Amazing dino footprints in Bolivia

by Matthew Cobb

The internet has a very strange attention span. All of a sudden people get excited about something and it appears in a flurry of excitement all over the place, even if it is old news. These astonishing fossilised footprints from Cal Orko in Bolivia are a case in point. Over the last few months they have popped up on various sites, and today they made an appearance in my Tw*tter feed.

I’ll be honest with you – I had never heard of them, and, having been ticked off by Professor Ceiling Cat on a number of occasions for sending him things that turned out to be not entirely true, I was even suspicious. But it is all absolutely true and has been known for many years. If any readers have visited the site, please chip in in the comments. The first three photos below are from here, but I’m not sure who the original photographer is – let us know in the comments and we’ll give your credit!

This is an example of the 5000 or so footprints that have been identified on what was once a muddy shore. Pretty impressive, and even more so when you realise that this stretch of rock is in fact near-vertical (the sky at the top is a giveaway). This is what the site actually looks like – you can just make out some of the many tracks going up the 300ft high ‘wall’:

Here’s a close-up of what it looks like:


The quarry – for it is still a functioning mine – has been turned into a tourist attraction, with a viewing platform from across the valley (tourists aren’t normally given access to the cliff face). In a 2011 travel article in The Guardian, Ian Belcher described how the site is subject to continual erosion and change:

A landslide has left a savage rip across the rock face, interrupting the trail laid down 65m years ago in Bolivia‘s central highlands. … Cal Orko is a constantly evolving record of life in the Cretaceous era – an epic canvas that due to erosion and local mining will always be a work in progress. “It’s just amazing,” says chief guide Maria Teresa Gamón as we inspect the damage. “We see fresh footprints and fossils all the time. We lose some, we find some. It’s always changing.”

Belcher took this photograph of the viewing platform:

Cal Orko

Belcher’s piece concludes:

The Parque Cretácico, opened in 2006, lies further up the hill, with a museum, vast models of dinosaurs and B-movie roars piped through loudspeakers. So far so Spielberg. It’s only when I reach the viewing platform, 150 metres from the rock face, that it starts to become marvellously real – a widescreen view of prehistory. My eyes need to adjust. Cal Orko is a vast optical puzzle requiring time to decipher. Those dots, dashes and holes like super-sized horse hoofprints aren’t random designs – they’re rock-solid semaphore explaining Cretaceous life.

Visitors aren’t normally allowed up to the wall, but with mining temporarily suspended, I’m granted rare access. The immense vertiginous rock face is slightly overwhelming, in the dust and searing heat. Maria, the palaeontologist’s assistant, uses a mirror to transform the sun’s rays into a spotlight, picking out specific tracks.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. “Look! Six footprints going up. Ankylosaurus. And over there! Those are about 80cm in diameter. It’s a titanosaur coming down the wall for about 25m. See where they stop? That soft outer rock will soon crumble and you’ll follow them right to the ground.” (…)

The spoors reveal mundane details of daily Cretaceous life. It’s CSI: Sucre. “That ankylosaur was running. It sank its four toes into the ground, rather than its heel.” (…) For two-legged dinosaurs you multiply the length of the footprint four times to discover leg-to-hip length. Once you’ve got the legs, you know if it was Joe Average or Godzilla.

(…) it was unique climate fluctuations that made the region a palaeontological honey pot. The creatures’ feet sank into the soft shoreline in warm damp weather, leaving marks that were solidified by later periods of drought. Wet weather then returned, sealing the prints below mud and sediment. The wet-dry pattern was repeated seven times, preserving multiple layers of prints. The cherry on the cake was added when tectonic activity pushed the flat ground up to a brilliant viewing angle – as if nature was aware of its tourism potential. (…)

Far from preserving the site, man is adding to the ravages of time. As I leave, a low explosion thumps across the quarry’s fragile earth and reverberates through my chest. More tracks will disappear, more emerge – the endless dance of conservation and industrial progress.


