The Cope-Lucas dinosaur quarries are located in the Garden Park Fossil Area north of Canon City. These dinosaur quarries are significant in American scientific history and the story has recently been developed on a website that I’m introducing to you! I first introduced the quarries in an earlier article – Quest to See “Our Bones” where I had a chance to see the bones collected from these quarries in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
In 1876 very few people had heard the term “dinosaur” and even less people had any idea what they were. We’ve all grown up with the concept of a large long necked dinosaurs such as a Brontosaurus and ferocious meat eating dinosaurs such as an Allosaurus. Most of us are familiar with the dinosaur with the plates on its back, you know, the Stegosaurus. But in 1876 these were relatively unknown. One year later it would be a completely different story.
Major discoveries of fossils in the American West began in the late 1860′s and early 1870′s when Othniel C. Marsh of the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut and Edward D. Cope of Philadelphia made amazing discoveries in the American West. These discoveries sparked our scientific imagination. Despite all the excitement from these fossil discoveries, surprisingly it was not until 1877 that dinosaurs were about to enter the stage in a major way.
These Colorado discoveries of much larger bones was the result of two citizens from Colorado; Arthur Lakes and Oramel Lucas. These two well educated citizens had their imaginations sparked by all those other fossil discoveries and they went out looking for for fossils on their own. In the spring of 1877, Arthur made his first discovery up near Morrison Colorado and Oramel made his discoveries right here in our own backyard, the area we now call the Garden Park Fossil Area. Oramel Lucas was actually our first Fremont County school superintendent and well…you are going to have to read this remarkable story yourself. You will be glad you did!
The story of Cope and Marsh is quite well researched and there are numerous books and websites on their story. On the other hand, the story of the people who did the field work has been less known.Dinosaur Depot Museum volunteers including Pat Monaco, Donna Engard (deceased), Georgine Booms, June Hines, and others have researched this story and helped bring it to light. These volunteers work primarily through our own Dinosaur Depot Museum and they have assembled an amazing story. Additionally, this story would not have been possible if we did not have our excellent local history center. Our local history would not be anywhere near where it is today if it were not for this facility.
Most recently the local Bureau of Land Management – Royal Gorge Field Office was able to secure the services of an intern from the GeoCorps Program. GeoCorps is a program of the Geological Society of America, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service. The program offers paid short-term geoscience positions including geology, paleontology, and other natural science areas. We call these workers “GSA interns”, short for Geological Society of America.
A series of interns have been obtained by the Royal Gorge Field Office over the years to support their paleontology program. A few years ago the Marsh Felch Quarry site was developed in large part by GSA intern Ryan McKenna, who initiated the Marsh Felch Quarry website. A number of very good GSA volunteers have gone on to strengthen that information and over the last two years there has been some remarkable progress thanks in large part to the efforts of Allison Vitkus and Karen Lloyd. I’ll tell you more about Ryan and Karen’s work in future articles.
In the spring of 2010, Allison Vitkus went to work as an intern for the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office through the GeoCorps program. Allison was a recent graduate from Carleton College, a highly rated, small, private liberal arts college in the historic river town of Northfield, Minnesota. Allison actually grew up in the Cleveland, Ohio area and while growing up was quite familiar with “Happy” the Haplocanthosaurus on display there but that is a story for another day! Remarkably our dinosaur excavator, Oramel, also came from the same general area where Allison grew up but a bit earlier in time …1876!
The Royal Gorge Field Office first introduced our remarkable dinosaur story on the Hands on the Land Website a few years ago. Hands on the Land (HOL) is a network of field classrooms stretching across America from Alaska to Florida. HOL is sponsored by Partners in Resource Education, a collaboration of five Federal agencies, a non-profit foundation, schools, and other private sector partners and our dinosaur story is well told on their website.
With all that said I willl tell two quick stories pertaining to Oramel Lucas. Did you know that members of his family first came out here in the late 1860′s and many of them are buried in both Lakeside and Greenwood Pioneer Cemetery? Allison and I had the opportunity to visit the locations where members of the Lucas family are buried in these cemeteries. Visiting these sites gives you a sense of the people who somehow became involved in our dinosaur story.
During Allison’s research, she learned that Oramel lived with his sister, Lucy, and her husband who owned land in Garden Park, not far from where the discoveries occurred. We were lucky to have had the opportunity to go see where Lucy Ripley’s family had a home in Garden Park. Showing us the site was Bob Shoemaker, a rancher who lives in Garden Park and accompanying us were Kurt and Peggy Sorenson, Garden Park residents who care strongly for our local heritage. The home was long gone and only the foundation remained, but while there we felt the presence of Oramel who made such a difference in science.