On another gorgeous morning, we again drove up through Ute Pass, only this time we were heading to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
At one time when the planet was much warmer, the whole of North America was covered in giant redwood trees. About 34 million years ago, volcanic eruptions formed a lake 12 miles long, known as Lake Florissant. Further eruptions covered the lake, trees, fish and insects were covered in lahar (volcanic mudflow) up to about 15ft. Eventually the tops of the trees died and the trunks became fossilized.
In 1969 the Fossil Beds, including 6,000 acres of prehistoric Lake Florissant became a National Monument. Ute oral tradition refers to the area as “Valley of Shadows” as they saw fossils as “shadows” imprinted on the shale.
When we arrived we only just found somewhere to park, as the monument was teeming with people, we hadn’t realised that we’d decided to visit on a ‘free park’ entry day.
After watching the informational film we followed the path across the fossil beds.
Apart from a few fossilized redwood trunks, which are huge, most of the fossils are buried so there’s not actually a great deal to see above ground. At one time visitors used to chip bits of the redwood trunks. Now of course it’s all protected and woe betide you if you’re caught taking any fossils.
We also visited the Hornbeck Homestead.
Adeline Hornbeck had been twice widowed and was a single parent to 4 children when she bought her 160 acre homestead in the Florissant Valley in the 1870’s.
Within 7 years she’d built a sizable house, with 9 outbuildings and had $4,000 worth of livestock. On top of looking after the children and working on the homestead, she also took a job at the general store in Florissant. She was one tough lady.
After looking round the homestead we decided to drive back through Cripple Creek and stop for coffee, of course not only was it a ‘free park’ entry day it was the weekend so it was packed. In the end we never did get our coffee but we had another great drive back through the mountains.
As we drove back we stopped at an informational sign about the Gold Belt Tour National Scenic Byway. How lucky that we didn’t take the road to Cripple Creek as we came out of Cañyon City the other day, otherwise we might’ve ended up driving along ‘The Shelf’ a one lane 4WD road. Even though our truck is 4WD, we know our limitations and some of these roads really are jeep roads!
Have fun, we are!