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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Valley of the Dinosaurs (or the Pioneer Valley)

In 1939, Carlton Nash of Granby, Massachusetts opened Nash Dinosaur Land on a small unearthed quarry of dinosaur tracks. Coincidentally, in that same year I believe, the Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut was christened The Pioneer Valley as part of an effort to promote the history and culture of this area as a tourist destination.

There has been some discussion in the last year or so to change The Pioneer Valley to The Valley of the Dinosaurs. Not without good reason.

This swath of land that opens a wide vista in the river valley from northern Connecticut up through western Mass. is the result of the scraping down of the land when the last glaciers pulled back. It left behind some of the richest farming land in the world, and some of the oldest land as well, possibly 200 million years old.

It was once the site of the pre-historic Lake Hitchcock, named for Edward Hitchcock, a renowned scientist in the early 1800s who studied astronomy as well as geology, and was one of the first to examine the dino footprints found hereabouts with something more than tolerating a nuisance, which is how the 19th century farmers thought of them.

It’s said that the first to discover, or at least the first to publicly take note of these tracks, found up and down the Valley, was a South Hadley farm boy named Pliny Moody, who plowed up a slab of footprints in 1802. Nobody knew about dinosaurs then, but they did suspect these footprints might be terribly old. Some suggested the thin, bird-like toe imprint might have been left by Noah’s raven at the time of the Flood.

Even a couple generations later, when Edward Hitchcock was giving dinosaur footprints more credence, he thought they only might have been made by ancient birds. The idea of really, really ancient reptiles long before the advent of man was still not imagined by men of science.

Fast forward to the 1930s when young Carlton Nash found strange tracks near the old Moody farm, but he knew what they were. By this time science had come of age with respect to the study of dinosaurs, and when the boy Carlton came of age, he bought the land and made himself both a roadside attraction and a mission in life.

But, there are lots of spots here and there up and down the Valley where dino tracks can be found, from rest areas off Route 5, to the very interesting Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, which opened in 1968. This park's 200-million-year-old sandstone trackway is a Registered Natural Landmark.

And you can make your own plaster cast of some big dino foot prints.

So, if you find yourself wandering the Valley (Pioneer Valley or Valley of the Dinosaurs), step lightly. Watch for those footprints.

For more on the Dinosaur State Park, have a look at this website.   Photos in public domain from ImageMuseum website.


Tony said...

I stopped in at Nash Dino Land a long long time ago and don't really remember too much of it except for a sense of it being kind of roadside campy/touristy.

The sign is still there where you need to veer off of 116, and I've thought about making fresh visit...

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I would look forward to your terrific-as-usual photos, Tony.

John Hayes said...

I dimly remember visiting that dino land a long time ago. Good old Route 5!

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