Scientist stumbles over dozens of dinosaur tracks in discovery of a lifetime

GREENBELT, Md. -- It's funny the way things happen sometimes. At a place where scientists look far into the future, someone tripped over a piece of the ancient past. 

In 2012, Ray Stanford, a dinosaur fossil hunter, made a major discovery -- not in some remote wilderness, but on the grounds of the Goddard Space Flight Center northeast of Washington, D.C.

"Oh, I'm looking down on the most beautiful track of a nodosaur that I've ever seen," he explains.

Right alongside those tracks were the tracks of a baby nodosaur. Martin Lockley, an expert on dinosaur tracks from the University of Colorado, has spent hundreds of hours analyzing one rock.

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Ray Stanford, right

CBS News

"There are at least 70 clearly identified tracks," he said.

He believes all these animal tracks may have been made in a matter of hours on a typical day, 110 million years ago.

"There are all these small tracks going around, one, two, three, four, five, walking around. And that's s a chicken- or crow-size carnivorous dinosaur," Lockley explained.

In fact, there are four of them, walking slowly in the same direction, apparently hunting for small mammals whose tracks are also clearly visible. It's one of the densest concentrations of dinosaurs and mammals ever found, and on Wednesday, the extraordinary findings were published in scientific reports.

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Looking for dinosaur tracks

CBS News

After our interviews, Stanford and Lockley decided to check out another rock in the same area, and it turns out they saw another ancient footprint. They didn't seem surprised, since the say they're everywhere. You just have to know where to look.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.