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Skyline Drive, a one-way road along Skyline Ridge (a hogback of Dakota sandstone) northwest of Cañon City, Colorado, features spectacular views of geological and paleontological features. Seen here, geologist Dr. Adam Jackson introduces the track impressions of a group of 30-foot-long, six-ton, armored Ankylosaurs. Photo credit: Cindy Smith.

Fremont County geologic attractions

2022-05-19 | Dr. John Hopkins

Fremont County, two hours south of Denver, is located on the south-central Front Range of Colorado in a geological region called the Cañon City Embayment. Its geological environment and history is incredibly diverse as are its paleontological treasures. It is the only county in Colorado featuring two National Natural Landmarks (NNL): the Indian Springs Trace Fossil and the Garden Park Fossil Area NNLs. Recognizing these and other wonderful features, members of the community including the Fremont County Heritage Commission (FCHC) and the Fremont Adventure Recreation (FAR) group have facilitated a diverse public program to raise awareness of these unique resources.

To start off with, there are several self-guided heritage tours that the FCHC assembled including:

South Cañon Trails Geology Hike; Coal Camps of Fremont County; Rocks and Fossils of Fremont County; and Skyline Drive as well as other guides featuring historical sites and information.

Along with these guides and the sites listed below, the free Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) app — a stand-alone interactive map guide to most local, state, and federal trails across the state — is a handy app for visitors and locals alike.

The Fremont County Tourism Council and FAR, along with many partner organizations publish an excellent Recreation and Trail Guide: Royal Gorge Region that is also available in print at many local venues. It includes detailed information and maps for many of the geological and paleontological venues listed following:

Hogbacks Open Space Interpretive TrailOn western edge of Cañon City, this trail focuses on the Greenhorn Limestone hogback lying in between Dakota Sandstone Hogback and Ft. Hays Hogback. The Western Interior Seaway (WIS) occupied this land some 90 million years ago, leaving behind a treasure trove of fossils and stratigraphy. Interpretive signs introduce the geology and paleontology of the hogbacks — the result of a year-long project involving the Cañon Exploratory Middle School, BLM, USGS, City of Cañon City, Stones ‘n Bones, and the Western Interior Paleontological Society.

Royal Gorge Dinosaur ExperienceLocated seven miles west of Cañon City this world-class museum features almost 20,000 square feet of interpretive displays. Twenty-eight life-sized fossil casts of dinosaurs were provided by Mike Triebold of Woodland Park’s Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. Outdoors on 39 acres of piñon and juniper are found animatronic dinosaurs along a wild dinosaur hiking trail where a maternal Triceratops tries to herd her three curious juveniles, along with a Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Iguanadon, Dilophosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, and other dinosaurs.

Indian Springs Trace Fossil NNLThe best (Ordovician) trace fossil site in North America, it was discovered on a working ranch by owner Bennie Thorson in the 1960s. Featured are preserved fossil footprints along with amazing details of resting spots, a flick of a fin in the sand, the impression of hair on a leg, a stinger on a tail, and the drag of a belly — all captured when a mudslide covered the 450 million year old estuary.

Garden Park Fossil Area NNLKnown for Jurassic dinosaur excavations, important discoveries of dinosaur eggs and tracks, and as one of the three sites of the infamous Bone Wars. Six miles north of Cañon City.

Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History CenterShowcases Fremont County’s geology and paleontology history with many local fossils on display. Includes historic Dall DeWeese fireplace featuring petrified wood, dinosaur bones, minerals, and a stalactite.

Skyline DriveScenic three-mile drive just west of Cañon City featuring a trackway of Ankylosaur (armored dinosaur) footprints in what was a muddy marshland 105 million years ago, along the razorback ridge of Cretaceous Dakota Hogback formation. The tracks were discovered in 1999 by the trained eye of William Kurtz, a University of Colorado paleontology student, while walking along Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive, a one-way road along Skyline Ridge (a hogback of Dakota sandstone) northwest of Cañon City, Colorado features spectacular views of geological and paleontological features. Seen here are the track impressions of a group of 30-foot-long, six-ton, armored Ankylosaurs. Photo credit: Cindy Smith.
Skyline Drive, a one-way road along Skyline Ridge (a hogback of Dakota sandstone) northwest of Cañon City, Colorado, features spectacular views of geological and paleontological features. Seen here, geologist Dr. Adam Jackson introduces the track impressions of a group of 30-foot-long, six-ton, armored Ankylosaurs. Photo credit: Cindy Smith.

Pueblo Community College-Fremont (PCC-F) Campus Geology Time TrailThis trail is one part of the PCC-F Crossroads Through Time Heritage Park and is the perfect location to view geologic strata from the 1.7 Ba Precambrian granites that the Royal Gorge carves through to the mid-Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone along with specimens of Dotsero basalt, travertine, Oligocene rhyolite spherules and obsidian, Dakota Sandstone, Crestone conglomerate, Lykins stromatolite, Pikes Peak granite, Cambrian McClure Mountain syenite, Morton gneiss, all arranged in a geologic timeline.

Fremont County Administration Building, 615 Macon Avenue, Cañon City The walls are constructed of locally-quarried and polished Pennsylvanian Fountain Formation conglomerate some 300 million years old, containing many fossil crinoids which have been highlighted in frames with explanatory signs. This display raised community awareness of the remarkable beauty and ancient fossil creatures that are liberally scattered around the county. Dr. Gary Webster of Washington State University, who did his graduate thesis in Fremont County, identified the crinoids as Atokan-Desmoinesian Age (307-315 myo).

The Royal Gorge of the Arkansas RiverNot to be missed, just a couple of miles from Cañon City, there are many sights and activities available to get to know this major 1,200-foot-deep geological feature, carved by the Arkansas River into the uplifted Precambrian granites that make up the core of the Rocky Mountains.

