Short History of Dinosaur Collecting
Park Fossil Area,
Cañon City, Colorado
Following the discovery of dinosaur bones in the early 1870’s,
the Garden Park Fossil Area near Cañon City, Colorado,
important for the discovery of Late Jurassic dinosaurs.
list of excavators:
and Ira Lucas for Edward Drinker Cope of
Mudge, Samuel Williston and Marshall P. Felch for Othniel Charles
Marsh of Yale
(1877) and Felch
Hatcher and William Utterback for the
DeWeese (1915) and Frederick C. Kessler (1937) for the Colorado Museum of Natural
History (now DMNS*),
Delfs for Cleveland
History (1954, 1955, 1957),
Don Lindsey for Denver
History (now DMNS*) (1979),
Carpenter for the Denver
History (now DMNS*) (1991-1996),
Engard for the Dinosaur
of Nature and
kinds of dinosaurs found in these excavations include:
Allosaurus fragilis, Camarasaurus supremus, Ceratosaurus nasicornis,
Diplodocus longus, Haplocanthosaurus priscus, and Stegosaurus
Other important specimens include the only skull of Brachiosaurus
from the Morrison Formation, two other nearly complete skeletons of Stegosaurus
stenops and a clutch of dinosaur eggs.
Garden Park Fossil Area has been historically important in vertebrate
paleontology not only for the discoveries of important dinosaur
specimens, but for its part in the "Great Bone Wars".
These "wars" were the result of the scientific and
personal rivalries between Edward Drinker Cope (left) of the
and Othniel Charles Marsh (right) of Yale University,
their scientific competition, paleontology in
may have taken
much longer to catch the imagination of the public.
Much of the early knowledge of dinosaurs in
came from their work, as well as the work of the many amateur
excavators in their employ.
first discovery of dinosaur bones in
was made near
in late 1869 or
early 1870, according to a newspaper article which has since been
lost, referencing huge bones in a curio shop in Cañon City.
late 1876, Henry Felch, the brother of Marshall P. Felch, brought
fossils to the attention of Dr. F. J. Lewis in Cañon City who recognized
them as dinosaur bones. An article from the Cañon City Times dated January 25th,
1877, recorded this discovery in an article:
March of that same year, Oramel Lucas discovered bones in the area
of a feature in the Garden Park Fossil Area known as "The
Nipple". Writing in
1877, Cope indicated that "not long since I was informed by the
Superintendent of Public Schools in Fremont County,
Colorado, Oramel W.
Lucas, that he discovered bones of an enormous saurian at an outcrop
of the rocks of the Dakota group, not far from Cañon City”.
The discovery was also reported in the Cañon City Times:
began over 100 years of off and on excavation in the Fossil Area
that continues today.
Lucas was working as superintendent of the Fremont County Schools
while taking a break from his studies at Oberlin
College in Ohio.
While out hunting above Garden Park, he discovered
dinosaur bones and at the recommendation of his Professor at
Oberlin, had written to both Cope and Marsh about his discovery.
Marsh did not respond quickly, but Cope immediately contacted
Lucas to begin excavations. Due
to the type of matrix, soft and easily excavated, Oramel, working
along with his brother Ira, had soon excavated many impressive bones
to send to Cope.
two quarries yielded a number of important specimens that Cope named
Camarasaurus supremus on
Over the next year Cope named many new animals of which Amphicoelias
Amphicoelias fragillimus are still recognized.
July of 1879, Cope visited Lucas to see the sites where his fossils
were dug. Fortunately
for us, Cope's field diary with a map of the quarries was recently
discovered in the archives of the
from Cope’s field book.
returned to Oberlin College
in 1880 and his
brother Ira continued work for Cope intermittently through 1883 at
which point Cope ran out of funds for the excavations.
about 114 years later, one of the uncompleted excavations from this
period was rediscovered and worked by the Denver Museum of Nature
and Science. (One of the
bones they found is the vertebra of Camarasaurus
supremus on display at the Dinosaur Depot Museum.)
soon became aware of the specimens that were being sent to Cope from
sent Benjamin Franklin Mudge to
in August of 1877
where he had been
excavating. Upon meeting
Oramel Lucas, Mudge wrote to Marsh that Cope seemed to be getting
“the better of the bones” when compared to those from Morrison.
He instructed Mudge to stay and find a site for him.
With the help of Marshall P. Felch, a local rancher, they
opened what was to become Marsh/Felch Quarry #1.
soon realized that they needed more help and Samuel Williston joined
them in September. Williston
was appalled at the poor condition of the bones and sought to help the
fossil preparers at Yale by drawing the bones as they were uncovered
and packed. These were
sent with the fossils to aid in their reconstruction.
