Ok, so that title was a little misleading because you’re not allowed anywhere near them, but it’s still worth saving a few hours for the round trip to Parque Cretacio, just 5km out of Sucre, to see the world’s biggest collection of dinosaur footprints.
The old claim was that there were 5000 of them on one chunk of almost vertical limestone, but since a triangular section crumbled to reveal more prints underneath, and more excavation has been done, the up-to-date estimate is closer to 6000.
The park’s other name is Cal Orko, which means limestone mountain. It can be reached easily by Dino Truk, which ships tourists there between Monday and Saturday at 9:30, 12:30 and 2:30 from outside the cathedral on Sucre’s central plaza. If, like me, you’re in Sucre on a Sunday, it’s almost as simple to take the number 4 minibus (B$1.5) from the corner of Avenue Hernando Siles and Loa. Either way, it shouldn’t take more than about 25 minutes each way.
The prints were only discovered in 1994, by the concrete-producing company Fancesa, as it mined the limestone next to its factory. Since 2006, a museum with full-scale dinosaur models and information on their history has been going from strength to strength.
Entrance to the museum costs B$30, plus an additional B$5 if you want to take photos. There are tours at 10, 12:30 and 3, which begin with a haphazard showing of clips from the old series Walking with Dinosaurs. I still remember when this first aired in the UK and was ahead of the game using CGI technology to bring the extinct creatures to life. Now it looks pretty clumsy, but it was still a good recap.
After the videos, which lasted about 45 minutes (I think they were waiting for the guides to turn up!), all the locals went off in a big group with one guide, and, as the only English speaker, I got a guy called Juan all to myself.
He talked me through how the pressure of oceanic crust against the continent of South America had caused it to become mountainous and, in the process, folded the land where the footprints were once horizontal. This explained why the rock face is at 72 degrees (not, as some people imagine, because the dinosaurs were capable of running up sheer cliffs!).
Juan explained that there were no fossilised remains of dinosaurs in the area because limestone wasn’t tough enough to preserve them, but plenty of other creature fossils had been excavated. He showed me which prints were made by which species of dinosaur and whether they’d been in groups or alone, or walking or running.
I asked if efforts were being made to preserve the prints, given that a huge section had disintegrated, and he said they were about to build some shelters to protect the stone from weather damage. He also said they monitor the movement of the rocks to detect if there’s any risk of further damage.
Juan told me he’d been interviewed for a BBC programme on the prints, due to air in a few months, so keep an eye out for his 5 minutes of fame!
Cool dinosaur facts:
During the cretaceous period, there were no Himalayas and the Atlantic Ocean was half its current width
The dinosaurs roamed the earth for 160 million years
Female T Rexes sometimes had to call for a mate for weeks before they caught the attention of a roaming male
The female T Rex was much larger and more aggressive than the male, so when the male eventually courted her, he’d have to catch her a big meaty dinosaur meal to keep her happy. Then, once it had been consumed, the male would have to scarper before she turned on him
T Rexes could take a 70kg chunk of meat in one bite
Some dinosaur bird species had a wing span of 13 metres
Crocodiles back in those days weighed one tonne
Young diplodocuses grew by one tonne a year, or 2 to 3kg per day
Diplodocuses used to push over and uproot whole trees so they had clearer access to the ferns their teeth were more specialised to strip
Over one tonne of dung was dropped by an adult diplodocus per day
Stegasauruses used to flush their spines with blood to make them look more threatening
The titanosaur was the biggest dinosaur to ever have lived. It grew to well over 30 metres in length, and there are prints of this species more than a metre wide on the cliff at Cal Orko
The meteorite that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, presumably wiping out the dinosaurs, had the force of 10 billion Hiroshima bombs
65% of all life died out following the meterorite