Hello MiceChat! Well, it was my intention to share something really special for my 1,000th post. My original plan was to post an idea for a proposed revamp of Frontierland or WDW's Animal Kingdom. Well... they're not ready yet. So instead, I thought I would post some pictures and a trip report from a National Monument in Colorado, which turned out to be the original home of a famous Disneyland icon.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is in Florissant, Colorado, just off the beaten path from nearby Colorado Springs. The site became part of the National Park Service in 1969, but until then it was simply a private tourist attraction. It is famous among paleontologists for its well-preserved fossils of insects and plants, but is particularly noted because of its massive petrified tree stumps.
Figured out what I'm talking about yet?
We were spending a week in August of Denver last summer, and my dad has a hobby of going to every national park or monument within driving range whenever we are in a different part of the country. Often, this means we get to see some really famous and amazing sites, but other times, the parks we end up at are, well, a little more obscure.
When we pulled up into the Florissant Beds visitor center, I thought this would be one of those times. Fortunately, I turned out to be very wrong!
Even in a parking lot some 15 miles away, the majestic Pikes Peak looms as a permanent reminder of winter on this cloudy summer day.
The visitor center was modest, but very informative. The park rangers really knew their stuff. And yes, this visitor center really is a mile and a half above sea level! Aside from the guy in this picture, we were the only visitors here (it was half an hour before closing).
According to the rangers here, this park is one of the biggest go-to sites in the country for paleontologists studying ancient insects.
Some pictured here (bad image quality, sorry):
Their collection of plants is nationally renowned, as well:
Alright, alright, I bet by now you're wondering what this has to do with Disneyland. Well, the real treats are in the back.
Behind the visitor center is a cluster of petrified tree stumps. One of the park rangers at the center was kind enough to take us around and give us a personal tour of the site. It was from this site that Walt Disney found his petrified tree, now a famous Frontierland icon.
Tens of millions of years ago, before Colorado was the often-cold region it is today, the area had a very warm, sub-tropical climate, and plenty of lush vegetation. This was known as the Eocene age.
During that time in this particular valley, enormous trees grew that are very much related to modern day sequoias and redwoods. Until, that is, roughly 35 million years ago, when a volcano erupted and buried the tree trunks, as well as countless specimens of insects, plants, and other wildlife. A lake formed over the valley after that, which fossilized the specimens into sandstone. Today the lake is long gone.
The hill to the left here forms the boundary of the ancient lake. Just imagine this valley filled with water!
Flash forward to June, 1956, less than a year after the opening of Disneyland, when Walt was driving through Colorado with his wife, Lillian. When Walt saw a sign advertising a collection of petrified trees, he was immediately interested, and had to see them for himself.
Here's a photo of who is believed to be Walt Disney admiring a trio of tree stumps.
The people that owned the fossils at the time were not above selling some of their specimens, but they had never before sold an entire tree stump. Until, of course, Walt Disney wanted an entire stump for himself. The exact amount won't be found on the plaque in Disneyland, but the park ranger told us Walt wrote a check for around $10,000 to have the stump shipped to his Southern Californian home.
Here's where the story gets a little less certain. Allegedly, Walt was so set back from this purchase that he used his new tree stump as an anniversary present for his wife. Obviously, Lillian was less than enthused to have an ancient tree stump sitting in her yard, and donated the tree to Disneyland, where it remains today, and is where Walt more than likely had wanted to send it in the first place.
This is the same trio of tree stumps today (I'm not certain, but the park rangers said this is the largest cluster of stumps in the park, so it's pretty likely).
Here's a particularly large petrified stump in the far end of the site.
This stump was the Frontierland stump's neighbor before Walt it:
...And that patch of dirt behind it was the stump's home for most of its 60-some-million year history:
After touring these stumps, we only had a few more minutes to tour the visitor center before the park closed down for the day. That's what we get for visiting half an hour before closing.
Here's a photo of the plaque in Disneyland, just in case there's any info I forgot to mention:
All-in-all, a trip I thought would consist of touring some old fossils turned out to be a fascinating look into the ancient history of Colorado, and the more recent history of Disneyland. I hope you all enjoyed seeing some of the background of a Frontierland icon.
And with that said... bring on my star!
*All photos of Walt Disney and Disneyland courtesy of Daveland's blog.