Thursday, June 9, 2016

Florissant Fossil Beds: Petrified Forest Loop

Distance: 1 mile loop
Elevation: 8,400 ft
Elevation Gain: minimal
Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: No, National Monument
Tags: #FindYourPark, #NPS100, #ColoradoSprings, #fossils, #naturewalk
Other hikes in area: Hornbook Wildlife Trail, Dome Rock 

Fossilized redwood stumps are the star of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds near Woodland Park, CO contains one of the richest finds of insect fossils in the world. It also has miles of trails to explore as well the fossilized giant sequoia stumps. Most trails also have stunning views of west side of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs native 14er.

Starting out
This post profiles the short nature walk that starts right at the visitor's center and wanders out into the remains of a prehistoric lake bed, now a grass covered meadow.

Interpretive signs put the Eocene age in context with the other major  earth epochs. 
Mountain Bluebirds, hawks and Vultures, Mule Deer, and Pronghorn Antelope frolic the meadow, but the real stars are the sequoia stumps, some of which have been unearthed for your viewing pleasure. You can get up close and personal to at least one.

One stump is not fenced off, you can walk right up and touch it. It looks and feels like wood. 
The fossils formed because 33 million years ago a nearby volcanic field released a 2-story deep mud flow that covered the base of the trees. Eventually, the trees died at the level of the flow, but the stumps remained entombed in mud. Another mud flow dammed a river, forming a lake. Insects and plant leaves drifted to the bottom of the lake where they were preserved in volcanic ash.

Heading back across the meadow
To put this period in perspective, 33 million years ago was an age of mammals, the dinosaurs having long since gone the way...well...of the dinosaur. Before the ice ages that brought the Wooly Mammoth to what is now Colorado, this period contained large herbivorous proto-rhynoceri and other strange creatures.

Big Boy stump. A hotel used to exist in front of this stump and folks had to pay a fee to see you. Unlike today though you were allowed to climb on the stump and take chunks out of it. 

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