History & Discoveries
Dinosaur Ridge: A Brief History
For centuries, Indigenous peoples lived and traveled across the land now known as Colorado’s Front Range, including the long hogback ridge extending between the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the grasslands of the Great Plains. In particular, members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe hunted animals and gathered seasonal plants in this fertile land. It is likely they came across fossils of extinct plants and animals and recognized the differences from the wildlife they were encountering themselves.
In 1877 a professor at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Arthur Lakes, discovered some of today’s best-known dinosaur fossils. These included Apatosaurus; Stegosaurus, the Colorado State Fossil; and Allosaurus. These specimens represent animals that lived 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic Period, also known as the “Age of Giants.”
In 1937, during the construction of West Alameda Parkway, dinosaur tracks were uncovered on the east side of Dinosaur Ridge in the 100-million-year-old rocks of the Dakota Group, representing the Early Cretaceous Period. These tracks are those of duck-billed herbivores and ostrich-like carnivorous dinosaurs. Recent research has revealed that these tracks represent only a small number of the extensive track-bearing beds of the Dakota Group, which can be traced from Boulder, Colorado, to northern New Mexico. Because these strata represent the shoreline sediments of an ancient seaway that was frequently trampled by dinosaurs, these beds have been dubbed the “Dinosaur Freeway.”
A Timeline of Dinosaur Ridge
Nearby Rooney Ranch was homesteaded in the early 1860s.
T. rex tooth was found nearby on South Table Mountain and recognized as that of a large carnivorous dinosaur. (T. rex was not formally named by paleontologists until a partial skeleton was unearthed in Montana in 1905).
First material ever collected from the world-famous Morrison Formation of Late Jurassic age was found at Dinosaur Ridge. Some of the best-known dinosaurs were found here, including Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus. Fifteen quarries were opened along the Dakota Hogback in the Morrison area in search of these fossils.
Otis Rooney discovered the first horned dinosaur remains from a gulch near the intersection of the present Alameda Parkway, Bear Creek Boulevard, and West Jewell Avenue.
First Triceratops discovery to be published was found near present day North Federal Boulevard in Denver. (The two larger of the three horns were found and were originally thought to be bison horns.)
Arthur Lakes discovered the first dinosaur footprints in Colorado along the Front Range near Colorado Springs.
Alameda Parkway was constructed to provide access to Red Rocks Park. Workers discovered hundreds of dinosaur footprints. These were found to include mostly Iguanodon-like footprints, perhaps from Eolambia. Carnivorous theropod tracks were also present.
Otis and Al Rooney built the house that is now the Dinosaur Ridge Main Visitor Center Gift Shop.
The Dinosaur Ridge area was recognized for its uniqueness as well as its historical and scientific significance when it was designated the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.
Council Tree, also known as Inspiration Tree, which still grows at the foot of Dinosaur Ridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ute Mountain Ute tribal chief Colorow held councils there in the late 1800s. The ponderosa pine is thought to be between 400-500 years old.
Rooney Ranch (Jefferson County’s oldest ranch) was designated a Jefferson County Landmark.
Kickoff meeting “Re. Development and Protection of Colorado’s Dinosaur Resources” (the origin of Friends of Dinosaur Ridge) was held at the University of Colorado at Denver.
The Friends of Dinosaur Ridge formed to address increasing concerns regarding the preservation of the site and to offer educational programs on the area’s resources.
Dinosaur Ridge published “A Field Guide to Dinosaur Ridge.”
A concretion fell out of Dinosaur Ridge south hillside revealing decayed wood almost completely altered to carbon.
First major paleontological excavation since the Yale dinosaur bone excavations of the late 1870s took place on Dinosaur Ridge . Six parallel trackways were revealed.
Dinosaur Ridge piloted its first summer camp for 10- to 12-year-old students. Two one-week sessions were held.
Construction began on the Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center in the historic house on Dinosaur Ridge’s Main Visitor Center property. Visitor Center officially opened on October 22, 1996.
Dinosaur Ridge completed the Bone Site stabilization project.
The main tracksite pedestrian ramp and seating area were completed on Dinosaur Ridge.
The Dan Turner Field Experience Fund was created to assist lower-income school children with the cost of visiting Dinosaur Ridge.
Stabilization of Brontosaur Bulges was completed on west side of Dinosaur Ridge.
Friends of Dinosaur Ridge’s first executive director, Joe Tempel, was appointed.
Dinosaur Ridge renovated the historic barn and moved its administrative offices there.
Fossil Trace Golf Course opened and FoDR began hosting tours of the fossils and tracks at the location that became known as Triceratops Trail.
Triceratops Trail was completed at Fossil Trace Golf Course.
Dinosaur Ridge was selected by the Denver Post as one of the “Top 10 Things to Do Before You Die.”
Dinosaur Ridge Adopt-a-Track program began.
Trek Through Time, our indoor exhibit hall, opened in the historic barn.
Alameda Parkway was restricted to vehicular traffic.
The location of Arthur Lakes’ lost Quarry 1 was rediscovered ~0.5 mile north of Dinosaur Ridge along County Road 93.
EarthTime Project, scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, dated three separate layers of ash exposed at Dinosaur Ridge’s “Ash Beds” using the uranium-lead zircon method of dating.
Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, the Morrison Natural History Museum, and Triebold Paleontology, operator of the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, formed the Dinosaur Corridor.
A roadrunner spent six months at Dinosaur Ridge (well north of its usual natural range).
The Council Tree was named a Jefferson County Historic Landmark.
The Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center opened on the west side of Dinosaur Ridge
Dr. Martin Lockley announced the discovery of two newly-recognized ichnofossils at Dinosaur Ridge. These “leks,” were pseudo-nests constructed by dinosaurs during courtship. A new Raptor track was also discovered at Dinosaur Ridge. This was the first discovered in Colorado and only the second found in North America.