The Fruita Paleontological Area was created after a series of discoveries in the 1970s, including the smallest known dinosaur and a crocodile from the Jurassic period that were both named after the town of Fruita. Also found there were bones from a new species of the Ceratosaurus, a meat-eating dinosaur.
The Fruitadens, a small, beaked dinosaur, was discovered by paleontologist George Callison for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Callison found the incomplete jaws, vertebrae and partial hind limbs as part of a dig in the 1970s, and German paleontologist Richard Butler formally described and named the dinosaur in 2009. The dinosaur was just 28 inches long, weighed just 1.7 pounds, had short arms and used its legs to dart around larger dinosaurs.
Bones from the Jurassic crocodile Fuitachampsa was discovered by Callison and paleontologist James Clark in 1975, along with additional bones in the next few years. The Fruitachampsa, which typically was three feet long and had a skull 3 1/2 inches long that narrowed at the snout, was formally described by Clark in 2011.
In 1976, paleontologist Lance Eriksen of the Museum of Western Colorado and his son Thor found a skeleton with a skull from a new species of Ceratosaurus, which originally had been named in 1884 based on bones found near Cañon City. The new species, which boasts a longer horn than the original, was named Ceratosaurus magnicornis by paleontologists Jim Madsen and Sam Welles in 2000.
Among the other fossils found at the site are snails and clams, crayfish and shrimp, frogs and turtles, lizards, a pterosaur or flying reptile, dinosaur eggshells and tracks and bones from the dinosaurs Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Dryosaurus and Stegosaurus.
A one-mile trail has signs telling about the area’s geology and dinosaur finds. To reach the trailhead, go south from Fruita on Colorado 340, cross over the Colorado River, turn west on Kingsview Road and continue down Kingsview for about two miles. Allow an hour for the hike.