A total of 35 boxes of bones were sent to Marsh before work was
stopped due to the crumbly, poor preservation of the bones.
Nevertheless, Marsh was able to describe and name
Allosaurus fragilis, and Diplodocus
longus from the material.
of Felch’s ranch by Williston
the initial rush of excavation in
in the late
1870s ceased, little activity took place until the Marsh/Felch
Quarry #1 was reopened for Marsh in 1883.
Felch, and his brother Henry, were hired by Marsh to resume
excavating. The work
from 1883-1887 in Quarry #1 produced bone from a hard sandstone that
was in better condition than the original material dug in 1877.
(They also briefly opened another quarry across the gully,
Marsh/Felch #2, but the material was fragmented and they went back
to #1.) Due to the
number of bones uncovered, Felch began a series of maps showing the
location of the material in the Quarry which resulted in this
named many more dinosaurs from the specimens sent from the quarry in
this longer phase of work. Of
these additional dinosaurs, two names are very recognizable today, Stegosaurus
stenops and Ceratosaurus
nasicornis. In all,
more than 250 crates of bones were shipped to Marsh from Quarry #1.
Quarry #1 about 1887.
It is believed the man in the quarry is Felch.
1887, the work progressed slowly due to lack of funds as well as
suspicion by Felch that Quarry #1 was playing out.
Despite this, another 34 boxes of specimens of theropod and
sauropod bones were shipped.
In 1888 Quarry #2 was reopened and although much bone was
found at first, much of it was fragmented.
Unfortunately, all of the bone found in this quarry was
destroyed by a vandal before being shipped and this marked the end
of Felch’s work for Marsh.
in 2000 a visitor on a Dinosaur Depot tour in the Fossil Area found
a bone in Quarry #2.
When we excavated the find, we discovered it to be part of a
bone from the vandalized material of 1888. Even
with careful techniques it was almost impossible to retrieve the
It was in fragments and had termite larva living in it.
We were able to recover just enough for the bone to be
identified as the knee end of the left femur of a Ceratosaurus.
Unfortunately, before we could return to the quarry for a
more extensive dig, the quarry was again vandalized.
We know how Felch felt in 1888.
work at the Marsh/Felch Quarries came to a close in 1888, no further
work was done in the Garden Park Fossil Area until the Marsh/Felch
Quarry #1 was reopened in 1901.
John Bell Hatcher of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
sent William Utterback to
Felch and reopen the quarry. Utterback,
expanded the old digs to almost double in size.
drew attention to the importance of the area when he wrote,
visiting the bone quarries near Canyon City, Colorado made
classic by the researches of the late professor O.C. Marsh and
E.D. Cope, in the spring of 1900 shortly after taking charge
of Department of Vertebrate Paleontology in the Carnegie
Museum, the striking advantages
presented by this locality not only for collecting the
remains of dinosaurs, but for determining the exact
stratigraphic position of the various skeletons both with
reference to each other and to the underlying Trias and
overlying Cretaceous formation were at once apparent."
specimens found during this time were named by Hatcher in 1903:
Haplocanthosaurus priscus and Haplocanthosaurus
Utterback also reopened Nipple Quarry #1 where
Camarasaurus supremus had been collected, but found only a
Quarry as it appeared during the Carnegie dig.
is a map compiled from the Felch map and those of later excavators
in the remarkable Marsh/Felch
In the parts of the map labeled 1883 through 1886, some of
the best Late Jurassic dinosaurs ever found were excavated.
Four of them, an Allosaurus, a Steosaurus, a Ceratosaurus and
a Diplodocus skull are on display at the National Museum of Natural
History, Smithsonian Institution.
These are the only mounts in the dinosaur hall that consist
of the bones from one animal.
All of the other dinosaurs on display are made up of bones
from different animals and some even from different sites.
the end of the excavation.
next major excavation in the Garden Park Fossil Area was by Dall
DeWeese, a local engineer and big game hunter of some renown.
He discovered the rear portion of an adult Diplodocus
longus skeleton in the eastern side of the fossil area.
The specimen was excavated by the Colorado Museum of Natural
History (later the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) and was the
first dinosaur added to the Museum's collection. The excavation drew
a considerable amount of attention.
C. Kessler, a local high school science teacher, discovered a Stegosaurus
stenops skeleton while in the Fossil Area with his students.
Kessler contacted the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now
the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) and he and the students
were hired to help excavate the specimen.
