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Dinosaur devotee peddles prehistory in South Hadley

Email|Print| Text size + By Tom Long
Globe Correspondent / July 16, 2006

SOUTH HADLEY -- The entrance to Nash's Dinosaur Track Quarry looks like a set for a 1950s sci-fi film. A couple of 4-foot-tall papier-mâché dinosaurs guard the entrance to the weathered one-story cinderblock building with a corrugated tin roof that rattles in the wind.

Inside is a Jurassic gift shop where fossilized dinosaur tracks, fish, and ferns are displayed in glass cases under fluorescent light fixtures that hang from wooden rafters. An inflatable Sinclair Oil dinosaur sits on a shelf. ``No trespassing, violators will be eaten," reads the needlepoint sign on the door.

A gold shag carpet covers the floor below a primitive mural that depicts what the neighborhood must have looked like 200 million years ago. Framed photographs and faded newspaper clippings explain how the backyard obsession of Carlton S. Nash turned into a business.

The funky quarry, picnic area, museum, and gift shop, formerly known as Nash's Dino Land and Nash's Dinosaurland, has a long history.

``The first tracks were found about a mile from here in 1802," Cornell Nash, 52, the current proprietor, said recently. ``My father began quarrying the tracks part time in 1933 and we opened full time in 1950."

At prices ranging from $75 to several thousand dollars, Nash sells dinosaur footprints mined from a quarry behind his house, which adjoins the gift shop.

Customers included comedian Stan Laurel, self-help guru Dale Carnegie, and General George S. Patton. ``People come from all over the world. You never know who will come through that door," Nash said.

An affable man, Nash spoke knowledgeably about the Jurassic Period, when his backyard was the stomping ground of a small theropod called a Grallator and the pack-hunting Dilophosaurus.

A former grocer and security guard, Nash said he gained his knowledge working at his father's elbow. ``Doesn't everybody's father dig dinosaur prints?" he said.

He particularly enjoys explaining the geology of the area to children, he said. ``They still have that sense of wonder."

Does anybody complain about his selling 200-million-year-old geologic al artifacts? ``The academics don't mind. They're not rare, and they have enough footprints already," he said.

But it's not just about dino tracks at Nash's place. He also sells geodes, petrified wave patterns in sand, and gizzard stones the dinos swallowed to help digest their food. Horseshoe crab-like trilobite fossils sell for $12 and Megalodon fossil shark teeth for $10. Fossil ferns that look like delicate works of art captured in sandstone are $12.

Much of the material was collected elsewhere. ``This is the best place in the world for tracks and the worst place to find bones because of the acidity of the soil and other factors," Nash said.

Since his father died in 1997, Nash has opened up the quarry out back. Visitors can walk a hundred yards or so down a gravel path through a pine grove to a tennis court-size opening in the forest, where the petrified mud cascades down a hill. Squares have been quarried out of the rock to remove some footprints, but others have been left so you can climb right in and compare your foot to that of a three-toed Dilophosaurus.

How cool is that?

Contact Tom Long at tomlong918@msn.com.

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