Be Loyal to the Royal Within You

Finding Answers in the Footprints of Dinosaur Valley

The gaping maw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex cast its long shadow over our approaching train of white vans. At the entrance to Dinosaur Valley, Texas, enormous concrete Raptors, Tyrannosaurs, Sauropods, and Pterodactyls littered the towering front gate. Alongside the sculptures the words ‘Welcome to Dinosaur World!’ were presented in bold red lettering.
The looming park gate wasn’t the first dinosaur attraction our caravan had encountered. Just before the dino covered entrance lay The Creation Museum, advertised by a sign that read “see the evidence” coupled with a graphic of a human footprint alongside a three-toed dinosaur track. According to the museum’s website, human footprints have been found alongside the dinosaur’s tracks within the park, providing evidence that the two coexisted before the less fortunate beasts were rendered extinct in the biblical flood.

In stark contrast to the creationist museum, geologists believe that the existence of dinosaurs was part of the long natural history of the planet spanning billions of years. According to this theory, these fossilized footprints were made during the Cretaceous Period (145–65 mya), when a shallow inland sea covered the middle of what is today North America. Muddy tidal flats, a perfect place for fossilization, lay alongside that sea. Footprints from dinosaurs walking in the mud would be covered by sediments, buried below the ground and preserved. In modern times these layers have resurfaced through tectonic movements and can now be seen as the remnants of these prehistoric creatures.

Despite the dinosaur attractions at the park’s entrance, the actual remains were difficult to find inside. Unseasonably heavy rains had caused the river to swell up and cover the iconic tracks that gave the valley its name. As our group was scouring the banks for a sign of the ancient animals, we came across another, brightly clad party of dino hunters. A softly spoken lady in a pink T-shirt directed me towards a spot on the bank where I could see an obscure three-toed track camouflaged in the muddy water.

The helpful lady’s name was Janise Tinsman, or Sister Tinsman, as it said in the back of her bright top. On its front, the shirt read “be loyal to the royal within you.” Sister Tinsman explained that her group was there on an annual trip for girls organized by the Mormon church of Stephenson, Texas. Surrounding her on the rocks overlooking the tracks were several watchful teenage girls, all wearing the same shirt in a variety of colors. When asked to explain what her shirt meant, Ms. Tinsman spoke for the group saying “we all have a divine nature within us, and we have to be loyal to it.”

So where then does our new friend Sister Tinsman lie on the spectrum between geological science and creationism? When asked about the Mormon philosophy on dinosaurs, she cautiously replied that their beliefs were a “melding” of creationist values and evolutionary science; believing in the word of the Bible, but also accepting scientific knowledge. “We can see the evidence for it right here”, she said gesturing to that obscured three-toed marking.

A few nights later in Santa Fe, our caravan hit the road again in search of dinosaurs, but this time on the big screen. The fourth installment of the popular Jurassic Park movie series had just come out and we were excited to finally see the animals that fossils could only hint at. The idea of humans and Tyrannosaurs existing simultaneously, as the creationism museum claims, is a tantalizing concept that has brought audiences to theaters for years.

At the same time, the tyrant king (the Latin meaning of T. Rex) and the king of creation are struggling to coexist in modern society. Our visit to Dinosaur Valley exposed us to the multitude of theories surrounding the nature of its tracks. Whether they stand as monuments to a biblical testament, natural history, or something in between is up for the visitor to decide. Whatever your decision is, Sister Tinsman would likely advise you “to be true to the royal within you.”