The skeleton was remarkably complete but lacked the lower
portion of the hind limbs, some plates and part of the skull.
It was taken to the museum where it was mounted for display
specimen became the inspiration for the successful 1982 children's
drive to have Stegosaurus
declared the Colorado State Fossil.
This was the second of three nearly complete Stegosaurus
specimens to come from the Garden Park Fossil Area.
The skeleton was remounted in 1994 by Kenneth Carpenter based
on information from the specimen displayed here.
It can be seen in the Prehistoric Journey exhibit at the
Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Delfs, with a crew of young students, was sent west in the early
summer of 1954 to find a dinosaur that could become an exhibit at
the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
He met a geologist from
who gave him
information about sauropod bones he and his students had seen
exposed along Four Mile Creek in the Garden Park Fossil Area.
Delfs and his crew did the excavation in the summers of 1954,
1955 and 1957.
is early in the dig as they tunneled in to recover the specimen.
Later work removed the overburden for much safer conditions.
hazards, such as an almost disastrous flash flood, were overcome to
recover this specimen.
The bones lay beneath a thick sandstone, requiring the crew
to tunnel after the bones.
Originally mounted in a death pose, the specimen was
remounted in an upright pose in 1963.
In 1988 the skeleton was described as a new species, Haplocanthosaurus
1979 K. Don Lindsey of the
Denver Museum of Natural History began excavation of a partial
Camarasaurus grandis in the vicinity of the DeWeese Quarry on
the east side of the fossil area.
This specimen consisted of the poorly preserved rear portion
of a disarticulated skeleton.
1991, Kenneth Carpenter of the Denver Museum of Natural History (now
the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) began a detailed study of
the Morrison Formation in the Garden Park Fossil Area with a large
crew of volunteers from the museum and the newly formed Garden Park
Discoveries included some of the impressive contents of this
exhibit, including this spectacular nearly complete Stegosaurus
stenops (the third and most complete from the Fossil Area), the very rare juvenile Othnielis
rex, and the vertebra of Camarasaurus
supremus (discussed earlier).
the finish of the Stegos
Trying to figure where we can cut through the specimen to
ready it for removal from the quarry.
crew, under Carpenter’s training in modern paleontological
techniques made a number of discoveries of fossils never before
found in the Fossil Area. The
first baby dinosaur, a dinosaur nesting ground, dinosaur tracks and
plant fossils have all added to the little known information about
Jurassic environments as represented in the Fossil Area. Eggs
were found in two different stratigraphic levels, with the lowest
one being the oldest in
biggest public event in the six year research project remains the
airlift of the Stegosaurus
by a Chinook helicopter provided by the United States Army from
For the full story about the history of the “Small
Stegosaurus” please read "The Story of Ms. Spike".
rare mammal jaw about one inch long.
Stegosaur site also proved to be the first good microvertebrate fossil
Specimens found during the excavation and preparation of the
stegosaur include a complete jaw of a mammal, several different types
of fish vertebrae, lungfish tooth plates, a new genus of pterodactyl
having an estimated 25 meter wing span, baby ornithopod bones, parts
of a Dryosaurus altus,
crocodile teeth, at least two types of turtles, and a part of a small
Park Paleontology Society (1997 to the present)
Garden Park Paleontology Society has initiated its own field program
to build a representative collection of fossils from the Garden Park
Fossil Area and eastern
Our purpose is to maintain a local museum that serves as a
reference to these important natural and historic resources.
We also help the Bureau of Land Management and other
government agencies in their management responsibility toward the
Fossil Area and other public land containing fossil resources.
of the work that has taken place in the Garden Park Fossil Area for
over a century has established this area as one of the great fossil
resources in the world. It
has importance to both the past and future of Jurassic paleontology,
as well as related geological studies.
This area has been under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of
Land Management since 1937 and was added to the National Natural
Landmark registry by the National Park Service in 1972.
In addition to the valuable work of the past, current
research has made paleontological resource management here an
important agenda for the Bureau of Land Management.
As a result, the State of
and the Bureau
of Land Management designated the area as a Research Natural Area in
1991, and this was upgraded in 1996 by the Bureau of Land Management
to an area of Critical Environmental Concern.
help of past, current and future institutions working here, the
Bureau of Land Management, along with the Garden Park Paleontology
Society, is using partnerships involving scientific research and
public education to manage this important natural resource.
Public interest in the preservation of fossils and their
appropriate scientific and educational use will help keep the Garden
Park Fossil Area productive for many years to come.
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