Morrison, Colorado is home to a vast prehistoric history, and a new viewing platform at “Crocodile Creek” on Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison gives visitors a sense of the watery Cretaceous landscape now preserved in sandstone.
Guests can explore for free or pay for guided tours every day.
“A geometric Eolambia sculpture on the roadway depicts the type of dinosaurs that could’ve been crocodile prey at this site, long before the Rocky Mountains formed,” said a representative for Dinosaur Ridge. “The section of hogback on Jefferson County Open Space land is where an ancient creek bed preserved in sandstone has been dubbed Crocodile Creek. Visitors can explore the site from a newly installed stairway and viewing platform, and from a paved roadway with interpretive signs written by paleontologists.”
Crocodile Creek was previously at sea level, and has since been raised by more than 6,000 feet. More than 90 million years ago, fresh water flowed through the bed into what was then the coastline of a large interior seaway. Many of the stone layers have fossilized animal tracks, including numerous parallel claw marks.
“Crocodile tracks are one of the most common tracks in the Dinosaur Ridge area, and in the Cretaceous-age Dakota Sandstone generally,” said Dr. Martin Lockley, co-founder of the nonprofit Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, as well as an ichnologist and professor emeritus at University of Colorado Denver. “Crocs had four toes on their hind feet, but often we see only the traces of the three longest toes. Often swim tracks are aligned in one direction because crocs were following a creek or moving with a current.”
The world’s first fossilized crocodile tracks ever scientifically named were found near Golden, Colorado in the 1930s.
Today crocodiles can only be found in south Florida in the U.S. and are protected as a threatened species. Crocodiles that once thrived in Colorado were smaller than full-grown animals living in Florida, which can reach up to 20 feet in length.
“Based to [sic] the largest tracks we can infer that the larger animals were 13-16 feet long,” Dr. Lockley added. “Nonetheless, the larger crocs would have been fearsome, top predators in these habitats. Paleontologists think they would have ambushed unsuspecting dinosaurs, birds, and other creatures that strayed too close to the waterline.”
Just south of Crocodile Creek visitors can see evidence of more dinosaurs where mating rituals, like some modern birds perform, left theropod scrape marks in Cretaceous mud.
Photo credit: Dinosaur Ridge.