A worthy trip: Dinosaur footprints in Portugal

Dinosaur footprints! Amazing they survived until today. We’re talking about footprints on mud that were printed millions of years ago, but have been kept safe for all this time. That fact alone makes my blood run hot, so once I heard there were some nearby I had to check them out.

Overview of the site: An abandoned limestone quarry
Overview of the site: An abandoned limestone quarry

And what a blast it was! It’s worth the drive to Portugal just to see the fossilized tracksite. The place is 10 km south of Fatima, where there’s this big catholic sanctuary, so getting a place to sleep shouldn’t be a concern. If you want to make something more out of your trip there, visit the Batalha monastery too, another impressive landmark.

A small map of the surroundings. Click on it to get directions via Google Maps.

But enough with directions, let’s get to the fun part: About 175 million years ago sauropods (big herbivorous dinosaurs) were walking the earth. Eventually they walked through a muddy plain near a shore where the village of Boirio is right now. This plain got flooded by the nearby sea, and more mud was deposited on top of the tracksite; since then petrification has preserved the prints until our time. They got uncovered during quarrying of the rocks above them and were protected by the portuguese: Well done indeed.

Sequence of events, from dino to fossil footprint.

If you’re still not convinced about the visit, I’ve read here it’s considered one of the most important sauropod footprint sites in the world. You can read more about the Fatima dinosaur tracksite on these links:

And here’s my try on interpreting the trackways, the direction of movement and where the fingers were:

Pathway with 5 footprints. One has its surface marked in red and explained.
Pathway with 5 footprints. One has its surface marked in red and explained.

“O Courel” Fold

The O Courel Fold is one of the sparse geological protected landscapes in Spain. It’s a beautiful recumbent syncline fold on sandstone and shales, with a very good overview by the road on the other side of a valley.

Original fold image
O Courel fold

Located in eastern Galicia (any Camino de Santiago fans out there?), it is cut through by a small river on the green hills of the O Courel mountain range. For the rock enthusiasts, you’ll want to know the fold alternates strata of sandstone and clay-rich shales. For the tree enthusiasts, the area has some of the coolest looking, Tolkien-like forests you’ll find. Worth the visit!

Map detailing the situation of the fold and the information panel. Click on the image to see it bigger.
Map detailing the situation of the fold and the information panel. Click on the image to see it bigger.

To get there, you have to drive to Quiroga, and there follow the directions to Folgoso, Seoane and the “Miradoiro Xeolóxico“.

Now for the geological part, here’s a quick explanation on what a fold is: Layers of rock, firstly laid out one over another like lassagna, get pushed on the sides and bend together. These folds are usually vertical, as the forces that make them are horizontal (tectonic plate movements).

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Above: Two cases of fold formation. Below: Types of fold. Ours is the last one on the right.

Recumbent fold, if we look it up on a dictionary translates to some stuff like “has an essentially horizontal axial plane”. This happens if the forces keep pushing the rocks, as the lassagna-like folded rocks fall on top of each other, ending up with a horizontal axial plane. On the case of the recumbent O Courel fold, the forces came from the collision of two continents: Laurasia (ancient America) and Gondwana (ancient Eurasia), which formed the supercontinent known as Pangaea:

Situation of the Earth on the late Permian (260 My.). Marked with a yellow dot is where O Courel was at the time, and on red the collision border between the two continents.

The folded rocks are now visible thanks to some river action: The water has cut through the layers of rock, like a knife would cut through a cake. The fact that all the collision stuff happened 300 million years ago helps, as the erosion has had time enough to do its job.

marked_fold2
That’s where i got the idea for the folding symbol on the background of the site!

Read more on:

I’d love to see more geological landscapes protected and explained; we are on the right track by doing it. Feel free to contact me if you want directions or suggestions for geo-tourism in Galicia, or if you want to tell me how awesome the geological landscapes where you live are. I’ll be happy to answer!