Believe it or not, I've actually been to Colorado before. That's right, much to the confusion of some, I do occasionally travel places other than Walt Disney World and Disneyland. That previous trip was six years ago, also in July, and also was my very first band trip. We had no idea what was in store for us back then, and it's sort of strange to think about all the changes that have gone on between visits. Still, some things never change, and many of the most unique Colorado experiences have been there far longer than six years.
One of those experiences exists in the northern town of Florissant, Colorado, or just outside of it rather. The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument isn't a National Park, but is run by the park service and is a great stop if you're heading through the area. The monument is known for, pretty obviously, its fossils, but it also features some of the largest and most interesting pieces from our world's past: petrified redwoods.
The enormous redwood tree stumps, like the one you see above, were once much larger trees, filling the entire valley with an ecosystem very different from what sits there now. Millions of years ago, a volcano erupted, causing mudslides to fall and ash and dirt to cover the entire valley. A river was cut off on top of it, creating a lake as well. The volcano continued to erupt before eventually going dormant, but the ash continued to do its work. Covering the bottom 15 feet of each tree, the redwoods eventually died out, but the stumps were petrified and perfectly preserved along with hundreds of other plant, animal, and insect species!
Now, what's even more interesting about this location is that I just happened to stop by on another anniversary! In 1956, Walt Disney took his wife Lillian on a trip to Colorado Springs to celebrate their wedding anniversary. One evening, they took a drive to the nearby Pike Petrified Forest, which is about an hour and a half from Colorado Springs. Much to Lillian's dismay, Walt left her in the car as he went to inquire about a tour of the petrified forest, despite the fact that it was getting late and the sun was already setting. A young boy did give him a short tour, and at the end, Walt wondered if he would be able to take home a specimen. Initially, the boy pointed Walt toward the small gift shop, but he soon insisted that he wanted something larger, and pointed to a nearby petrified tree stump. A "small specimen" wasn't going to do it. He wanted the whole tree.
Walt did end up buying a redwood trunk, and as the joke goes, he gave it to Lillian as an anniversary present. The tree can now be found at Disneyland Park in Frontierland with the following plaque:
The best part though? Remember that trip Walt took Lillian on in 1956? That trip happened to put them in Pike Petrified Forest on July 11, exactly sixty years before I walked the same stretch of land. At first we weren't sure if we were in the same spot, but after a while, we ended up talking to a park ranger, who informed us that we were in the right spot, and showed us where the tree stump was previously. In the below picture you'll see two sets of stumps. The one on the left is a set of triplets, which all originated from the same parent tree, and on the right is an especially large stump. In between there now sits a stage for the educational theater at the monument, but that spot is actually right where the Disneyland tree now stands. Pretty awesome, right?
You can visit the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument for yourself to see where Walt picked up a tree stump on a whim for his theme park in California! I highly recommend it, and if this trip showed me anything, it's that we truly should all be finding our national parks!
Have a magical day!