Vail Daily column: Colorado a fossil hotbed | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Colorado a fossil hotbed

Michelle Robbins
Curious Nature

When people hear the word fossil, they often think of brittle dusty bones in a museum, or they picture a far off land where paleontologists are digging in the dirt under the blazing sun.

While these thoughts have some truth to them, fossils are so much more than that. Fossils can be bones, scat, footprints and imprints. They relay so much information about who and what use to live on earth millions of years before humans ever roamed the earth. But more importantly, they can be found in your backyard.

Colorado is a hot bed for fossils, so much so the state has an official state fossil, the stegosaurus. The stegosaurus was a large two-ton plant eating dinosaur that lived during the Jurassic Period. It walked on all fours, moseying around in the low-lying vegetation and eating all it could find. Bone plates arranged down its back and spikes at the end of its tail gave it armor and defense against the large predatory dinosaurs of the Jurassic Period.

Fossils of the stegosaurus were first discovered in Colorado just outside of Denver in 1877. People are still discovering fossils in Colorado today, more than a hundred years later.

You do not have to be a paleontologist to see and enjoy fossils, especially not in Colorado. There are many places in Colorado you can go to explore and discover more about dinosaurs and fossils. Picketwire Canyonlands, in southeastern Colorado, has one of the largest collections of preserved dinosaur tracks. You can walk where dinosaurs have actually walked and put your feet inside their prints to get an idea of how large these creatures could get.

Once you have walked where the dinosaurs have walked and you are ready to see the bones that held those magnificent creatures up, there are a number of places you can explore.

Dinosaur National Monument, where many of Colorado’s dinosaur fossils were discovered, allows you to see more than 1,000 dinosaur bones left exposed in the cliff wall. If you prefer a more museum-like setting, you can go to Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita. Here you will enjoy an interactive exhibit featuring robotic replicas of the majestic dinosaurs found in this great state.

If you are curious about other kinds of fossils found in Colorado, do not fret, Colorado has something to offer you as well. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument has preserved terrestrial plant specimens from a lake that receded over 34 million years ago. This area is most well known for the petrified redwood trees that used to cover the area. Preserved insects, clams and other creatures can also be found here.

Many of these pieces of history were preserved by an ancient active volcano in this area.

These are just a few of the many opportunities Colorado has to expand your knowledge on dinosaurs and fossils. You are never too old or too young to learn something new, so get out there and explore, discover and expand your brain.

Fossils are no longer just for paleontologists in far off lands. They are clues to history and are waiting for you to discover them in your backyard.

Michelle Robbins works as a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center, and she enjoys hiking and exploring nature. She is always willing to learn new and exciting things about nature both past and present.