Colorado has supplied dinosaurs to museums all over the world. Indeed, our official state fossil is Stegosaurus. There are many places in the state to view dinosaurs in museums and in the field (Points of Geologic Interest map). It all began in 1870 when a single tail vertebra, the first dinosaur specimen found in western North America, was discovered in Middle Park. A year later, John Wesley Powell, the Grand Canyon Explorer and first director of the USGS, remarked on the “reptilian remains” he observed in the area that was later to become Dinosaur National Monument.
Several years later, dinosaur bones were discovered near Canon City. When word of this discovery spread, the state’s reputation as a repository of world-class specimens solidified. Colorado was suddenly the metaphorical bull’s-eye in the raucous scientific stampede that came to be called the Bone Wars. Eastern museums rushed teams of scientists to Colorado where a fierce battle was joined. Amid rumors and accusations of sabotage, spying, and claim-jumping, competitors scrambled to discover, name, and subsequently cart off the best and biggest skeletons. As a result of all this frenetic activity, dinosaur specimens from Colorado ended up in the museums of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Yale University, and the Smithsonian.
Colorado’s dinosaur fossils cover a wide spectrum — coming from all three periods of the Mesozoic era — and represent all six dinosaur groups and 12 of the 15 known dinosaur families. Specimens recovered in the 1800’s are still some of the best fossils of two of the groups of dinosaurs.
The first T. Rex fossil in the world was discovered on the flanks of South Table Mountain, and yet, dinosaurs are still being found today. A house foundation in a southern Denver suburb yielded T. Rex bones, a particularly significant find since there are fewer than 30 T. Rex skeletons in the world. During construction of Denver’s new baseball stadium, paleontologists removed a dinosaur rib that was sticking up just behind what is now home plate.
Pictured right: World’s largest mounted skeleton of a dinosaur, a Brachiosaurus from Colorado who now resides on Concourse B at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Photo by Katie KellerLynn.