CNM Students Involved in Mapping Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracksite
UAS Student Scott Ernst uses a 3D blue light scanner to map dinosaur track prints at the NMMNHS.

CNM Students Involved in Mapping Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracksite

Students traveled to Clayton Lake in early May to help document, map and model one of the largest dinosaur tracksites in the U.S.
May 01, 2019

CNM, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science and the New Mexico State Parks Department collaborated on a project to document, map, and model one of the largest dinosaur tracksites in the United States. Hundreds of tracks, from at least four different species of dinosaurs, are exposed at the Clayton Lake State Park in northeastern New Mexico.

The Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracksite Project involved CNM students and faculty, and scientists from NMMNHS and NM State Parks. They worked together on photographing, scanning, mapping and modeling the exposed dinosaur tracks.

“This project is applying high-technology to the documentation of ancient dinosaur trace fossils,” says Rick Watson, part-time faculty member in CNM’s School of Applied Technologies. “We are very fortunate to have something practical and interesting for our students to work on.”


The goal of the Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracksite Project is to provide a state-of-the-art record of the tracks, their relationships, and state of preservation at a variety of scales suitable for scientific analysis, education, public exploration and site preservation.

Students in CNM’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), Geographic Information Technology (GIT), and Earth and Planetary Science (EPS) programs used photogrammetry (science of taking measurements from photos), high-resolution structured light scanning and lidar scanning to record and map the dinosaur tracks at Clayton Lake. Then 3D models of the tracks will be produced at highly precise rates. Few, if any, dinosaur tracksites have been subjected to such a wide range of recording technologies, according to the NMMNHS.


Students learned how to use and integrate these technologies in practical and diverse ways that will suit them in many career fields.

“The students are gaining experience using these technologies and the reality is that these technologies are used for many other purposes,” Watson says. “In the future and even today, we are seeing the application of these technologies in everything from developing small machine tools to developing modern jet aircraft engine components.”

Melody ‘Melo’ King, a UAS student, says that she’s excited to be a part of the Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracksite Project and she’s grateful for the opportunity to develop the ground control GPS points for the entire project. She says that getting to apply what she’s learned to a tangible project is proving to be very beneficial.

“This experience is already benefiting me in the long term,” says Melo. “I’m already taking some of the techniques I’ve learned here and using them in my job as a self-employed cartographic engineer.” 

No photogrammetric or other digital study of the Clayton Lake dinosaur tracks has been undertaken previously. The methods employed in this study are considered state-of-the-art technologies for mapping and gathering metric data on large dinosaur tracksites.


Scott Ernst is a student in the UAS program and knowledgeable in 3D lidar technology, a remote sensing technology that uses pulses from a laser to collect measurements. He says that integrating these types of technologies into one project is thrilling and he hopes to take what he’s learned with him into the workforce.

“Clayton is going to be awesome! I’m very excited,” says Scott. “Integrating these technologies is super interesting because it’s directly related to the business that I am starting, and I want to be able to use these methods both independently and together.”

Additionally, Scott says his learning experience through the UAS program has been very comprehensive.

“I got a bachelor’s of science degree 30 years ago and when I came into this program, I frankly wasn’t expecting to get the amazing education that I’m getting,” he says.

Students from CNM’s Earth and Planetary Sciences program helped to prepare the site and got the opportunity to work and study under the high-caliber scientists from the NMMNHS.

The final products of the Clayton Lake Dinosaur Tracksite Project will be published in a scientific journal and will be used to develop a website about the dinosaur tracksite at Clayton Lake.

This project is partially sponsored by the CNM Executive Council of Students. 

Learn more about CNM’s School of Applied Technologies and School of Math, Science & Engineering.