By Davalynn Spencer
You won’t be the first to notice the colorful bluffs and unusual land forms that have harbored prehistoric secrets for thousands of years.
Settled in the early 1860s, Cañon City nearly foundered as men left for the Civil War. But war’s end and the Westward Expansion sent many families hunting brighter futures, and people returned to the fertile land along the Arkansas River. Cañon City served as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, where the mighty Arkansas roared through an unforgiving granite canyon known today as the Royal Gorge.
Fossil discoveries of the 1870s and 1880s in the Garden Park area north of town led to the famous “Bone Wars” between rival paleontologists, O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope. Local rancher, Marshall P. Felch, spent years working and mapping the dig sites on behalf of Marsh for Yale University.
In 1886, Garden Park gave up its first magnificent stegosaurus skeleton, and the area continued to provide some of the most well-preserved Jurassic period remains.
However, long before university professors began sparring over the finds, local Ute tribes and early settlers had already come across the prehistoric bones. A few early merchandisers even sold fossils as souvenirs and oddities in curio shops.
I mention a curio shop in one of my three Cañon City historical novels, Romancing the Widow, set in 1888 during the height of the Bone Wars. Young widow Martha Stanton compares her life to the dusty fossil remains found in Garden Park, and even participates in some of the digs.
In reality roughly fifty years later, another fossilized stegosaurus was discovered in 1937 by local high school teacher and Geology Club officer, Carl Kessler. That 23-foot long treasure stands today in Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. Kessler’s find later inspired a student-driven campaign that resulted in the declaration of the stegosaurus as the Colorado State Fossil in 1982.
Ten years later, that declaration was further solidified when the world’s most complete stegosaurus skeleton was excavated from the Garden Park area, skull included, and air-lifted via Chinook helicopter for further study and preservation.
Marsh-Felch Quarry from the hiking trail in Garden Park.
Skyline Drive west of Cañon City also offers not only a breathtaking vista of the surrounding area, but dinosaur footprints embedded in the jutting rock.
Colorado Jeep Tours http://coloradojeeptours.com/ offers guided tours of the Cañon City area, and a few miles up U.S. Highway 50, visitors can enjoy a stop at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience with kid-friendly activities and spectacular exhibits. https://www.facebook.com/RGDinoXP/
A convex trail of dinosaur footprints along the uplift of Skyline Drive west of Cañon City, CO.
by Davalynn Spencer
*Winner of Will Rogers Gold Medallion for inspirational Western fiction.
Martha Stanton Isn't Looking for Love
The light went out of Martha's soul when her husband fell to a bullet in St. Louis. Now, back in her hometown of Cañon City, she's convinced she'll never know happiness again. Until she crosses paths with a darkly mysterious Colorado Ranger.
Haskell Jacobs has a mission. And the beautiful, flame-haired widow sure isn't it. But Martha is somehow mixed up in the crime that brought Haskell to the rough-and-tumble town…and soon, she's entangled in the lawman's heart. But the danger that lurks around them is all too real. Can they find strength and love in each other before it's too late?