Saturday, March 26, 2016

Florissant Fossil Beds NM

Can you believe there were once Redwoods in Colorado?  Ages ago, a Redwood forest thrived in a valley in central Colorado.  Even more impressively, it's a valley at 8000 feet above sea level.  Then, a super-volcano erupted a hundred miles to the northwest sending ash and mudflows to blanket the Florissant valley, covering approximately the bottom 15 feet of the trees.  Geologists tell us that the trees above the ground then decayed away leaving the stumps to petrify under the mud-ash layer (I'm not sure I believe the supposition about decay; otherwise wouldn't there be evidence of the remaining 250 feet of Redwood tree trunks from a forest of them?)  Those petrified Redwood stumps, along with a myriad of fossilized insects, plants, and small mammals, were discovered approximately 150 years ago, and Florissant Fossil Beds was born.

These pictures don't provide great perspective, but the top three were all at least 6 feet in diameter.  The bottom one was significantly larger.
At first, some paleontological research was being conducted in the area, but it quickly developed into a stiff commercial tourism market.  Florissant became a boom town as tourists came in droves to see the Redwood stumps and dig for fossils.  Consequently, a significant percentage of the tens of thousands of fossils here were removed before scientists could study them.  Attempts were even made to remove the petrified Redwood stumps.  As you can see in the picture below, there are still remnants of saw blades where a company attempted to saw a petrified stump into pieces to make it easier to transport.
Notice the two brown dots toward the top.  Those are broken off, rusty saw blades.

Not everyone came for the fossils, though.  After losing two husbands and two houses, Adeline Hornbeck applied for land under the Homestead Act and struck out west in 1870 hoping for a new life.  Here in the Florissant Valley, she constructed a house and several out-buildings while raising four kids on her 160-acre parcel of land.  That homestead still stands today as part of the National Monument.

Besides crossing off another NPS site, I was also itching to get some hiking in.  The monument has 15 miles of trails that criss-cross the park, and I struck off on the largest loop I could make -- about 9.5 miles.  The terrain was mostly rolling hills and grassy meadows, but mountains surrounded the countryside in the distance and a couple of creeks ran through the park, making for beautiful scenery. One creek wound beside the Hornbeck homestead, and the trail crossed another at the farthest point away from the visitor center.  With several days of warm weather just prior to my visit, the snow was almost gone, but there were a few miniature iced-over "snow fields" that crossed the trail.  The trail was well marked and easy to follow, though.

The back side of Pikes Peak in the distance.

You can barely tell it here, but a stream babbled out from the middle of a mound of boulders.
 Altogether, I spent about four hours at the park, including viewing the park's film, shopping in the gift store, and hiking the trails.

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