Monday, July 27, 2015

Fossils and Burros

South central Colorado was certainly a different world some 34 million years ago, which we learned at the Florissant Fossil Beds.  Currently it is forested with ponderosa pine, spruce, fir and aspen.  Back then it was a warm temperate climate where tall redwood trees grew.  Study of the tree rings showed that the redwoods of Florissant had more favorable growing conditions than those of the California redwoods of today.  At this national monument we took a trail through the petrified forest of redwoods.   Scientist figure that these redwoods once were 13 feet wide and as high as 250 feet.
This area was once the site of an ancient lake where in its bottom sediments many insect, leaf, and fish fossils formed.  Evidence of their existence have been collected, inventoried and photographed by scientists since the late 1800s.  These fossil beds have yielded over 50,00 museum specimens from fossils of over 1,700 species, 1,500 insects, 150 plants, and one of the world's only known record of the tsetse fly, now only found in Africa (information obtained from the park's brochure).  We were able to view some of these fossils at the monument's museum.  They were discovered on pieces of shale lying around in the area.  Unfortunately many have been picked up by collectors until the park became protected by the government in 1969.  Fossils found here are in over 20 U.S. and U.K. museums and universities.
It was a volcano many years ago that covered the Florissant valley with mudflows which buried mammals, plants, and insects in stream deposits and fossilized them.  Eventually parts of trees were also encased in the mud and became fossilized.  As we walked around the park and its rolling meadows it was hard to imagine that this was once a forest of massive conifer trees.

From this park we took a scenic by-way, Highway 1, to the town of Crippled Creek  Along this highway we were treated to beautiful purple and yellow fields of wildflowers.  Also, off in the distance, are tall rocky bluffs.  One does not have far to drive in Colorado to find some awesome sights!
In the late 1800s gold was found in the hills of this area. Currently here there is historic and modern mining operations, remnants of railroads and active ranching.  In the town of Cripple Creek we were greeted by a couple of burros, maybe they are ancestors of the ones once owned by the miners!  We walked around the main street of the town, which has about 6 casinos.  One local claimed that at one time the town had about 25 of them.  There are a few shops, but casinos now seem to dominate the town scene, and it is in those places where one can find food and hotels.

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