  1. Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Amazing climbers! 😉

  2. Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    There is an equally impressive sauropod site near Fatima in Portugal, where Jurassic tracks were found in what was a working quarry which has now been preserved (kudos to whoever organised that) :

  3. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    The top picture is by a Brit named Jerry Daykin September 4, 2003 [Kodak DX6340 Zoom]

    He has a fun flickr album [above link is just his Bolivia set of 150 snaps] which, in total, tells me he burns the candle at both ends 🙂

  4. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    The second picture is from THIS SET on Flickr by Carsten Drossel of Hanau, Germany on January 6, 2007 with a Panasonic DMC-FZ5. There are a few other related so well worth a look at them all. Fine pics!

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    The third pic is by Ryan Greenberg taken on December 10, 2005 with a Canon PowerShot S410. Who I’m inclined to guess is American [teeth, health & name]. A groovy collection too ~ worth checking out the link.

  6. µ
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    We should take all US residents there, or to Dinosaur National Park, allow everyone to touch one of those tracks, or touch fossilized dinosaur bones in situ (which you actually can do at DNP). That should help change attitudes towards evolution in the US.

    • Notagod
      Posted December 7, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      It surely would be helpful but, some of those christians are so filthy with jesus they would just make up a new excuse for their gods.

      • McCthulhu
        Posted December 7, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        “Filthy with Jesus”? That’s a hilariously accurate phrase. Apologies aforehand for my theft and use of it.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 7, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps you missed Jerry’s creationist road trip last year in which they did exactly that with five creationists, to no avail.

      In any case, giving 300 million tourists hands-on access to that site (or any similar site) would surely do far more damage to the site than to people’s attitudes.

  7. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    THIS is my favourite set from 2007 by JUAN PEDRO SÁNCHEZ PLAZA. He has the eye & I can sense scale from his pics without the need to bother putting people in such a marvellous setting. An artist. His whole album worth a look.

    • Posted December 7, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      Great post, Matthew. It’s mind-boggling the scale. And a veritable treasure trove under the threat of mining — it’s good that they’ll at least stop when they unearth something, but I wish the place could be conserved in toto.

      Thanks for all your added info, Michael. Good research work.

  8. boggy
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    These creatures were escaping fron the rising water levels during the Flood 4,500 years ago. I am sure we would all climb near vertical cliffs to preserve our lives. Any human footprints seen yet among the dinosaurs’?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      You said it, bro. Do’nt let those nasty Evilutionists misinterpret Gods’ message. Thats’ our job!

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      If you look at it just right, you can see where the Ankylosaur tracks stop. That’s where Jesus carried it.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    One thing’s for sure. You can tell they weren’t Sand People. 😀

  10. Posted December 7, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I have to wonder if whatever they’re extracting from the mine really is worth more than the fossilized footprints.


    • Lars
      Posted December 8, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      I visited an open-pit coal mine near Cache Creek, Alta, a few years ago on a consulting job (i.e. could we justify further expansion of the mine), and they turned up trackways like these – not on such high cliffs, but long trackways nonetheless, on nearly-vertical rock faces. I wondered about the costs as well, and how many of these trackways survived the mining activities going on around them – I know of at least one extensive trackway that collapsed before anyone qualified could get a look at it. On the other hand, it’s doubtful that these trackways would have been exposed without the mine.

  11. Posted December 7, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Utah has way more than Dinosaur National Monument

    • eTourist
      Posted December 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Very true, but Dinosaur Ridge is less than a 90 minute drive from that hive of scum and villainy, Colorado Springs and its megachurches.

      DR is an extremely compact assemblage of three different geological periods, dinosaur tracks, the undersides of dinosaur tracks and dinosaur bones still imbedded in rock. From the ridge you can also see an oil producing area that is capped by the Morrison period rocks.

      And yet, James Dobson’s Focus on Butt Fu…(sorry …the Family) is only an hour away.

  12. uglicoyote
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  13. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    There’s a similar wall of sauropod tracks (not quite so high or steep) in the Jura near Solothurm, Switzerland.

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