The Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center is located at 612 Royal Gorge Blvd (U.S. Highway 50) in historic downtown Canon City.
The Paleontology wing of this facility is on the second floor within the DeWeese Gallery. This gallery contains paleontology exhibits as well as exhibits and information about Dall DeWeese who strongly supported the initial construction of the building.
Most notable of the exhibits is a full sized replica of a Stegosaurus that was excavated in 1992 utilizing a Chinook helicopter for removal of the 13,000 pound body jacket.
The Canon City location was a significant piece of the bone wars or race to discover fossils including dinosaurs. The fossil race actually began earlier and was particularly intense in the west from 1870 to 1876 with the great Yale expeditions headed up by Professor Marsh and the expeditions by Professor Cope. The race to uncover and describe dinosaurs began in earnest at both Morrison Colorado and Canon City in the spring of 1877 and by that fall also included the discovery of bones at Como Bluffs Wyoming. The stories at Morrison and Canon City are very intertwined and either together or separate provide an amazing story of discovery along with a dash of rather bad behavior tossed in. The location of the Canon City bone wars is on public lands located just north of Canon City and the museum in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office are in position to tell that story.
Oramel Lucas and family conducted six years of excavation in the 1877-1883 time period under the direction of Professor Cope of Philadelphia. The Cope Lucas quarries were significant stimulating the production of a most magnificent monograph by the American Museum of Natural History in the 1921 publication entitled “Camarasaurus, Amphicoelias, and other sauropods of Cope” Memoirs of the AMNH by Osborn and Mook which is available on line through the American Museum of Natural History.
Marshall P. Felch first assisted Professor Mudge and Samuel Williston excavating in the early fall of 1877 at a rival quarry site and then became a full time excavator from 1883 to 1890 resulting in one of the most important dinosaur excavation localities ever and most certainly one of the National Museum of Natural Histories most important dinosaur collections.
The early dinosaur excavation period here in Canon City was on the leading edge of dinosaur discoveries in the American West which were led by Professor Marsh and Professor Cope. These excavations led to amazing new exploration and discovery in the American west over time and helped spur interest in creation of some of our great American museums including the Carnegie, the field museum in Chicago, and the American Museum of Natural History.
Canon City’s dinosaur excavation history did not end with these early discoveries. the following are the additional key moments and the Royal Gorge Regional Museum knows the story.
The Dall DeWeese Excavations were well documented in letters between DeWeese and Professor Figgins at the Denver Museum of Natural History [Nature and Science].
Professor Kessler of Canon City was a high school teacher that became intensely interested in our local dinosaur story and began excavations with his students. One of these excavations resulted in the discovery of a Stegosaurus that went on to become our Colorado State Fossil. This Stegosaurus has been on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in one of their most photographed exhibits in Prehistoric Journey.
In 1954 this group of students headed west to discover a dinosaur and over a four year period they successfully completed their mission. Today a full sized Haplacanthosaurus known as Happy is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Nature and Science! Learn more about this remarkable excavation!
In 1992, Bryan Small of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science made a discovery of a single bone. This discovery led to an amazing excavation that took place over a two month period headed up by Dr. Kenneth Carpenter of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with the assistance of the Garden Park Paleontology Society, Colorado Quarries mining company, the local BLM office, and the community.
On August 14, 1992 a 13,000 pound body jacket was successfully airlifted by the second battalion of the 158th aviation regiment of the US Army. Read more about this amazing discovery and excavation. A replica of this dinosaur was made after several years of intensive preparation by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and is on display at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum.
As of April of 2015, the Royal Gorge Regional Museum has additional displays on local geology, other Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaur displays, and a number of Cretaceous items of interest. The museum plans to expand its displays on everything they have over the next few years creating a great small community museum located next to where these things happened. Additionally the community is creating a great nearby trail network that will enable visitors to both visit the museum and see actual paleontology sites nearby which is a great combination.
I’ll work on additional notes about the museum exhibits in the future! They have a great staff and excellent volunteers.