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Dinosaurs and Fossils Around Denver

by
Jul 6th, 2020

Q: What do you call a dinosaur with no eyes?

A: Do-you-think-he-saurus!

If you’ve got a curiosity for dinosaurs and all things Mesozoic Era, then you’ve no doubt dreamed of seeing dinosaurs in real-life. Unfortunately, we all know what happened last time someone tried to bring back the dinosaurs (looking at you, "Jurassic Park"), and we certainly don’t have a time machine we can use to explore the years gone by, but we do have one thing that can connect us to the past: fossils.

If you live in our luxury Denver apartments, then you’ll be pleased to know that you're close to one of the world’s most famous dinosaur fossil sites! A segment of the Dakota Hogback just west of Denver has an impressive cluster of dinosaur fossils and tracks dating back to the Jurassic age. This segment has become known as Dinosaur Ridge because of the great educational and scientific advancements the area has contributed to our knowledge of these ancient creatures. 

The reason there are so many fossils around Denver is because Colorado and Wyoming are in the center of something called the Morrison Formation. The Morrison Formation is a layer of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that covers nearly 600,000 square miles, and it just so happens that the portions that are accessible to present-day geologists are around the Rocky Mountains. 

This layer of rock was on the surface of the Earth at the time of the dinosaurs, so this is where the skeletons of that era’s dinosaurs were preserved. When the Rocky Mountains burst through the surface of the Earth around 55-80 million years ago, they uncovered this buried layer of rock, making it easier for us to access that part of Earth’s history.

The Morrison Formation is named after the town of Morrison just west of Downtown Denver. It’s where the Red Rocks Amphitheater is located, and it’s just 20 minutes from our Littleton apartments! 

What types of dinosaurs lived around Denver?

"Jurassic Park" would look a lot different if paleontologists had never gone digging around Colorado. Quite a few of the most famous dinosaurs were discovered around Denver and the surrounding area, and there are plenty of parks, monuments and preserves around Colorado, which boast plenty of dinosaur discoveries.

Stegosaurus

Yes! This iconic, spiky dinosaur was first discovered just north of Morrison in 1877. Only pieces of this herbivorous dinosaur were discovered, and paleontologists originally thought that the fossils were pieces of a turtle-type creature, hence the scientific name meaning “roof” (“stegos”) and “lizard” (“saurus”). Imagine being one of the biggest, coolest dinosaur out there just for a human to call you a “roof lizard” sixty million years later. Oof. 

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Fossilized in-ground Stegosaurus, Houston Museum of Natural Science 😲 Stegosaurus is a genus of armored dinosaur. Fossils of this genus date to the Late Jurassic period, where they are found in Kimmeridgian to early Tithonian aged strata, between 155 and 150 million years ago, in the western United States and Portugal. Several species have been classified in the upper Morrison Formation of the western U.S, though only three are universally recognized; S. stenops, S. ungulatus and S. sulcatus. The remains of over 80 individual animals of this genus have been found. Stegosaurus would have lived alongside dinosaurs such as Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus, and Ceratosaurus; the latter two may have been predators of it. As the archetypal thyreophoran, Stegosaurus is one of the best-known dinosaurs, and has been featured in film, postal stamps, and many other types of media. Credits : @paleontologyworld_com *Follow my page : @geology_site *Follow my page : @geology_site *Follow my page : @geology_site ⁣ #stegosaurus #paleontology #динозавр #prehistoric #dinosaur #dinosaurs #dinosaurios #dinosaurier #dinosauri #dinomite #dinosaurio #dinosaure #dinozaur #skeleton #facts #fossils #paleoart #digitalart #geology  #dinosaurart #science #trex #tyrannosaurusrex #jurassicpark #jurassicworld #jurassic #huston #portugal #stegosauria #usa

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Allosaurus

‘Allo ‘allo! What have we here?

The first Allosaurus was discovered near Granby, Colorado, which is about two hours northwest of Denver. This bipedal carnivore was a little smaller than a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but it had longer arms and was likely faster and more deadly. 

Again, the naming system for the Allosaurus was pretty cut-and-dry with “allo” meaning “different” and “saurus” meaning “lizard.” The unique shape of the vertebrae made the Allosaurus different to the other discovered dinosaurs of its time, hence the name: “different lizard.”  

Obviously, we don’t have any pictures of the Allosaurus to show you, but here’s a clip from "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" that talks about the Allosaurus. It’s practically science, right?

Tyrannosaurus Rex

You heard right: the T. Rex was discovered in Colorado! In fact, the first pieces of the T. Rex were actually discovered around Golden, Colorado, just west of Denver. Famous paleontologist Arthur Lakes discovered a few teeth in 1874, and he originally thought they were remains of another dinosaur. It was only when a partial skeleton was discovered in Wyoming in 1900 that the pieces started falling into place, literally and figuratively. 

The T. Rex holds a much more impressive name when translated from its Greek roots. “Tyrannos” means “tyrant,” “saurus” means “lizard” and “rex” means “king.” Essentially, Tyrannosaurus Rex means “King Tyrant Lizard,” which, in reference to its size and ferocity, is a pretty great name. Use that for your next baby name, I dare you.

What can you see at Dinosaur Ridge?

Dinosaur Ridge, which is on the southeastern edge of the Morrison Formation, is home to a huge variety of archaeological and paleontological finds. There are dinosaur tracks, ancient sea beds, volcanic ash beds, Jurassic fossils, dinosaur bones and so much more! And the best part? You can go visit all of it along the Dinosaur Ridge Walk

One particularly interesting part of Dinosaur Ridge is the dinosaur tracks outdoor exhibit, where you can see multiple tracks that have been perfectly preserved for hundreds of millions of years! Follow the footsteps of the Iguanodon on its way to...somewhere… and see some of the clearest dinosaur tracks in the country!

Dinosaur Ridge is truly a unique place to visit, and it’s a must-see for anyone living in Denver. It’s one of the most famous fossil occasions in the world, and you will get to be closer to ancient history than anyone ever will again. 

Can Denver’s Dinosaur Ridge blow your mind and give you once-in-a-lifetime experiences? 

You bet Jurassican!

Enjoy!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/enriquelopezlagarre

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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