Dinosaur Fossil Discovery in Royal Gorge

Can you imagine the thrill of stumbling upon a dinosaur fossil from the Late Jurassic Period 150 million years ago, and being the first human to lay eyes on them? That’s exactly what happened to rock hound Chad McCarty when he was hiking in the Red Canyon area, in the Royal Gorge region of southern Colorado, in late 2022.

archaeologists looking at dinosaur fossils
Courtesy Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

To Chad’s astonishment, he’d stumbled upon two massive leg bones of a longneck herbivore Sauropod dinosaur, which includes well-known sub-species as Brachiosaurus and Brontosaurus. Upon realizing the significance of his discovery, Chad contacted the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which began the arduous months-long task of working with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and the Western Interior Paleontological Society to carefully unearth and transport the fossils to the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center in Cañon City.

For several months, this find was kept quietly under wraps, to ensure the paleontologists had time to secure the fossil site and move the dinosaur fossils to the museum, where they are being patiently excavated from the protective casts used to transport them. To the thrill of many dinosaur enthusiasts, the partially-visible bones were officially presented to the public on January 21, 2023, during a press conference at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center, where they will remain on exhibit to the public, free of charge.

Finding dinosaur bones is exhilarating, but it’s certainly nothing new in the Red Canyon area. Significant discoveries of a number of dinosaur species of all types have been unearthed in the Morrison Foundation along Colorado’s front range since the 1870’s. Many of the fossils discovered over the last 150 years on the 3,200 acre BLM lands known as The Cleveland Quarry are on display in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian. However, this is the first significant find that has been allowed to remain at the museum in Cañon City, since it became an official federal repository for dinosaur fossils.

Interested in learning about the dinosaurs found in Cañon City and seeing the backcountry areas where they are found? Guided off-road jeep tours, both group and private, can be taken with Colorado Jeep Tours to Red Canyon and the Royal Gorge, where you’ll see actual dinosaur footprints embedded in rock and learn interesting facts from the CJT tour driver/guides about local paleontology, geology, and flora and fauna found in the region. Want to know more about these fascinating and exciting tours? Call Colorado Jeep Tours at 719-275-6339 or visit their website at ColoradoJeepTours.com.