The Creationists Of Glen Rose

April 21, 2012

Texas Observer:

IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED DINOSAURS and humans, and they walked together in Texas.

At least, according to many people in Glen Rose.

The small town about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth is home to some of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world; it’s also a heavily Christian community where many locals interpret the book of Genesis literally.

Their belief is bolstered by a phenomenon in the riverbed. Alongside the dinosaur tracks are what resident R.C. McFall and others call “man tracks”—tangible proof of biblical creation accounts and a refutation of the theory of evolution.

McFall walks along the Paluxy River, careful not to place his cowboy boot in a dinosaur track. Muddy water fills the fossilized footprints embedded in this rocky ledge.

“There’s a track right there,” he says in a deep Texas drawl, pointing. “That hole is where my dad dug one out.”

If the river weren’t up, McFall explains, we’d see man tracks just a few feet away, in the same strata of rock as the dinosaur tracks.

The 113-million-year-old dinosaur tracks, first discovered in 1909, are an important part of Glen Rose’s livelihood, bringing thousands of visitors a year to attractions like Dinosaur Valley State Park and Dinosaur World. The town’s tourist industry, accounting for $23 million in annual revenue, was built largely on the jaw-dropping fact that fossils this old are still present today. Visitors can park their trailers at the Jurassic RV Park (the tracks actually date to the Cretaceous period) or stay at the Glen Rose Inn & Suites, where the sign features a cartoon dinosaur.

“The dinosaurs are what drive us,” says Billy Huckaby, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Glen Rose. “You can’t develop a town of 2,000 into this kind of tourism revenue unless you’ve got something really special to promote.”

Tourist literature describes the tracks as millions of years old, but not everyone buys the science.

“I believe in the Bible,” McFall says. “I don’t believe the world’s over 6,000 or 7,000 years old. Course, everybody’s got their own interpretation.”

Beyond their appeal to tourists, the tracks have made Glen Rose a destination for scientists and religious pilgrims. In the ’30s and ’40s, paleontologists came to study the well-preserved dinosaur footprints, removing sections for display at museums in Austin and New York. Creationists, too, have come to Glen Rose, hoping the man tracks can prove their hypothesis of a young Earth. The town has even produced its share of fake tracks—both dinosaur and human—which further confuse the issue.

But if there’s controversy among residents of Glen Rose between science and religion, it’s below the surface.

“MOST EVERYONE IN Glen Rose that I know believes man and dinosaurs coexisted,” Alice Lance tells me at the annual tractor pull. “The only conflict we have is when people move from metropolitan areas and have different value systems. I think some don’t have a strong [religious] belief system, and they’re more likely to go with science than faith.”

Biology teacher Wendy Thompson says that students sometimes ask about the exhibits, including “evidence” of human footprints alongside those of dinosaurs they’ve seen at the local Creation Evidence Museum, or ask questions informed by their religious views. One student recently told Thompson how she and her father reconciled evolution with the Genesis account. God created the sun and moon on the fourth day; before that, a “day,” the student reasoned, could have been millions of years long.

“I just listened to her,” Thompson says. “It’s kind of a touchy thing.”

Mary Adams, the niece of George Adams, who found the dinosaur tracks more than a century ago, recently delivered a presentation to youth at the First Baptist Church warning them against belief in evolution.

“If we were not created by God,” the 87-year-old Adams tells me, “there’s no one to whom we are accountable. We can live exactly as we please.”

Adams’ presentation described how she was raised in a church-going home and believed a literal interpretation of Genesis until college, when she accepted evolution instead. She left the church and was married, not entirely happily, to an atheist for 29 years. After their divorce she returned to Glen Rose and to the Lord.

She calls the theory of evolution “the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

For Adams, the idea that God may have worked the miracle of life through the mechanism of evolution, or that science explains “how” and religion explains “why,” doesn’t hold water. It’s “too much of a mixture,” she says.

“Mixing,” though, is how residents like Alice Lance reconcile science and religion.

“How long was that week [described in Genesis]?” Lance wonders. “Until the seasons were established, we don’t know how time would have operated. If you believe in a superior being, he could manipulate time.”

ACCORDING TO GEOLOGISTS, the rock layer near Glen Rose containing fossilized dinosaur footprints is 113 million years old. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, about 60 million years before the earliest humans appeared. So what are the riverbed man tracks?

The answer comes from amateur paleontologist Glen Kuban, who’s studied those tracks since the ’80s. They’re actually more dinosaur tracks, Kuban says.

Fossilized tracks were formed when dinosaurs—in this case the herbivore Paluxysaurus (similar to the Brontosaurus you learned about in grade school) and carnivore Acroca­nthosaurus (a smaller cousin of Tyra­nn­­osaurus rex)—left footprints in mud that dried and hardened. Later, a different type of sediment washed into the tracks and, over millions of years, turned to stone. Eventually rivers carved through the area and eroded the softer, later sediment, exposing the tracks.

Kuban, later joined by other paleontologists, determined that the “man” tracks are metatarsal prints made by dinosaurs that, instead of walking only on their toes, let their heels drop into the mud. The resulting elongated tracks appeared human-like, and the effect was compounded when mud collapsed over the toe impressions or sediment filled them in. Kuban has presented his work at conferences and published in scientific journals. Among paleontologists, the issue is settled: There are no man tracks.

Glen Rose residents are less sure.

“I’ll be honest,” Sue Bussey says. “Some of the tracks positively look like man tracks. But Dr. Baugh took us to see the McFall tracks, and they don’t look like a man’s track. There’s no definite toes. There’s a heel and an arch, but it’s very vague.”

Sue and her husband, Morris Bussey, run Bussey’s Something Special, a bed and breakfast inn just off the town square. A western-themed bedroom sports a list of “The Cowboy Ten Commandments.” (No. 10: “Don’t be hankerin’ for yer buddy’s stuff.”)

Sue’s referring to Carl Baugh, a Baptist minister who moved to Glen Rose in the early ’80s to research the man tracks. Convinced of their authenticity, he founded the Creation Evidence Museum to promote the idea that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, consistent with biblical timelines. The museum tends to attract more tourists and creationist pilgrims than locals.

“I’m religious,” Sue Bussey says, “and I know God made it all, but I don’t know or care if he made it in billions of years, or if he put time zones in there to make it look like billions of years.”

Morris Bussey runs the Stone Hut fossil shop in an old whiskey cabin close to the state park and the Creation Evidence Museum. Though his formal education stopped at sixth grade, Bussey knows a lot about fossils.

Unlike his wife, he’s not religious. “You ask me what I believe in, it’s the almighty dollar,” he says, pointing upward.

Over the years, the Busseys have learned from professional geologists and paleontologists. “One thing they taught us was about pseudofossils,” Sue says. “That’s a wannabe fossil. Either someone’s made it, which happens around here, or more likely it’s just a rock that looks like a fossil.”…

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