Monday, September 18, 2017

Insights Should Give Dino-Track Land to Experts

Photo from

Once upon a time, Insights Science Museum was fairly successful. Since then, the Insights Museum has been torn down and most of its meager exhibits have gone to storage. In 2003, Stanley Jobe bought land in Sunland Park from American Eagle Brick Company and gave it to Insights because the land is a valuable paleontological asset. In 2002 a young geology student (now Ph.D.), Eric Kappus, discovered dinosaur tracks on it. Unfortunately, in spite of Eric's expertise and his building a hiking trail from one of the dino sites to Ardovino's Desert Crossing, Insights ended their relationship with him.

Insights board members are (we guess) volunteers. I'm sure that they are good and well-intentioned people who care about our community and have served it well. However, they are also amateurs who have little, if any, knowledge about managing land and, in particular, managing land with dinosaur tracks. Dino footprints at one site are slowly eroding because there is no protection from modern day footprints all over the site.

The President of Insights, Ellen Esposito, told me that they have had no success finding benefactors to help them provide free tours, for instance, with Celebration of Our Mountains. Apparently they have also reached out to 13 companies including Western Refinery. They have not had any success with sponsorships. 

Esposito told me that "liability insurance, expense of tour guides and taxes must be covered by program fees." Insights recently advertised through the Trans-Pecos Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists for people willing to be trained to be docents. Of course, there would be no expense for tour guides if they are volunteers. 

An owner of commercial property in Sunland Park pays significantly less tax on his 24 acres than on his house in El Paso. The approximately 200 acres on which there are dino tracks is not commercial nor is it any longer a quarry operation.
What exactly is Insights' business plan and their goals for this very valuable paleontolgocal treasure? If they truly cared about the preservation of this site, why not turn it over to the Bureau of Land Management and let the Las Cruces office of the BLM manage it? The BLM people are experts. 

In fact, turning over the land to New Mexico to make it part of a 500-mile Rio Grande trail has been proposed by Esposito and renowned UTEP geology professor, Phil Goodell. "The State Parks Division of New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resource Department will facilitate discussions about the dinosaur tracks property," David Crowder of the El Paso Inc. recently reported.

Today one even wonders what the purpose of Insights is any longer. The City of El Paso will soon have a Children's Museum. Insights, more so then than now, will be a relic of the past. An indication that that is true is the fact that they cannot find any serious donors. 

It is time to admit what many have already realized: Insights has no business managing the Dino Tracks. They should turn it over to the BLM or another NM State agency that knows how to manage land and parks.

(I have reached out to Ellen Esposito for comment but have not heard back yet.)


  1. Thank you, Jim, for your interest in Insights DinoTrack site. Many of us in the El Paso community care deeply about the natural environment, and this site is definitely one that needs to be carefully preserved. Its location on the border, where US Governmental agencies, migrants and worshipers pass through the site make for a unique preservation challenge; yet outdoor explorations are one avenue to achieving the mission of Insights: to promote science education through exploratory, interactive learning experiences for all ages.

    I wish to correct the record regarding facts presented in your blog. The Insights board has worked closely for years with Dr. Eric Kappus. His incredible tracking and geologic knowledge have been invaluable to the future of this site. His remarkable presentation to the team from the Rio Grande Trail Commission who visited us a few months ago, helped the Insights Board to showcase the site when they visited the tracks. The trails that he, Paul Galvan and other volunteers built are an asset, but in need of constant repair. In fact, the trail from Ardovino’s is washed out from our summer rains.

    Because Insights has focused on outreach to schools and the El Paso community, we recently trained a number of board members, community members, UTEP Geology students and three Master Naturalists as potential tour guides. While our board and the Master Naturalists are volunteers, Insights supports the Geology majors with stipends for tours. And while a business owner in Sunland Park pays less taxes there than in El Paso, our expenses on the site are significant.

    When the magnificent Kartchner Caverns were discovered in Arizona, the explorers hid their find for years until they were able to protect them from vandalism and contamination. Insights has the same problem. We bring in school groups, UTEP classes and the public to the site and some return, unsupervised, and vandalize artifacts and fossil records. Moreover, even natural processes such as erosion cause tracks to break off, sometimes revealing new ones underneath. Insights’ challenge is to protect the site, carefully balancing that goal with allowing educational experiences that build knowledge, inspire thought, and lead to community engagement with the natural world.

    When Insights surveyed the community as part of strategic planning, we realized that without four walls, we would have the ability to take STEAM to the community, schools and public events. Over the past six months of moving and reformatting we weathered personnel changes. Yet we still provided summer camps to 11 YISD middle schools for six weeks during which several hundred middle school students experienced the geology and cultural history of the trackways, gave DinoTrack tours to other community groups and wrote innovative STEAM curriculum. This week, we hired a new Program Manager and we continue to build collaborations with future museums, other grant-funded STEAM programs, and area school districts.

    El Paso needs STEAM opportunities through a variety of agencies and venues. Watch for Insights’ upcoming adult events like geek nights and contact us for classroom opportunities. Stop by and share your ideas with us at the Hueco Tanks Interpretive Fair October 21-22! See you there!

    Ellen Esposito
    Board President
    Insights – El Paso Science Center

    1. Thanks to Insights for your work on STEAM and Dino Tracks!

  2. "The City of El Paso will soon have a Children's Museum."
    No, they can't even get an arena voted on 5 years ago off the drawing board. Insights, the only STEM education in town with over 33,000 student visitors a year, was torn down for a baseball stadium showing the whole world El Paso's priorities. Too bad about the dino tracks.

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