CAÑON CITY, Colo. — About six miles north of Cañon City along the Gold Belt Scenic Byway, The Garden Park Fossil Area has been producing significant dinosaur fossils for nearly 125 years.
Most of the Jurassic dinosaurs on display at Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History are from this area. Three stegosaurus skeletons, including Colorado’s state fossil, were excavated here. Fossil hunters and scientists from across the country have dug in Garden Park since 1877.
Important discoveries include the first complete skeleton of Allosaurus, some of the most complete Stegosaurus skeletons, as well as the first known remains of dinosaurs like Camarasaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Diplodocus.
“Back in 1877 dinosaur bones were first discovered here by a local high school teacher,” said Zack Reynolds, President of the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. “He contacted two paleologists on the east coast at the time and they were the biggest paleontologists in the world as it was a brand-new thing to science.”
Both renown paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, rushed out to the scene engaging in a heated battle to discover dinosaur bones throughout the western United States. This would be later be known as the Bone Wars.
Due to Garden Park Valley’s rich deposits and softer rock layers, digging and preparation of samples were easier. The abundance of specimens resulted in the “Great Dinosaur Rush,” that led to damaged careers, mislabeled species and lasting animosity.
“These two competing scientists really pushed each other, they discovered a number of significant species, and it all started right here in our area,” stated Reynolds.
The historic area is still relevant as it remains an important source for new fossil finds in Cañon City.