So many people—friends and strangers—urged us to visit the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument that we absolutely had to go. We’re so glad we did.
This prehistoric park, located in central Colorado, is home to mountain meadows and rolling hills forested with ponderosa pines, spruce, fir and aspen. But these trees stand in stark contrast to the park’s main attractions—petrified giant sequoia stumps, as well as delicate insect and leaf fossils.
The stumps are all that’s left of redwoods that were up to 13 feet (4 metres) wide and more than 250 feet (76 metres) tall.
I was shocked to learn that it took 50 years of advocacy by scientists and others to get the fossil beds officially protected in 1969. Before then, the stumps were a novel tourist attraction with relic hunters trying to saw off moveable pieces.
Plus, the loss of fossils was tremendous. Florissant pieces have been carted off to more than 20 US and UK museums and universities. Harvard University alone has 8000 fossil insects collected by paleontologist Samuel Scudder in the late 1800s.
In recent times, park staff inventoried and photographed more than 5000 significant fossils at 17 museums. From this, they have created a virtual museum and research database that can be viewed here.
We spent quite a while in the visitor centre, looking at their collection of fossils and listening to a retired geologist explain some of Florissant’s importance.
The monument has yielded more than 50,000 museum specimens, from more than 1700 species. They include 1500 insects, 150 plants, and one of the world’s only known fossil records of the tsetse fly, which now occurs only in equatorial Africa. It also has fossils of more known species of butterfly that any other site in the world.
After the visitor centre, we walked part of Florissant’s 14 miles of trails. It’s something you need to do at a leisurely pace. The sun is hot, there’s not a lot of shade cover and the altitude is 8500 feet above sea level.
We loved this stop and I can highly recommend adding it to your travel plans. The community of Florissant was especially good to us too, but I’ll write more about that later.