Back in the Early Jurassic, when the supercontinent of Pangaea was just beginning to break up, lakes covered this part of present-day Utah, and dinosaurs were becoming the earth's dominant vertebrates.
Two sites southeast of St. George preserve dinosaur tracks from this era. Of the two, the more recently discovered site at Johnson Farm is more impressive and much easier to get to; indeed, it's been called one of the world's ten best dinosaur track sites.
The Fort Pearce site is good if you're hankering for some back-road travel and scouting dino tracks and petroglyphs in remote washes.
St. George Dinosaur Discovery
Site at Johnson Farm
Tracks at the Johnson Farm site (2180 E. Riverside Dr., 435/574-3466, www.dinotrax.com, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., $6 adults, $3 children 3-11) were discovered in 2000 by a retired optometrist. Since then, a vast number of tracks, including those of three species of theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs) and important "trace fossils" of pond scum, plants, invertebrates, and fish have also been uncovered.
Excavation work is ongoing, but the spacious visitor center provides a good look at some of the most exciting finds, including a wall-sized slab of rock with footprints going to and fro. Also quite remarkable are the "swim tracks," which settled a long-standing argument over whether or not dinosaurs actually swam.
The track site is on the outskirts of St. George, about two miles south of Exit 10 from I-15.
Fort Pearce Dinosaur Tracks
A scenic back-road drive through the desert between St. George and Hurricane passes the ruins of Fort Pearce and more dinosaur tracks. Much of the road is unpaved and has rough and sandy spots, but it's usually suitable for cautious drivers in dry weather.
This group of tracks documents the passage of at least two different dinosaur species more than 200 million years ago. The well-preserved tracks, in the Moenave Formation, were made by a 20-foot-long herbivore weighing an estimated 8-10 tons and by a carnivore half as long. No remains of the dinosaurs themselves have been found here.
In 1861, ranchers arrived in Warner Valley to run cattle on the desert grasslands. Four years later, however, Indian troubles threatened to drive the settlers out. The Black Hawk War and periodic raids by Navajo Indians made life precarious. Springs in Fort Pearce Wash—the only reliable water for many miles—proved the key to domination of the region. In December 1866, work began on a fort overlooking the springs. The stone walls stood about eight feet high and were more than 30 feet long. No roof was ever added.
Much of the fort and the adjacent corral (built in 1869) have survived to the present. Local cattlemen still use the springs for their herds. Petroglyphs can be seen in various places along the wash, including a quarter mile downstream from the fort along ledges on the north side of the wash.
To reach this somewhat remote site from St. George, head south on River Road, cross the Virgin River Bridge, and turn left on 1450 South. Continue on the main road, bearing east through several 90-degree left and right turns. Turn left (east) onto a dirt road at the Fort Pearce sign and continue 5.6 miles to a road that branches right along a small wash to the Fort Pearce parking lot. The dinosaur tracks are in a wash about two miles farther down the road from Fort Pearce; a sign marks the parking area.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition