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 Earl Nottingham / TPWD


TRAVEL

Hard Scrabble Heaven

Take it from dad, Glen Rose still provides magic after all these years.


Glen Rose is a rocky, dusty gem of a place, full of colorful history and people and home to “exotic” animals, past and present. There’s embedded proof that dinosaur hoedowns of a sort once took place here.

Longtime Glen Rosians speak of it as a place of survival, of struggling to get your head above water only to encounter tragedy or setbacks. Its stubborn, persistent rivers press on through generations of challenges, rounding bends that reveal unique beauty just the same. Its famous author and chronicler, John Graves, aptly named his place here Hard Scrabble. He may be gone now, but his presence remains ingrained in the Somervell County magic.

Such magic takes many forms, such as conjuring up one of the best Father’s Days ever.

As I navigate a bend in the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center road, we see a convertible with a couple and their two children feeding three giraffes, with sister and brother squealing in delight as the animals’ tall necks bend into the vehicle like oilfield pumpjacks, long purplish tongues probing for food pellets.

The scene strikes a chord with my son Hunter and me, as 25-plus years ago that was us, down to the convertible and gender split of the occupants. We share a deep, no-bars-held laugh as other giraffes stride toward our open windows.

“The first time we came here in the convertible kind of freaked me out,” Hunter confesses, as he once again offers a handful of food to a curious giraffe.

For several years, Hunter and I have spent Father’s Day revisiting places that connect to activities we enjoyed when he was young. Fossil Rim is a natural: We both love animals, and when he and his sister Madeline were young the 1,800-acre wildlife park was a favorite getaway.

On this sunny Father’s Day, the animals are active and the 7.2-mile drive through their territory captivating. At one point, while surrounded by aoudads and Arabian oryx, Madeline calls from Brooklyn. For one frozen moment, they’re both in the car with me at Fossil Rim again.

We occasionally encounter the canopied buses that conduct “behind the scenes” tours. At one point, we are amused by the riders’ reactions, from delight to trepidation, when an ostrich pokes its head inside the vehicle.

A pair of stretched-out cheetahs, leaning back-to-back in the sun behind a compound fence, are spellbinding, and we pause in front of them for some time. They deign not to notice us at all.

Fossil Rim started as a private ranch dedicated to endangered species in the early 1970s, then opened to the public in 1984. Lodging options on the center grounds and insider tours offer more intimate access to its beauty and many of the 1,100 animals roaming the pastures.

Glen Rose holds many other attractions. I’ve canoed/kayaked the Brazos River several times (outfitters provide tubing options as well).

The Paluxy River, most often at a trickle but sometimes a roar, passes through Glen Rose before entering into the Brazos east of town. It has provided meeting spots that trace back to the dinosaurs; many of them are contained within Dinosaur Valley State Park.

 Earl Nottingham / TPWD


A courthouse statue depicts the Barnards, the “first family of Glen Rose.”


In 1908, a torrential storm whipped the Paluxy into a frenzy, destroying bridges and scouring the riverbed, uncovering theropod tracks discovered a year later by a local 9-year-old. A professional collector visiting the site 20 years later discovered sauropod tracks. The dinosaur finds birthed a tourism draw; the sites finally gained protection when the state park opened in 1972. Nearly a quarter-million visitors annually explore the amazing dinosaur track sites.

The state park also hosts a vibrant bird population that includes the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo, which use Ashe juniper bark to build their nests.

“People come from all over the world to add that warbler to their list,” former park Assistant Superintendent Chris Hill says.

March and April are good times to see them.

Hill, a former math and science teacher from Crowley, volunteered at the park for years before joining the staff in October 2018. A park program inspired his birding.

“Bird watching is a bit of a misnomer — the ears really are one of the most important parts of birding,” Hill says, then cocks his head and points out the song of a painted bunting.

Recent heavy rains have closed the trails to the public this weekend. We encounter a number of large coyote and big cat tracks, and as we move on, Hill sidesteps to avoid several large, circular webs in the path spun by orb weavers.

A bit farther along, we gently create a hole through a series of the webs covering the trail.

“Must be a good spot to eat,” he says, laughing.

During the next hour, Hill shares insights into many of the common birds we first hear and then encounter, and the park’s history.

“We have evidence that there was Native American settlement here as far back as 10,000 years ago — fire rings, trash bins,” Hill says.

 Earl Nottingham / TPWD


Petrified wood became Glen Rose’s signature building style


 Chase Fountain / TPWD


Visitors encounter a giraffe at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center


 Earl Nottingham / TPWD


Dinosaurs left tracks in the Paluxy River


 Chase Fountain / TPWD


An overlook provides a view of Fossil Rim


Of course, the dinosaur tracks are the star attractions. The Main Track Site is where the first sauropod trackway was discovered. The limestone ledge above the Blue Hole — one of the deepest spots in the Paluxy and usually fairly calm, a place where people have long gathered — bears theropod tracks. And the Ballroom Track Site has hundreds of tracks moving in all directions, as if the dinosaurs were dancing; hence the name. (When the river swells, the dinosaur tracks are obscured, as they are this day; checking the park website on current accessibility conditions is prudent.)

Between all the Dinosaur Valley trail clambering and animal viewing, my hunger meter is in the red. The generous hamburgers and rough-cut fries at The Green Pickle off the town square, served on pickle-themed tablecloths, are just the remedy. We save just enough room to slip over to nearby Pie Peddlers for an outstanding slice of raspberry rhubarb pie, devoured at an outside table.

Dennis Moore, former mayor, local pastor, photographer and volunteer at the Somervell County Museum on the square, approaches and introduces himself, launching into a friendly Glen Rose ambassadorial spiel.

He recounts how plowing farmers discovered the first of what was great quantities of petrified wood in the 1920s. This wood-grained stone, largely through the efforts of mason Gran Norman, became Glen Rose’s signature building look. Starting about 1927, Norman set the petrified wood in diagonal patterns, inserting white quartz known as isinglass into the stone to create a sparkling effect. The look spread into other north-central Texas towns.

 Earl Nottingham / TPWD


Big Rocks Park provides geologic fun


 Chase Fountain / TPWD


Loco Coyote Grill serves up plates of barbecue


 Chase Fountain / TPWD


Hikers venture onto rocks in the river at Dinosaur Valley State Park


As the day wanes, we move to Big Rocks Park, a large pile of Paluxy-exposed limestone.

Young or old, climbing about this park is plain prehistoric fun. Crossing the river at the nearby spillway offers access to the Paluxy Riverwalk, which provides a leisurely riverside walk to Heritage Park and back.

Later, at the rustic Loco Coyote Grill just outside town, Christmas lights run in haphazard rows down the length of the long outdoor serving area and bar. A sign tells us: “Get Your Mind Right.”

“The servings are rancher size,” our young server, a nearly lifelong resident, warns. We eschew the massive Howling Coyote burgers and split some barbecue with an array of tasty sides.

Before we depart, our server recommends Barnard Street Bakery, once a square fixture but now tucked into a gas station. We pick up colorfully iced, dinosaur-shaped sugar cookies.

The day is in full retreat by the time we return to our Cheetah tent at the Fossil Rim Safari Camp. Settling weary bones into chairs outside our tent, we give it a rest.

A greater sandhill crane, tuft of red head flashing in the dimming light, explodes onto the scene with harsh squawking and a hard landing at the watering hole outside our compound fence. On a far rise, a harem of roan antelopes grazes peacefully.

We enjoy our sugar cookies, drinking in the rising moon and startling field of stars in the sky above. Another day of hardscrabble magic comes to a close.


MORE INFO:

 Check for closures, limited hours or new procedures before visiting.


Glen Rose

www.glenrosetexas.org/visit

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

fossilrim.org

Dinosaur Valley State Park

tpwd.texas.gov/dinosaurvalley

The Green Pickle

thegreenpickle.weebly.com

Loco Coyote Grill

www.lococoyotegrill.com

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