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When dinosaurs roamed Eagle County

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado ” Can you imagine the-14,000 foot peaks of Colorado covered in water?

This isn’t a global warming prophecy ” that’s how it was 500 million years ago. The Rocky Mountains used to be vast expanses of ocean. Later came dinosaurs, valley carving glaciers, big game hunters, gold miners, and now the skiers.

There’s around 1.8 billion years of geological and biological history here, and the kids at the Gore Range Science School can sum it up for you.



The Gore Range Natural Science school has a summer program called Dinos, Volcanoes and Fossils. In a week, the students learn what the Rocky Mountains looked like a billion years ago and how the land changed over the years.

First and second graders are at that age when dinosaurs and fossils are just about the most interesting thing in the world, says Gina Garrett, the youth programs director. And, Colorado, which is rich with natural history, is a good place to study rocks, fossils and dinosaurs.

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The class took field trips this week to the fossil field in McCoy, where they found the fossilized remains of crinoids, little creatures that lived in the Colorado sea basin.

They also visited the volcano in Dotsero and Sylvan Lake, where they learned more about dinosaurs.

Teacher Beth Garrison’s explanation of how the Rocky Mountains formed, suited for second graders, is actually a pretty good primer for adults. You don’t have to pantomime the slowly moving glaciers and growing mountains, as the kids did, or build soda bottle volcanoes and clay dinosaurs, but the science can still be fun and interesting.



Here’s a brief rundown of Eagle County’s geological history, as taught to the kids.

– What we now call Colorado is actually about 1.8 billion years old. One student remembered that the Earth itself is about 4.6 billion years old.

– 500 million years ago, oceans flooded the area.

– Between 323 and 290 million years ago the oceans began receding, and new mountains began forming in Colorado. These new mountains blocked off all the surrounding areas and created an isolated sea basin with warm, shallow water.

Little sea creatures like crinoids lived here, and you can now find their fossilized remains in McCoy.

– Around 300 million years ago, dinosaurs made their first appearance in Colorado, and 290 million years ago, the sea creatures start dying off. Garrison isn’t sure what kinds of dinosaurs stomped through Colorado and Eagle County ” but they did exist.

– 200 million years ago, the mountains erode, and the oceans fill back up.

– 70 million years ago, the Rocky Mountains we know today start forming.

– 30 million years ago, the first volcanoes here start erupting.

– 100,000 years ago, glaciers from the last ice age slowly move through the area, carving out the landscape.

– 13,000 years ago, big game hunters roam the area.

– 12,000 years ago, the glaciers recede, and the final ice age ends.

– 4,000 years ago, Dotsero erupts.

– 198 years ago, gold is discovered in Colorado.

– 135 years ago, mining in Gilman begins.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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