Holyoke, Massachusetts, is a city best known for its rich and complex industrial history, and for being the birthplace of Volleyball. Harnessing the power of the Connecticut river through a dam and a series of historic canals, Holyoke grew from a small mill town to the booming “Paper City” as the twentieth century turned.
But who would have guessed that Holyoke’s historical significance predated the industrial revolution . . . by a couple hundred million years or so?
During the construction of a section of U.S. Route 5, a series of dinosaur tracks were found on the west bank of the Connecticut river. Scientists have discovered at least 134 separate tracks, as well as plant fossils and the ripple marks of a prehistoric pool, preserved in the sandstone riverbeds.
Scientists have determined that there were three separate types of dinosaurs roaming this riverbed during the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods. The largest tracks, between 11 and 13 inches long, are of the type Eubrontes giganteus, which is a description of the shape and size of the tracks, rather than their species, which in this case is as yet unknown.
The medium-sized tracks are those of Anchisauripus Sillimani, a bipedal, carnivorous, theropod dinosaur indigenous to the region. The smallest tracks, a mere 3-5″ in length, belong to Grallator cuneatus, a smaller biped.
190 million years ago the Connecticut river valley was a very different place. The river we now know had not yet been born, instead the region was a subtropical swamp, similar to the Florida Everglades today. Dinosaurs traveled through the mud, leaving their footprints behind. A changing climate dried the mud flats, then covered them with a protective layer of sand, thereby preserving the footprints forever.
The Dinosaur Footprints reservation – one of the most accessible dinosaur track sites that I have personally encountered – is now managed by The Trustees Association, the Department of Environmental Management and Holyoke Gas and Electric. The reservation is open from April through November, and charges no admission. To find it, look for the rest pull-out beside the road – it’s on your right when traveling north toward Easthampton. The tracks are a short walk down the hill.