Prehistoric Trackways National Monument

Round Trip Distance: 2.9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 3981 - 4483 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Ridgeline
Fee: none
Attractions: Paleozoic trackways & fossils

The Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, near Las Cruces, New Mexico, was established in 2009 to protect and conserve the Paleozoic Era fossilized footprint mega trackways that are found in the area. Dating back 280 million years the deposits include trackways of amphibians, reptiles and insects as well as fossilized plants and petrified wood that predate the time of the dinosaurs. Due to the easiness with which many of the tracks could be removed by vandals and collectors most of them have been taken to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

For turn by turn directions you can enter 'Prehistoric Trackways National Monument' into your driving app. A common route is to take I-25 Exit 9 at Dona Ana and follow the Thorpe Road west to North Valley Drive. Watch for a sign for the monument that will direct you onto Shalem Colony Trail and another onto Rocky Access Trail.

The last little bit of the road is dirt but generally suitable for all passenger vehicles up to the Ridgeline Trailhead.

Kiosks at the trailhead provide a wealth of information about the site that greatly enhances the experience.

From the parking area follow the signs for the Ridgeline trail as it crosses the shallow mesquite lined wash.

The wide, easy to follow, trail slowly gains in elevation as it climbs gently up the hill. An old road can be seen climbing steeply in the distance but the actual trail takes a more moderate route around the left side of the rise.

Near the 0.7 mile point from the trailhead the Discovery trail branches off on the left providing a more direct route to the track site. For this post we followed the Discovery trail to the site and returned to this point via the Ridgeline trail.

Some large signs can be found on the side of the hill near the head of the wash. As you can see even more information, as well as a map, is detailed on the signs. The actual tracks and fossils that still remain at the site are down in the wash itself and along its banks directly below the signs. At present there are no signs down in the wash that indicate where to look so to find what is there simply stand in front of the signs and after reading them turn yourself around 180 degrees facing the wash and begin exploring as you walk down in that direction.

The tracks and fossils in this area are in the red fine-grained sandstone and siltstone. This track is a cast so the rock has apparently been turned over since the track was made.

This track was made by a mammal-like reptile known as a Dimetrodon. It was long extinct before dinosaurs arrived on the scene. At up to thirteen feet long and weighing as much as 500 pounds it would have been the ecosystems largest known predator.

Plant fossils are just as intriguing as those of the animals. We are thinking that this one is from a walchia conifer. There are opportunities to attend guided tours to the area where a person can learn first hand from a knowledgeable expert.

The Las Cruces Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Las Cruces has a 30 foot and a 15 foot trackway on display. It is easy enough to find it by entering it into your driving app as your next destination. Unfortunately it was closed while we were passing through the area. Apparently there are over 150 sites within the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument so there is a lot more exploring that can be done. Please do so responsibly by not collecting any specimens for yourself. If you would like to see it for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.