OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes November 01, 2008


A hiker examines a dinosaur bone while visiting Riggs Hill.

Sometimes, we make too big a deal of hiking. It becomes a major outing. It takes planning, timing and a mediator to resolve family schedule conflicts.

Sometimes, we take for granted those little hikes around town that stare at us day after day. Thus, we rarely take advantage of them.

One such hike is Riggs Hill. If you followed my tracks up the Corkscrew Trail from Wildwood Trailhead last weekend, you passed Riggs Hill on the way.

This site is the historic dinosaur quarry where paleontologist Elmer Riggs found the first known Brachiosaurus. There’s a marker dedicating the discovery in 1900, and a big honkin’ backbone of what at the time was thought to be the largest dinosaur in existence.

By hiking along the trail on South Broadway, across the road from Meadows Way, you’ll discover this partially exposed dinosaur backbone embedded in greenish-gray bentonite.

Bentonite is the clay-like substance that can easily swallow any motorized vehicle when it’s just a little wet.

It was also apparently sloppy enough to trap big old dinosaurs 140 million years go. 

To reach this short hiking trail, take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River where it turns into Colorado Highway 340. Continue on this until you come to the Redlands Parkway.

If you turn right, you’ll go back over the parkway and the river to the mall. Don’t turn right. Turn left, and take old South Broadway. The parking area for Riggs Hill will appear on your right, about .2 miles past the left turn for South Camp Road.

A Colorado Riverfront Trail sign for the Riggs Hill section is displayed at the parking area of this property, which is actually owned by the Museum of Western Colorado.  There are also bulletin boards at the trailhead. Unfortunately, there’s no information on them right now.  You’ll also find, as you take the section of trail that actually parallels the road, a number of posts that mark a self-guided tour.

Again, there are no brochures for the self-guided tour, but you can call the Museum of Western Colorado, which helped build this trail, or call Dinosaur Journey at 858-7282 if you’d like information.

A look to the past shows that 140 million years ago, dinosaurs thrived in the Grand Valley, which was a warm and humid floodplain. Since then, many streams, lakes and seas deposited thousands of feet of sediment and entire mountain ranges have eroded. Remnants of these ancient dinosaurs were trapped and buried. Over time, sediment turned to rock and bones fossilized.

In 1900, Elmer Riggs, an assistant curator of paleontology at the Field Museum in Chicago, spent a field season in the area now known as Riggs Hill. His expedition excavated the remains of a Brachiosaurus altithorax, a previously unknown dinosaur larger than any ever found before.

Brachiosaurus, pronounced Brack-ee-owe-sore-uss, is the largest and heaviest land animal ever discovered.

This massive animal was different from other large plant-eating Sauropods in a few key ways.

First, Brachiosaurus had longer forelegs than hind legs. This gave Brachiosaurus a larger than average profile, and that’s why Elmer named this critter a Brachiosaurus. In Greek, it means “Arm Lizard.”

It also stood 23 feet tall at the hips, 40 to 50 feet tall at the peak of the weird ridge that ran along the top of its head, was about 85 feet long and weighed anywhere from 33 to 88 tons. And it ate veggies.

Riggs returned to the Grand Valley in 1901 to dig in an area south of Fruita, the area now known as Dinosaur Hill. If you really want to know about that one, wait for future editions of this fine column, ask someone at the Museum of Western Colorado or Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, or go ask any one of those kids running cross country at Fruita Monument High School. They know Dinosaur Hill quite well.

Not much has changed on Dinosaur Hill or Riggs Hill since Riggs was here in 1901. Human population growth around these dinosaur digs has changed, though. The 1900 Federal Census recorded a Grand Junction population of 3,503. We’ve got about 150,000 people in the valley now.

And, sometimes, these spots get overlooked.

So, back to Riggs Hill, it’s a great place to check out a panoramic view of the entire valley, including people, roadways, buildings, flora, fauna and geology.

Reaching the top of the hill, hikers can enjoy a full 360-degree view of the valley, east to Grand Mesa and Chalk Mountain, up to Mount Garfield and all along the Bookcliffs to the horizon to the northwest, back along the line of Colorado National Monument to the west, and the Uncompahgre Plateau further to the south.

Don’t overlook Riggs Hill. It’s pretty cool.


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