The Museum at Dinosaur Junction showcases 230 million years of Eagle County history
Local paleontologist and dinosaur hunter Billy Doran's passion project comes to life
For the past three years, it has been the dream of local paleontologist and dinosaur hunter Billy Doran to open his own dinosaur museum in Eagle County. And Saturday, after months of arduous work, this dream became a reality as The Museum at Dinosaur Junction opened within the Edwards Early Learning Center.
“It’s been a three-year dream,” Doran said. “That’s kind of when the museum first came together, three years ago. And then since January, it has been a crush to get this space converted to what it is now.”
In November, the Eagle County Schools’ Board of Education approved a three-year lease agreement with Doran and the Museum to completely transform the Edwards Learning Center’s cafeteria.
“I’ll have new scars all over my hands to show the process of making this, but it’s definitely been an absolute passion project,” Doran said. “I’ve been here about 33 years and it feels really good. Everything this valley has given me in 33 years, it’s nice to feel like I’m giving something back to the community.”
The museum offers guests a look at the lesser-known dinosaur history of Eagle County as well as insights into the history of paleontology itself. Walking guests through the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, the museum aims to show what Eagle County would’ve looked like as far back as 230 million years ago.
The museum is home to a variety of cast replica skeletons and replica vegetation as well as trace fossils (including footprints and more) and various collections of teeth, shells, miscellaneous fossils, and more.
While the museum does have some kid- and fan-favorite fossils or replicas of dinosaurs not found in Eagle County — velociraptors, for one — much of the museum is dedicated to local history.
“It is very focused on Eagle County, so for people visiting here that really want to get a sense of beyond skiing and outdoor activities — what’s here?” Doran said. “And we have dinosaurs — and (the museum) shows going back in time, what it would have been like in Eagle County and all of the incredible things that did live here.”
For the past 11 years, Doran himself has been dedicated to uncovering and educating others about this local dinosaur history. In fact, guests are greeted by a towering replica of an allosaurus skeleton, representative of the first fossil he found in Eagle County, just west of Edwards. And, looming near the allosaurus is another giant replica, that of a camarasaurus, which Doran found pieces of in a similar area last summer. Of each, Doran has discovered a collection of teeth, partial arm and leg bones, footprints and vertebrae.
Both dinosaurs are representative of Eagle County during the Jurassic period, roughly 150 million years ago.
“I found these bones within a few hundred yards of each other, in the same layer, so we know they interacted at that time period because they were right there,” Doran said. “Those are the two stars.”
And while the fossils he’s found remain in the hills where he found them — a result of BLM land permitting requirements — Doran hopes that the giant replicas will give a “wow” factor to the museum, something that he even got when putting them together.
The allosaurus and camarasaurus replica skeletons arrived at the museum in three, thousand-pound crates and required Doran, with the help of some friends, to put them together piece by piece.
“It’s like the ultimate jigsaw puzzle; you kind of giggle when you’re sitting here putting together a giant skeleton,” Doran said. “For several days as we were putting it together, each day I’d just have to laugh going, ‘I can’t believe these are right here, right now — like I’m standing in front of these huge skeletons that we’re putting together like kids; it’s the ultimate toy.”
Outside of the giant replicas — of which there are also other various skeletons, skulls, footprints, shells and more both real and replicas — Doran said it was a community effort to obtain and get the rest of the cases, stands and materials.
“I would say a good portion of most of the stuff in here is recycled or repurposed stuff,” Doran said, adding that many of the displays are built from pallets from Mountain Beverage in Gypsum, cardboard boxes from Riverwalk and a great deal of ingenuity. “It definitely was a community effort to a great extent as a lot of this stuff was given by people who helped me do this, which was nice.”
While the museum is opening Saturday with a slew of things to explore, Doran is also excited for the museum to grow and evolve over time with new discoveries, replicas and more.
“This is definitely going to be a work in progress forever, really,” Doran said. “Museums always are.”
For now, however, Doran is excited to share — in an “exceedingly nervous way” — the joy and hard work that went into the museum.
“I’ve seen it every day since I’ve started, so I kind of got used to seeing it,” Doran said. “But that’s my biggest fear; I just want it to be great, I want people to be in awe, I want people to think, ‘ I did not expect how cool that was going to be.’”
The Museum at Dinosaur Junction opened Saturday, June 25 in the Edwards Early Learning Center. The museum will be open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door. To learn more, visit DinosaurJunction.org.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.