Dinosaurs Galore!

The New Museum at Dinosaur Junction in Edwards

With open minds and curiosity, we learn something each day. Do you know that the first Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils (a few scattered teeth) were discovered near Golden in 1874? Im a Colorado native, but I didnt! In 1902, Barnum Brown discovered the first partial T-Rex skeleton in Hell Creek, Montana.

Indeed, were always learning; as recently as March 2022, paleontology experts entertained astounding new speculation about the existence of three T-Rex species. The debate is on, but no one doubts that the Rocky Mountains were the playground for these giant beasts. Our ancient Eagle County harbored many famous dinosaur species, and Dinosaur Junction(extending from above Wolcott to Edwards) was a bustling, prehistoric interstate travel corridor.

Eagle County is also home to longtime local and professional dinosaur expert, Billy Doran, who founded Fossil Posse Adventures in Wolcott with his wife, Lily. In 2015, Doran opened the Prehistoric Journey kids’ summer camps. He has entertained and educated the public about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures at a variety of venues for the past seven years. Doran landedin the Vail Valley in the late ‘70s after his plans to work at an orphanage in the Amazon basin dissolved; active terrorist groups made it too dangerous.

Instead, he worked here as a ski bum for a season; then, he got the acting bug, lived in Hollywood in a VW bus and appeared in background spots on Friends, Seinfeld, E.R. and other TV shows.

Photo courtesy of Billy Doran

All the while, Billy kept his passion for paleontology and archaeology alive. He continued to gain experience and knowledge in field digs with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and National Geographic expeditions. A new professional future opened for him. He moved back to the Valley in the ‘80s.

I always knew there was something special about this area,he reflects. Likewise, there is something special about Doran — a hidden gem in our community, waiting to be discovered!

Do you know about Doran? I didnt! Not until his recent announcement of the exciting new museum at Dinosaur Junction in Edwards. He began developing the 501c-3 non-profit in its original Wolcott location two years ago, and it officially opened summer 2022 for all of us to enjoy.

The museum has a perfect home, located in the former June Creek Elementary School building, at 1121 Miller Ranch Road. Many details about planned case displays, unique fossils, featured species, activities, programs, etc. remain under wraps — literally — as treasures formerly exhibited beneath canvas tents at the outdoor Wolcott location will be moved to their secure and permanent location. The museum will be open year-round for families, schools, special events and more.

Don’t be surprised to be welcomed at the museum by two favorite, familiar dinosaur skeletons towering at least 15 feet high. The collection development will be an ongoing project, largely determined by available funds and resources. Fossils are often hard to find, and to acquire rare specimens for display can cost thousands of dollars, unless Billy digs them up himself. He has already found so many exciting things in Eagle Countys backyard; initially, these will comprise most of the collection.

Were focused on Eagle County history with objects that have been found here,he shares. Mostly things that I have collected, including 12 different dinosaurs, crocodiles, sharks, turtles, ammonites Remember, during the Cretaceous period, this area was under water, a beautiful Caribbean resort! No birds included yet, as theyre extremely rare. In addition to this great museum, we plan to have a paleontology lab where students from around the world will come to study our unique stuff. The way the Rockies lifted up, very few areas have our same exposed layers. Theyre all over Colorado, but in most locations, still a mile beneath the ground. Here they have come to the surface.

What are Dorans most exciting local finds?

Theyre all so cool. Maybe the biggest one I found last summer. A Camarasaurus, about 45 tons! Also, the Allosaursus, about 30 feet long, found right on the other side of this Edwards ridge. Our Stegosaurs footprints are amazing. And, I even found a tiny footprint the size of a turkey claw that is about 230 million years old!”

What is the most elusive dinosaur? You guessed it. Hes on a T-Rex quest! 

Perhaps his most extraordinary discovery so far was in 2015 in remote Escalante National Park, Utah on a dig with DMNS and National Geographic.

You never know what youre going to find,he marvels. You wake up with rattlesnakes and scorpions. Its not easy work to find these amazing things. But, talk about being in the right place at the right time. I was by myself in a drainage for a few minutes. As parts surface and pop out, they start to break apart. The first thing to peek out at me was a giant ‘beak.’ Turns out to be a horn that had broken off a skull and poked up from the soil as the ravine eroded. We dug in and found the entire head, then its entire skeleton, the size of an elephant; the body was about 7 feet long. The skull is at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and, proudly, my name is on it!Doran recalls of the trip.

For me, finding that dinosaur represented the most amazing thing about finding fossils. All of a sudden, I became aware that Im not just out there digging fossils, Im not just out looking at history, Im now part of history. Im the first living thing, the first human for sure, to find this creature since it died, in this case in a 76-million-year-old layer. Its the first time since I brushed the dirt away that the sun has shone on this skull. Now the science of paleontology is like a time machine. Im part of this animals story going back eons, finding things that have just been waiting to be found, waiting to be remembered and waiting to be brought out of the rock and put someplace where people can be in awe. Its incredible looking at it that way. It led me to do what Im doing and to building the museum,” he adds.

Prior to opening, the museum received generous donations from Resort Development (sponsoring the central exhibit), Board Members, a GoFundMe campaign and donations from participants in Dorans national online Zoom classes launched during the pandemic. Moving forward, its growth and success will rely on ticket sales, fundraisers and other sources.

Dino donors can contact Billy to make a donation. Also, visit the website for information about enrolling in kidscamps, arranging school visits, rafting and fossil hunting, corporate parties, birthday parties and presentations in Beaver Creek Village.

Doran’s knowledge is vast, yet his magical way of explaining technical, scientific facts is enjoyable. He is dedicated to sharing his dinosaur passion. He loves to have fun, work with kids and enlighten everyone about his favorite subjects so that they get it,he shares.

You know how every child loves dinosaurs? Well, it was no different with me! But, I never grew out of it. I like to call myself a Play-leontologist. Growing up, I dug through every creek, swamp and bog, catching everything that hopped, slithered, crawled, flew. My dad showed me some dino footprints in Holyoke, MA when I was a kid. Ill never forget it,” Doran reminisces. 

Doran offers a unique gift to our community, and hes already successful with kids and families. Volunteers, elementary age to retirees, have stepped up to help with the museum.

Longtime summer camp participant Tucker Mazza totally gets it.” “Fossil Posse is my favorite place in the world. Now I cant wait to help Billy put together the skeletons for the museum. I want to be like Billy when I grow up.” 

dinosaurjunction.org

Photo courtesy of Billy Doran

MISSION STATEMENT FOR THE MUSEUM AT DINOSAUR JUNCTION:

The Museum at Dinosaur Junction is dedicated to inspiring, educating and enriching life in Eagle County and Colorado as a whole by deepening the understanding and appreciation of history and science through the research, preservation and exhibition of paleontological treasures and discoveries, and the development of a reference library with a focus on Colorado’s high-country fossils and paleontological history. Exhibits cover a comprehensive 200-million-year history of the region, from fossil dinosaurs beginning in the Triassic, through the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous Periods, including fossils from the Western Interior.

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