Today we did a long driving loop with two destinations.
The first was Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
The fossil beds are located in a valley that was dammed up millions of years ago and became a lake. It was a very still lake such that there was very little oxygen at the bottom so that anything that sank down was well preserved. It also had a lot of sticky green algae on the surface with caught a lot plants and insects which then fell to the bottom. As layers of clay and volcanic ash fell on them they became fossils. In this one small area they have discovered fossils from over 1700 different plants and animals.
All of the small fossils are saved inside the visitors center because they are found encased in the stone so you wouldn’t see them in the fields of the monument.
The big draw of the monument however is the petrified redwood tree trunks. The area was once better at growing the redwoods than present day California. However one day a volcano erupted and encased them all in 15 feet of hot volcanic mud, killing the trees. Eventually the parts above the mud rotted away while the trunks in the mud became petrified.
We got to the monument just as ranger led walk was starting.
They have 5 large trunks protected from the elements under roofs because they are deteriorating quickly. The monument area used to be privately held land in the early 1900’s and the owners allowed people to come and collect the petrified wood for a fee. Instead of carefully digging these trunks out of the ground they used dynamite so the trunks ended up a bit shattered.
This is the largest and oldest. By counting the rings they think it was about 1600 years old when it died.
Off we went on a 1 mile looping walk out to some more trunks in a field.
Today there happened to be a retired geologist on site at a location where they had exposed all the layers of soil and rock.
This ranger was more into the local plants than the fossils and we had lots of stops as she described the properties of some of them. She even got us to taste a couple of the flowers. One was called Pepper Weed. It started out innocently, then you got a strong pepper taste and finally a huge aftertaste of horseradish. It lasted until we tried the next one.
This one Jennie remembers as being called Nutty Onion. All I tasted was one tiny flower and I had a strong green onion taste in my mouth until we got back to the visitor’s center and we had lunch.
On to the Big Trunk.
Back when it was on private land someone had brought in a huge steam powered saw to try and cut up the trunk and take it to one of the World’s Fairs. The saw broke and the blades are still embedded in the trunk.
That ended the ranger talk and we continued around the rest of the loop by ourselves.
The next trunk was really falling apart but you could easily see the growth rings.
While we had nice sunny (and hot) skies it looked like off in the distance someone was getting rained on.
We had lunch at the visitors center and then moved on.
Out in the parking lot you could see Pike’s Peak in the background.
I think you could see some of the road.
Next we headed south to drive down Phantom Canyon Road which is one of the Gold Belt Scenic Byways. To get there we had to first go through the mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor.
This area is littered with gold mines like the one we had seen from the top of Pike’s Peak yesterday. They are mostly strip mines. Not very pretty.
South of Victor we got onto the Phantom Canyon Road. Another blogger had raved about it but the first part was just a dirt road through the woods. I was worried that this would be a waste of time.
The scenery got much better once we got to the actual canyon. It is very narrow and twisty with high sheer walls. The road used to be a railway that took the gold south from the mines. We couldn’t imagine taking a train around all these tight curves.
The road itself was really easy. One brochure I read said you needed a 4wd high clearance vehicle. Any car could have done this road and I am pretty sure that I was on the right one because both our GPSs agreed. The worst part of it was that some sections had pretty bad washboard that really shook the car up.
A couple of interesting curved bridges and lots of rock cuts.
Even a couple of tunnels.
This one cliff had lots of bent layers of rock.
From afar we couldn’t figure out what this yellow thing in the tree was.
I have no idea why the needles clump up and turn this colour.
And then we were out of the canyon.
And on to Highway 50 and then 115 back to the RV.
Another great day.