A Surprising Find

25 years ago in July of 1992, a group of volunteers from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and from the Garden Park Paleontology Society began an excavation braving high temperatures, thunderstorms and flash floods. So what was considered so important?

One of the most complete Stegosaurus stenops skeletons ever found! Missing only its front legs, the stegosaurus was around 80% complete.

In June of 1992 Ken Carpenter was leading a field excursion with volunteers from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science along with his assistant Bryan Small. Imagine their surprise when they found an almost completely intact stegosaurus! While most of the body was encased in a thick layer of rock, the head and a few neck vertebrae were more easily excavated. The head and neck bones were separated from the rest of the body and taken to Denver. Excavation of the body and tail began in July of 1992 which continued through August. It was a long and arduous process since the body and tail were under a layer of rock which had to be removed carefully to not damage the bone underneath.

Once the bone had been excavated, the next big step was to remove the skeleton from the ravine it rested in. But that wasn’t going to be an easy task. Now that the skeleton was in its jacket (a casing made of plaster that protects the specimen), it weighed over 6 tons! An impressive course of action was decided upon. A CH-47 “Chinook” helicopter from Fort Carson Army Base lifted the jacketed body out of the ravine. A crane truck was used to lift the 3,000 pound tail jacket out of the ravine.

So why was this find so important? For one, it was only the second stegosaurus skull ever found! It was also the most complete stegosaurus skeleton found at the time and answered a variety of questions. The skeleton was found articulated meaning it was found in one piece with the bones arranged in order. This allowed the orientation of the plates to be confirmed which had been long debated. The plates on a stegosaurus were arranged upright, running on either side of the spine in an alternating pattern.  It was also determined that the tail of a stegosaurus had a limited amount of movement and was held upright rather than dragging.

Named Ms. Spike, this stegosaurus is an impressive specimen. To read more about the excavation and prep work of Ms. Spike visit the Hands on the Land – Garden Park Fossil Area website. To learn more and see a cast of this great beast who once roamed this area stop by and visit us at the museum Wednesday through Saturday between 10 am and 4 pm!

Image taken during the excavation of Ms. Spike in Garden Park; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.


Spike 2
Image taken during prep work of Ms. Spike in Cañon City; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.


The information presented within this article has been researched by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center using information compiled about Garden Park Fossil Area by Hands on the Land.

2 thoughts on “A Surprising Find

  1. My Dad lived in the Garden Park area of Colorado for 30+ years. He passed away in 2017 and I found a framed certificate from Bureau of Land Management in 1991 when they found Tony’s Tree. He owned a backhoe and volunteered to back fill the whole that the prehistoric tree was removed from. I would like to find some information on this so that I can attach it to the back of the picture so that our future generations know the history. His name was “Bill” William A. Durham. His address was 4489 Garden Park Road

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