A small town has again yielded big scientific finds as historians this week announced a new collection of dinosaur fossils and footprints.
Matt Mossbrucker, dinosaur researcher and director of the Morrison Natural History Museum, said two years of work in an old fossil mine in an area dubbed Dinosaur Ridge uncovered important finds overlooked for decades.
Among the discoveries were a rare combination of fossils and footprints sharing the same sandstone formations, and fossilized footprints that could have been made by previously unidentified dinosaurs.
"We couldn't believe what we were seeing," Mossbrucker said.
The new evidence includes the first stegosaurus footprints found in Colorado, where the extinct beast is the state's official fossil.
"When I see these tracks, I half expect to look up and see a stegosaurus walking away from me," he said. "That's how good they are."
Morrison, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Denver, is the site of the first dinosaur fossil and footprint discoveries in the West. Prints and bones date back as far as 150 million years, before the Rocky Mountains formed. The Dinosaur Ridge mines were opened by Arthur Lakes, a part-time professor at what became the Colorado School of Mines. They were busiest from 1877 to 1879, but then were largely untouched until volunteers revisited the sites in 1993.
A grant in 2003 funded a new wave of exploration, and Mossbrucker said a team of scientists and volunteers quietly assembled new discoveries over the past two years, sharing them with loyal regular museum visitors while members tried to determine what they had.
"We continue to find new things as recently as last week," Mossbrucker said.
Discoveries include evidence of up to seven species of dinosaurs, ranging from sparrow-sized to something as heavy as eight elephants, all pressed into wet sand around an ancient river.
Mossbrucker said researchers were looking for fossils, flipping over boulders when the tracks were uncovered.
"You don't need to travel to find important fossils. We just need to look in our own backyard," Mossbrucker said.