Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/119

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FLORISSANT; A MIOCENE POMPEII

expense, the fact that the latter were of no obvious value to the mining or kindred interests led to a withdrawal of financial support. That the restoration of the past—the discovery of the conditions which obtained in Colorado perhaps a million years ago—is of no value to mankind is a proposition which would scarcely be endorsed by any scientific man; but the fact remains that our present-day public makes a stronger demand for cash than for philosophic illumination, and the latter must often wait.

In the summer of 1905 the Florissant work was taken up anew by the University of Colorado, and Judge J. Henderson and Dr. F. Ramaley, of that institution, went there and collected a quantity of material. In 1906 a new expedition, consisting of Dr. W. M. Wheeler, of the American Museum of Natural History, and Mr. and Mrs. Cockerell and Mr. S. A. Rohwer, of Boulder, Colorado, spent a considerable time excavating fossils; and in 1907 the work was carried on still more extensively, with the financial cooperation of the American Museum of Natural History, Yale University, the British Museum and the University of Colorado. As a result, there has accumulated an almost embarrassing amount of material, and many remarkable things have been discovered.

Florissant is to-day a small town on the Midland Railroad of Colorado, about as far west of Pikes Peak as Colorado Springs is east of it. It is situated in an open valley or "park," surrounded by low hills, and consisting mainly of rather barren grass-land, with moister and even swamp areas along the creeks. The altitude is about 8,000 feet, and is far above the zone of oak bushes which forms such a conspicuous feature in the vicinity of Manitou. The hills are clothed with an open forest of conifers, mostly pines, and owing to the dry and sunny character of the locality, some of the southern plants, such as the Spanish Bayonet or Yucca, grow in abundance, The town itself is small, and exists principally for purposes connected with the railroad; it is a shipping point for a certain amount of lumber, but in no sense a mining center.

In ancient times—say about a million years ago—the valley was the site of a beautiful lake—Lake Florissant. This body of water was perhaps about nine miles long, but very narrow, and strongly indented by wooded headlands at every point. Here and there were small islands, upon which grew tall redwood trees and other vegetation. It was just such a place as would have delighted the heart of Fenimore Cooper and his hero of the Leatherstocking tales. The climate was very different from that of modern Colorado; mild, warm and damp, not unlike that of the uplands of our southern states. Yet the hills were probably rather dry. for we find remains of plants suited to diverse ecological conditions, from semi-arid uplands to swamps. Not far away