Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Dino Tracks on the San Gabriel

Yesterday, Marlene and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary by looking for dinosaur footprints on the South San Gabriel River. The previous weekend, we had located some great dinosaur tracks on the North San Gabriel (see Wading the San Gabriel post). This weekend, we headed to the South San Gabriel near Leander, where a well-known trackway exists.

We made our way down to the river, emerging upon a smooth bed of limestone that formed the river bottom. The river was down to just a trickle, but was clean and clear. Several other people were already there, also looking at the dinosaur tracks. A small boy threw rocks for our dog Molly into the river, which Molly promptly retrieved, much to the delight of both.

The trackway of dinosaur prints is pretty spectacular. Each print is about 10 inches long and separated from the next print by 3 to 4 feet. We counted 11 prints in all.

After examining the tracks, we hiked up the river a short ways, while Molly splashed around chasing small fish and swimming in the deeper pools. We topped off the day with a four-star dinner at Cafe Josie in Austin and then headed to Zilker Park to watch the outdoors performance of Beauty and the Beast.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wading the North San Gabriel

Last weekend, my wife Marlene and I waded the North San Gabriel River with our dog Molly. It was a clear hot day, perfect for wading. We were in search of dinosaur footprints, which I had been told could be found on this stretch of the San Gabriel.

The river was beautiful--crystal clear water flowing gently over solid rock bottoms. As we made our way upstream, a heron flew overhead and cricket frogs called from the banks. Because of the sparse rainfall this spring and summer, the river was low, less than a foot in most places, which made wading easy. Molly had a great time splashing around, chasing minnows and small bass.

We walked for a mile and half and didn't see another person. Half a mile upstream we passed 40-foot cliffs. Great chunks of limestone, almost perfectly rectangular and looking like they were cut from a quarry, lay in the river bed. Further on we passed several deeper pools, where Molly was able to swim around without touching bottom. At one point, underground springs fed cool water into the river and the water temperature dropped dramatically. Vines hung overhead, providing natural swings over the water. As we walked upstream, we searched diligently for the dinosaur footprints, but without success.

After about an hour of walking, we turned around and headed back, convinced that the dinosaur tracks were either covered in mud, or worn away, or maybe never existed. I happened to look down, and there next to the river was a foot-long dinosaur print, perfectly preserved in the hard limestone. Several additional tracks, more weathered and less obvious, extended back in a clear trackway. Alone on the river, it was easy to imagine a dinosaur slowly lumbering across the muddy river bottom 100 million years ago, leaving the beautiful tracks that, against all odds, have survived to this day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shell House in Rivery Park

Prepared by Southwestern University Paideia Scholars Natalie Mahlberg, Amanda Mohammed, and Megan Mullins and Paideia Professor Michael Kamen. Artwork by Carlos Barron

Dr. Michael Kamen's Paideia class at Southwestern University researched and wrote the information contained in this post as a part of the San Gabriel River Trail Project (, funded by a Vision grant from the 3M Foundation. The text and graphics shown here will be put on Kiosk that will be placed in the park by the City of Georgetown.

The Shell family were early pioneers who lived along the North San Gabriel River just north of Georgetown. Remains of the Shell family home can be seen near the pavilion at Rivery Park. The Shell family moved to Georgetown and built the house in the late 1800s. During this time Jonas Montgomery Shell Sr. was elected district clerk and served for a year before becoming sheriff. After the 1921 flood, Jonas Montgomery Jr. raised the house on stones to avoid the house being severely damaged by future floods. Following this incident, a house fire was caused by wood heaters, which were used for heating and cooking until the addition of electricity in the 1930s. The surrounding land was used as a ranch where cattle, workhorses, and other livestock grazed. In addition, the family tended pear and peach orchards. They also grew a variety of vegetables in a garden that included corn, tomatoes, and peppers. A tank still stands today, which was built by Jonas Montgomery Shell Jr. in the 1940s in addition to a fence that was built as a coral for the horses and cattle.

The Shell family still resides in the Georgetown area: Sister Marguerite Shell Murray, and brothers Jonas (Son), Wiggy, and Sidney Shell all married and continued to ranch in the Georgetown area. The 263 acre property was sold in 1972, and traded hands several times before becoming Rivery Park.