Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill

July, 2009 by Ray Bendici

All images Ray Bendici

The Damned Story: Maybe because we've grown up in Connecticut, we take for granted that we have a state park entirely dedicated to dinosaurs, but the large number of tracks discovered in Rocky Hill represent one of the most remarkable and rare dino finds in the Northeast.

So the story goes that in August of 1966, while excavating for a new state highway department testing facility, a group of workmen made a startling accidental discovery after removing about 12 feet of dirt. There, in a layer of exposed sandstone, were hundreds of fossilized dinosaur footprints.

Immediately realizing that they had uncovered something amazing, they called in a team of paleontologists, who began excavations of their own. By the time they were done, they had unearthed almost 2,000 tracks made by three-toed theropods, fierce predators which had lived during the late Jurassic Age, about 185 million years ago. It's believed that tracks particularly belonged to a Dilophosaurus, a raptor-type creature which may have stood 8 feet tall and 20 feet long, and had feet that were 10 to 16 inches long.

In a short time, a special dome was built over the trackway, and two years later, in 1968, Dinosaur State Park opened to the public. Hiking trails, an arboretum and other attractions were also added to the grounds.

Over the years, it became apparent that some of the now-exposed tracks were beginning to erode, so about three quarters of them were buried once again, and the special dome that is now there was erected to protect those which were exposed. Still, you can view 500 actual footprints from extinct creatures that lived over 180 million years ago. Pretty damned cool.

dspaOur Damned Experience: We visited the park in July 2009, with my two sons in tow, you know, because kids love dinosaurs!


And as such, the park is very family friendly and generally oriented toward the damned young and aspiring paleontologists with lots of hands-on exhibits and activities, such as making plaster casts from actual footprints -- we have one in our basement! There are also regular movie presentations in the lecture hall which are geared for the young, plus talks regarding the tracks throughout the day. Essentially, from the moment you arrive (where you pass a dino timeline set in the main sidewalk that gives you a cool perspective of how utterly insignificant Man is in the totality of Earth's history), the focus is on education about giant extinct lizards.

As you might expect, the majority of the domed facility is dedicated to the actual tracks, which also have a walkway over them. A few diorama-type dino figures also populate the dome, which led my oldest son to ask if the tracks were real! I blame Disney-type fantasy parks that are so well-crafted that it makes it tough to recognize the real thing when you actually see it -- I guess it's a challenge to make a simple rock full of old footprints interesting and exciting to the video-game generation, hence the fabricated dinosaurs.

Still, we enjoyed our 1.5-hour visit -- unless you plan on hiking and seeing every presentation and partaking in every activity, don't plan on making a day of it.

Anyway, I hate to think we actually learned some things during our summer vacation, but I'm afraid we did. Damned dinosaurs!

If You Go: Dinosaur State Park is located in Rocky Hill, and is open year-round. The grounds, hiking trails and arboretum are open every day 9 am to 4:30 pm; the exhibit center shares the same hours, although it is closed on Mondays.

And as my youngest son asked -- no, they do not let you dig on the grounds for actual dinosaur fossils.

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Submitted by italo delgaudio (not verified) on
so what happened so damned????

Submitted by Janis Burton (not verified) on
To Whom it May Concern. My name is Janis Burton. I grew up in Rocky Hill, Connecticut and lived there on 62 Elm Street, from 1959 thru 1968 then moved to Wethersfield. If you are a stickler for facts about the Dinosaur Park and exactly what happened that day in August of 66, I'll tell you because I was there visiting a girlfriend at her home located on West Street across from the VA hospital. That day I was outside riding her bike up and down that side access when I noticed a bulldozer moving dirt so I stopped to watch. The man noticed me and waved. Suddenly, he left the dozer and walked around to the front of the machine and moved some dirt with his hands. You say in your story that there was a crew there. That statement is wrong. That one worker and myself were the only two people involved that day. He waved his arms to me to get my attention and said, "Hey, can you watch my dozer so I can go find a phone and make a telephone call? (No cell phones in those days) I yelled back at him, "Yes, I'll watch it till you get back." "And don't let anyone touch this scene" and left to make that telephone call. I stood there, alone, knowing he must have found something, but did not know what. Was it an Indian burial site? Maybe he found gold (I was 12 remember) I was so curious and finding Dinosaur footprints turned out to be the coolest most wonderful surprise of all. I'll always remember that day in August of 66 standing there alone with the newly found footprints and wondered who the worker was so I could thank him for trusting this 12 year old to watch over such a priceless piece of Rocky Hill History.

Wow Janis that is a great story! Thank you for adding it, its stories like yours that make this website so much fun.