost vertical, as if the beast that had left the print had somehow been walking out from the center of the earth. Construction was halted and an investigation was launched.
Scientists from around the world were flown to speculate on the strange tracks being discovered in Sucre, more of which were being uncovered each day. In short time, a definitive explanation emerged: about 65 million years ago, in a relatively short time frame, an enormous amount of dinosaurs moved through this small plot of land en route south. There were not only many, 5000 tracks are present, but they were diverse: at least 12 species, making this an incredibly diverse find. There were massive titanasours, armored ankylosaurs, strange duck-billed hadrosaurs, and many more, all moving together. They left their mark in the mud, resulting in the largest group of dinosaur prints ever discovered. A couple millions years later, a meteor smashed into the earth and the days of the dinosaur were over.
From the time those incredible beasts roamed through Sucre to the pivotal moment of the cement worker noticing their footprints, an interesting thing happened to the land itself. The prints were well preserved in a flat sheet, but tectonic activity shifted that sheet from its horizontal natural state to the extreme angle it rests at today. Considering this unique geological circumstance, it is through an incredible stroke of luck that the Parque Cretacico exists today. If those workers had been using dynamite, or bulldozers, or even digging a few yards in either direction, the find would have likely never been made.
A visit to Parque Cretacico is a worthwhile, interesting experience. It’s about as close to Jurassic Park as you’re going to get outside the movie theater. But as pleasant as it might have been anyway, it was made infinitely more enjoyable by our guide, Juan Carlos, aka J.C. Do enough tours and you realize the influence these tour operators can have. An unqualified guide can damper even the most amazing places; an ambivalent guide can make exploration seem like a boring chore; but a truly passionate, informed guide can elevate almost any experience into the memorable. J.C. is one of those truly passionate, wonderfully un-cynical, unabashedly uncool people who simply loves what he does for a living. I believe that he would not only work for at Parque Crectacico for free, but that he would happily pay for the privilege. I believe that he believes he has the greatest job in the entire world. I believe that he was sitting at home in Sucre nineteen years ago, arranging dinosaur figurines and watching Jurassic Park, when someone came in and “J.C. – did you hear what happened? They found some dinosaur tracks up on the hill” and J.C. simply walked up the hill and informed the powers that be that he would be working there for the rest of his life. He probably said something like “I will work here till I go extinct! Hahaha!” He’s funny like that.
And so we walked around the large dinosaur sculptures of Parque Cretaccio with J.C. happily leading the way, almost like a child excitedly pulling parents to the candy aisle of a supermarket.
“IMAGINE we are 65 million years ago!”
“What is YOUR favorite dinosaur? Tell me PLEASE!”
“I am a paleontologist! WHAT?!? No I am not! I am NOT a paleontologist! I WISH I was a paleontologist!”
Tourists are not permitted to get too close to the tracks themselves as excavation is ongoing, but J.C. told us they hope to have a new exhibit running by next year that allows closer contact. For now, their main goal is to achieve World Heritage Status, a designation that would protect the site, as well as distinguish it as a truly valuable attraction. I hope they get it too, if only so more people get to see J.C. in his natural element – walking with the dinosaurs.