Digging in Colorado: Ask an Archaeologist

Got a passion for paleontology? Our state has plenty of exciting finds to offer fossil hunters and dinosaur enthusiasts.

[Photo: uncovercolorado.com]

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument 
35 miles west of Colorado Springs

One of the world’s richest deposits of fossils is right in our back yard! Find petrified redwood tree stumps and fossils of fish, mammals, insects, leaves and more, with 14 miles of trails and a visitor center filled with exhibits. nps.gov/flfo/index.htm

Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center
Woodland Park

Dinosaur displays and so much more—prehistoric marine reptiles, pterosaurs and late Cretaceous fish are waiting for you at this family-friendly learning center. Visitors can even watch scientists at work in the on-site Paleontology Laboratory. rmdrc.com/

Dinosaur Ridge

The Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas are National Natural Landmarks, with bones and tracks from dinosaurs, birds and reptiles tracing back to the late Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. Murals, maps, hands-on interactive exhibits and fossil displays are showcased, while the Triceratops Trail and the Dinosaur Ridge Trail allow visitors to meander through fossil sites and investigate up-close. dinoridge.org/index.html


[Hovenweep National Monument]


The friendly folks at the Colorado State Archaeologist’s office agreed to share some of their thoughts on what makes this state so special.

Tell us why Colorado is so fascinating to study.

Colorado is a true crossroads for cultures and history. Archaeological sites range from large bison kill sites dating to almost 10,000 years ago on the Eastern Plains to ancient Pueblo farming villages from 800 years ago to historic trading forts, early mining camps, and settlements of the 19th century. A total of 48 historic tribes lived in Colorado at some time.

Any must-see sites?

Within a day’s drive you could visit Bent’s Old Fort (ca. 1840s) near La Junta and the Vogel Canyon pictographs (spanning hunter-gatherer times to historic tribal uses) on the Comanche National Grasslands. In the Southwest you could visit the excellent museum at the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores to learn more about the archaeology of this region.

Personal favorite sites?

The archaeologists of our office each have our favorites: Calhan Paint Mines on the eastern Plains offers dramatic landscapes; the Ludlow Massacre Site and the associated exhibit on this tragedy at the El Pueblo Museum in Pueblo give us a glimpse into labor history and strife; and the exhibit on the Jones-Miller site at the Wray Museum in the northeast offers a great summary of a bison kill site dating to 8,000 B.C.

Are there some sites that are not as well-known, but that you recommend?

The Ute Mountain Tribal Park and Chimney Rock Pueblo in the Four Corners are lesser known treasures. In Douglas County, near Denver, there is the Lamb Spring Archaeological Preserve with paleontological remains of ancient mammoths and mastodons, as well as 10,000-year-old artifacts such as spear points from ancient human activities at the site.

Any general advice for visitors to these areas?

Explore, have fun, learn all you can, but also be sure to visit with respect.  Try to follow three rules: Stay on designated trails, do not litter, and follow any other site-specific rules that are provided by the managers of the property; observe standing archaeological architecture from various perspectives, but do not walk or climb on it unless authorized; and observe artifacts, plants, and various features at sites, but do not disturb them—do not move artifacts or take them away from the site.



Ancient cultures come alive at these hands-on activity, research and interpretation centers.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

With tours, classes for children and adults, domestic and international travel programs, lab and excavation programs and summer camps too, Crow Canyon is a vibrant educational resource for “citizen scientists” who want to try their hand at real archaeological research. crowcanyon.org

Anasazi Heritage Center

Interactive exhibits, artifacts, a library, plus a one-mile interpretive trail offering panoramic vistas, make this museum a popular stop. It’s also the gateway to entering the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/ahc.html

Ute Mountain Tribal Park

Native American Ute guides lead tours of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings and lands, showcasing petroglyphs, pictographs, artifacts and history. Half-day, full-day and private tours are available. utemountaintribalpark.info

Looking to explore more of the Colorado area? See: Exploring the Ancient History of the Four Corners Region

Categories: Colorado Destinations