Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. National Monument in Colorado, United States

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

National Monument in Colorado, United States

Florissant Fossil Bed Hike Photo © Photo_Hiker_Dave

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Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

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Florissant Fossil
	Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by Photo_Hiker_Dave
The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located in central Colorado, just west of Pikes Peak, and is one of the richest fossil beds in the entire world. This fantastic national monument is renowned for its wealth of extremely well-preserved plant and insect fossils that are found in the area’s shales and mudstone. There are literally thousands and thousands of detailed fossils, from the tiniest fossilized insects to massive 14-foot-wide petrified redwood stumps. No less than 1,700 different species have been described. While the area used to be a lake environment about 34 million years ago, nowadays it is a peaceful, grassy mountain valley.

The name ‘Florissant’ comes from the French word for ‘flowering’, referring to the huge amounts of plant fossils that are found in the national monument. The area draws in about 60,000 visitors every year and is still a major paleontological site.

History

34 million years ago the area that is now the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was occupied by Lake Florissant, which stretched through the landscape for twelve miles. The lake was surrounded by vast forests of enormous redwoods, cedars, and pine trees, as well as lush ferns and shrubs. Fish swam in the lake, while innumerable insects crawled and flew through the woods. All life came to end when a nearby volcano erupted. The volcanic ash settled on the bottom of the lake, trapping all dead insects, animals, and plants. This fine layer of sediment eventually turned into shale and transformed the buried fauna and flora into incredibly detailed fossils.

Florissant Fossil
	Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by Photo_Hiker_Dave


The area was first mapped by geologists in the 1860s and 1870s. They were followed by paleontologists soon after, who collected fossils for research. By the late 19th century, the area was a destination for tourists and collectors alike. The Petrified Forest, now one of the monument’s main attractions, has lost a lot of its mass because collectors took away petrified wood for research or simply collecting purposes. The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was established in 1969.

Florissant Fossil
	Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by Photo_Hiker_Dave

Geology

This former lake environment has a base layer of Pikes Peak Granite that dates from the Proterozoic age. There is an unconformity between that base layer and the next layer, which is Wall Mountain Turf. This was caused by erosion during the uplifting of the majestic Rocky Mountains. The main rock in the national monument, though, is the so-called Florissant Formations, which is where all fossils are found. It is made up of alternating layers and units of shale, mudstone, volcanic deposits, and conglomerate. Six specific units in the Florissant Formation are described.

The volcanoes that once dominated the landscape and were responsible for killing all life that is now found as fossils have become dormant over time and have completely eroded away. There aren’t any obvious signs on the surface anymore.

 - Florissant
	Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by mark byzewski


Florissant Fossil
	Beds National Monument - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by Jasperdo

Fossils

It was the very volcanic material that destroyed the landscape that also preserved it so well. Nowadays, the diversity of prehistoric plants and animals that is found in the area is astonishing. More than 60,000 fossils have been discovered in the fossil beds.

The Florissant Formation is embedded with huge numbers of fossilized plants, from microscopic pollen to gigantic redwoods. Particularly the Petrified Forest, consisting of about thirty redwood stumps, is fascinating. Additionally, there are also the impressions of fossilized leaves, fruits; seeds, cones; flowers, and so on.

Most of the fossilized animal life are insects and other invertebrates, but there are a few vertebrates as well, mostly fish and a couple of birds. Mammal fossils are nearly non-existent. The invertebrate fossils include the remains of Spiders, Millipedes; Mollusks, Daddy Long-legs; Cockroaches, Termites; Grasshoppers, Crickets; and hundreds of other species.

Visiting the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

The monument offers plenty of activities to teach visitors about the history, geology and features of this beautiful area. The visitor center is located in the center of the park and has exhibits on the fossil beds’ history. In summer, rangers offer free seminars and interpretive talks.

The best way to explore the area is by hiking. All hiking trails start at the visitor center and run past fascinating fossil beds and petrified plants. When hiking, visitors may even spot some of the wildlife that inhabits these regions, such as black bears, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, and badgers.

The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is open between 9am and 5pm from Labor Day to June 1, and between 8 a0 feet and 6 p0 feet from June 1 to Labor Day. Admission is $ 3.00 USD for people older than 16; tickets are valid for seven days.

 - Florissant
	Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by Photo_Hiker_Dave

How to Get There

The nearest airport to the monument is in Colorado Springs. By car it can be reached by following Interstate 25, taking the exit at US 24 West and following that road for about 35 miles to the town of Florissant. From there, follow the signs for two miles to the visitor center, which is located on Teller County 1.

Similar and Nearby Landmarks

Colorado is home to a few other fascinating national monuments, including the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, the Chimney Rock National Monument and the Dinosaur National Monument.

Additional highlights in the state are the capital city of Denver, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway and Rocky Mountains National Park, among many, many more.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Feb 20, 2015

Pictures of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Florissant Fossil Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Bed Hike - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by Photo_Hiker_Dave

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