The Gold Belt TourOne of Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways as well as a National Scenic Byway, the Gold Belt Tour retraces the historic travel routes connecting the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining District, site of the world’s largest gold rush, to the communities of Florence, Cañon City, and Florissant.

Theresa Mine headframe and ore bin, Cripple Creek, Colorado, August 2011. Photo credit: Vince Matthews for the CGS.
Theresa Mine headframe and ore bin, Cripple Creek, Colorado, August 2011. Photo credit: Vince Matthews for the CGS.

One last note is for folks in the Fremont County area: help support the Stones ‘n Bones community group who are doing a rockin’ job bringing geological science to many local schools and other groups through their Fossil Boot Camp program. Kudos to them for this impactful citizen-science effort! And a special thanks to Cindy Smith (of Stones ‘n Bones) who shared much of the information here with us.

[Ed: Over the years, the CGS has mapped several quadrangles as well as undertaken other field research projects in the Fremont County area or that reflect on the geology of the region — see the citation tab below for a full list of those publications.]

Citations, Categories & Tags

Citations

Berry, Karen A., David C. Noe, and James M. Soule. “FT-00-04 Front Range Geologic Hazards Field Trip: Earth Science Week Field Trip, October 11, 2000.” Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, October 11, 2000. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/field-trip-hazards-front-range-colorado/.
Himmelreich, Jr., John W., David C. Noe, and Jonathan L. White, eds. “FT-96-01 Geologic Hazards & Engineering Practices in Colorado, Field Trip Guidebook, Colorado Springs.” Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, March 22, 1996. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/field-trip-hazards-engineering-colorado-springs.
———, eds. “FT-96-03 Geologic Hazards & Engineering Practices in Colorado, Field Trip Guidebook, Colorado Springs.” Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, May 18, 1996. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/field-trip-hazards-engineering-colorado-springs-3.
Kelley, Sheri, Peter E. Barkmann, Robert G. Benson, Jonathan R. Lovekin, and Lisa Dunn. MI-101 Geologic Road Log Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Miscellaneous Investigations, MI–101. Golden, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, 2022. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/geologic-road-log-cumbres-toltec-railroad.
Kirkham, Robert M., and Vincent Matthews. “FT-00-01 Guide to the Geology of the Glenwood Springs Area, Garfield County, Colorado: Earth Science Week Field Trip, October 13, 2000.” Edited by Leslie Baca. Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, October 2000. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/field-trip-geology-glenwood-garfield-colorado/.
Lovekin, Jonathan R., and Timothy Mitros. “Guidebook for Field Trip #1: Fire, Flood and Landslides: Impacts and Mitigation.” Colorado Springs, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, 2017.
Matthews, Vincent. “FT-04-01 Guide to Laramide Structures Along the Northeastern Flank of the Front Range.” Field Trip. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, November 6, 2004. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/field-trip-laramide-structures-front-range.
Morgan, M. L., Christopher J. Carroll, and Joanna Wright. “FT-00-03 A Dash with the Dinosaurs – A Mountain Bike Trek to the Purgatoire River Dinosaur Trackway and the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary Impact Layer of Southeastern Colorado:” Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, October 2000.
Noe, D. C., Jonathan L. White, and G. Zabel. “SP-56 Geology and Geologic Hazards along the I-70 Corridor, Vail to Glenwood Springs, Colorado.” In Field Trip Guidebooks, 1st North American Landslide Conference, edited by Jeffrey A. Coe and D. C. Noe. Special Publication, SP-56. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 2007. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/engineering-geology-landslides-fieldtrip.
Sares, Matthew A., and J. Andrew Gleason. “FT-00-02 Geology, Water Quality, and Avalanche Hazards of the Ouray - Silverton Area, Southwest Colorado: Earth Science Week Field Trip, October 9, 2000.” Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, October 9, 2000.
Sawyer, David, and Ren A. Thompson. “OF-96-04-21 Field Trip Guide to the Quaternary Valles Caldera and Pliocene Cerros Del Rio Volcanic Field.” Fieldtrip. Open File Report. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Division of Minerals and Geology, Department of Natural Resources, 1996. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/jemez-volcanic-field-valles-caldera-rio-grande-rift-colorado-new-mexico.
“SP-19 Colorado Tectonics, Seismicity and Earthquake Hazards: Proceedings and Field Trip Guide of a Symposium Held in Denver, Colorado, June 4-6, 1981.” Tectonics, Seismicity, and Earthquake. Special Publication. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 1981. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/colorado-tectonics-seismicity-earthquake-hazards.
Thompson, Ren A., Mark R. Hudson, and C. L. Pillmore, eds. SP-44 Geologic Excursions to the Rocky Mountains and beyond: Field Trip Guidebook for the 1996 Annual Meeting, Geological Society of America, Denver, Colorado, October 28-31. Special Publications, SP-44. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 1996. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/geologic-rocky-mountain-field-trip-gsa-1996-denver/.
White, Jonathan L., N. C. Dessenberger, W. L. Ellis, J. D. Higgins, and S. Gaffney. SP-56 First North American Landslide Conference Field Trips, Vail, Colorado, June 3-10, 2007. Edited by D. C. Noe and Jeffrey A. Coe. Special Publication, SP-56. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 2007. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/engineering-geology-landslides-fieldtrip.
———. “SP-56 Geology and Geologic Hazards along the I-70 Corridor, Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction, Colorado.” In Field Trip Guidebooks, 1st North American Landslide Conference, edited by D. C. Noe and Jeffrey A. Coe. Special Publication, SP-56. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 2007. https://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/publications/engineering-geology-landslides-fieldtrip.

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