We recently recognized Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument’s 50-year anniversary with a story looking back at the colorful series of events that led to its designation by President Richard Nixon. Conservationist Estella B. Leopold provides a dramatic account in the book, “Saved in Time.” At one point amid the fiery legal battle with developers, a group of women surrounded bulldozers, blocking them from heading onto the land famous for its rich fossil deposits.
For their efforts and many others through the years, we can show gratitude with a visit to the national monument, the closest there is to Colorado Springs.
While the federal protection has been in place for half a century, the remains on site are much, much older. The time represented here dates back 34 million years to the Eocene era, when this rural patch of Teller County looked like a tropical paradise. Mud flows from a volcanic explosion trapped life here, including now-extinct mammals, plants, insects and, most prominently, massive redwood tree stumps. The biggest, simply called the Big Stump, is seen beside the short Petrified Forest loop.
We earlier spotlighted a longer loop traversing open spaces and house-sized boulders. Nothing in the modest 14-mile trail system will satisfy high-altitude lovers. But the Fossil Beds is a great place to take the kids to foster their appreciation of nature and history — and adults’ curiosity will be piqued, too.
The Petrified Forest loop starts from the visitor center, with northern sights of pyramid-looking Crystal Peak. The trail stretches through evergreens and meadows where Pikes Peak looms in view. The Big Stump has several relatives throughout the short trip. They vary in shape, size and color, stirring the imagination.
Trip log: 1 mile (loop), less than 100 feet elevation gain
Getting there: Go west on U.S. 24, through Woodland Park and Divide to Florissant. Turn left at Teller County 1, going south about 2 miles to the entrance on the right.
FYI: $10 entrance fee per person. Hiking only. Dogs not allowed on trails.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE