By Roy Roberts
“One fine day in 1956, I was riding a mule down the Canyon Chacarilla in Northern Chili. I was very tired, hungry and thirsty. We had been on a one-day trip up the canyon to get a first hand idea of the geologic structure and strata of the area that we would be mapping”.
That is what Bob Dingman wrote in his diary when he was an American Government Geologist who had been sent as an aide to Chile to work with the Chile Geologist. Bob Dingman and his wife, Genna are residents here at the Blair House Retirement Home, and he had given me a paper telling about his work.
He goes on telling that they were so interested in making notes of rock types, that it became too late to make it back to their base camp before dark and they had no desire to be riding their mules down those mountain trails in the dark of night. It was a difficult decision because they were not equipped to make a camp 13,000 feet above sea level. They had no tent, sleeping bags, and very little water for them and the mules. All they had to eat was some horse meat jerky, a few potatoes and some rock-hard bread. At 13,000 feet the potatoes never really got cooked, because water boils at 180 degrees at that altitude. It was not a good meal and with only their jacket and saddle blankets it was not a good night.
The next day they quit
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work early and headed down the mountain. The mules apparently sensed that we were getting close to water and hastened their pace. Bob said he looked up at that time and off to the south wall of the canyon he thought he saw tracks, they were several hundred feet above the canyon floor and they were some distance away. He thought they had to be dinosaur tracks. It was too late to call to the others, and knowing they would be back, he just kept it himself. He didn’t even mention it to anyone back at the Institute of Geologic Institute of Investigation in Santiago, where he was working with other USGS geologists as part of the US AID program
Santiago was a good 700 miles south of where he had been working, but it was where his wife and baby were living while he was away. Several months later he returned to the North Chile Mountains with three Chilean geologist, a mule man, a cook, six mules and a few sheep that they would consume during their three-week camp. They had spent the first week studying the rocks. Some thirty miles north they had found abundant Jurassic fossils, but here the formations didn’t seem the same.
So the next morning Bob said to the Chile geologist, “Let’s find some dinosaur tracks today and maybe we can date the rocks with them.”
There was a murmur of surprise and even a whispered “Gringo Loco” (crazy foreigner). They knew that no one had ever found dinosaur tracks anywhere in South America. They mounted their mules and rode up the canyon and as they rounded a rocky point Bob says he yelled, “There they are, right on the slope!”
Sure enough there they were, clearly exposed; there were the tracks of a three toed dinosaur that came down to intersect with a trail of larger rounded tracks. There was a larger area with mixed foot marks with the three toed prints going off to the left and the rounded footprints going off to the right.
They assumed that the three toed tracks were made by one of the large carnivorous, raptor family of dinosaurs, and the large round tracks were probably those of a very large herbivore. The intersecting tracks record an unsuccessful attempt by the raptor to obtain a very large lunch. These were the first dinosaur tracks to be found in South America, and many more were found in the same area.
The Chilean geologist decided that maybe the Gringo wasn’t so loco after all. The discovery was later determined by Dr. G. Y. Fellows of Yale University to be Late Jurassic age. That would make them about 130,000 years old.
A good story, but to make it better, I go to my computer and look up the Chilean Mountain and find that it is now a National Park, with tour vans taking tourist up to see the dinosaur tracks. This was a surprise to Bob who had moved on to other countries.