In the footsteps of dinosaurs
The first recorded evidence of dinosaurs in the USA was found in a field alongside the banks of the Connecticut River nearly 200 years ago. On a drive through New England in the XC90, we go in search of 190 million year-old footprints
On the road to discovery: the Volvo XC90 in Boston
People have settled in the valley of the Connecticut River for centuries, drawn by its fertile soil and rich natural resources. Starting at the Canadian border and flowing south for 410 miles, the river is the longest in New England, framed on both sides by some of the region’s most spectacular scenery.
But long before the Native American and European settlers walked on this land, something much larger roamed here. In the Early Jurassic period, some 190 million years ago, this central valley was a very different place to today. Back then it was a hot subtropical swamp. Prime dinosaur conditions. Or, to give it one of the period’s other names, the Age of the Reptiles. .
An important discovery
It was in 1822 that Rev William Buckland, a theologian, geologist and palaeontologist from Axminster in Devon, wrote the first full account of the discovery of a fossil dinosaur, which he found in a cave in North Yorkshire. It helped ignite an interest in palaeontology and geology around the world. Fourteen years after Buckland’s discovery, on the other side of the Atlantic, an American geologist made what was to be another important find.
It was in 1836 that Edward Hitchcock, a professor at Amherst College in central Massachusetts, along with a group of fellow enthusiasts, stumbled upon a series of three-toed footprints in a sandstone outcrop just a few yards from the banks of the Connecticut.
It’s to the site of these remarkable prehistoric remnants that we’re heading, nearly two centuries after Hitchcock made his discovery. Parking our XC90 in a layby off US-5, a mile or two outside the city limits of the small industrial town of Holyoke, we wander down a short, leafy path to the Dinosaur Footprints Reservation, which is open seasonally every Spring until late Autumn.
When you first encounter them, you may initially wonder what all the fuss is about. Time and the elements have conspired to wear the footprints down, so they can be difficult to spot at first. However, on closer inspection you can pick out hundreds of small tracks and footprints heading away from the river, frozen in time in the soft sandstone rock. Once you spot them, the scene comes alive.
They are thought to have been made by bird-like carnivorous theropods that measured up to seven metres in length. The largest of the footprints, around 50cm long, are believed to have been made by a Dilophosaurus, a relative of the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex.
However, more significant than the discovery of the footprints themselves was Hitchcock’s subsequent thesis that these dinosaurs lived and travelled in herds. The nature of the footprints’ groupings suggested that the extended families of dinosaurs were all moving and hunting together. In other words, the animals were not the solitary scavengers that they were once thought to be but instead highly social. At the time, the theory was met with ridicule from fellow academics and palaeontologists, but Hitchcock’s hypothesis took root and would prove to be an invaluable insight into the lives of dinosaurs.
The end of an era
Today, the scenery along this stretch of the Connecticut River has changed little from Hitchcock’s time. The wide, lazy river doesn’t so much flow as dawdle at this point in its leisurely journey south, where it eventually discharges into Long Island Sound. The steep bank on the opposite side to where the footprints are located is still heavily wooded. It’s a gentle, soothing scene. But around 66 million years ago, a cataclysmic event caused the end of the Age of the Reptiles.
There are even clues to this ecological disaster set into the sandstone rock at Holyoke, giving an idea of the sudden impact with which the dinosaurs were wiped out. Embedded in the rock you can see the ripples of an ancient pond, solidified in an instant following a catastrophic volcanic eruption. Look out for prints of primitive fish, plants and stromatolites – mounds of sedimentary rock made up of fossilised algae and trapped sediment – too.
It’s a profound experience standing here, surrounded by the footsteps of dinosaurs, as the mighty Connecticut River flows past. It’s only the rumble of cars passing on the highway behind us and the clang of a distant train bell that helps transport us 190 million years, forward to the present day.
Connectivity In Berlin
After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen decided it was time to return to Germany and reconnect with her homeland. And when it came to choosing a city in which to settle down in and start up a new business, she only had one place in mind – Berlin.
The race to the horizon
The fascinating background and history of the Volvo Ocean Race have turned it into one of the best-known and toughest endurance races in the sporting calendar. For four and a half decades, participants have challenging themselves and each other as they sail its course. In this article, we will trace the race back to its beginning - and beyond, looking at the developments that shaped modern sea travel and made it possible in the first place. We trace the history of the race all the way back to the opening of the Panama and Suez canals, and then how - decades later - Robin Knox-Johnson became the first man to sail single-handedly round the planet. We then describe the foundation of the race in the 70s, and the developments that turned it into the event we know today - with its cutting-edge boats, teams of world champion sailors and non-stop coverage.
Life’s invisible luxury
This article is part of our ‘Passionate people behind Volvo’ series. In this article, we meet two of the experts who work as part of Volvo Cars’ Interior Air Quality Testing Team. As we are guided through their working day, the Interior Air Quality Testing Team explain Volvo Cars’ approach to ensuring Volvo drivers enjoy a clean and healthy in-car environment that is free from emissions.