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Colorado license plates go prehistoric

A new Colorado license plate option features the state fossil, a Stegosaurus. (Handout art)

MORRISON – The state with one of the most recognizable standard vehicle license plates in the country, featuring a green and white mountain range image, will soon offer drivers a stylized plate unlike any seen on American roadways.

Gov. Jared Polis has approved a new special license plate sure to be all the rage with drivers who love dinosaurs. The new design pays homage to an animal that now lives only in museum exhibits, media depictions and our imaginations. Long before the Rocky Mountains were formed, 30-foot long Stegosaurus grazed the flatlands and fought off Allosaurus attacks with its unique-to-the-species spiked tail.

Fossilized bones of this now iconic creature were first excavated in Morrison and named by famous paleontologist O.C. Marsh in 1877 during the so-called Bone Wars. In 1982 the armored herbivore with the plated back (Stegosaurus means roofed lizard) beat out other local dinosaurs to become Colorado's official state fossil.

“This dinosaur from the Late Jurassic continues to captivate us nearly 150 years after its fossil remains were first excavated and sent by rail from Colorado to Connecticut. We are fortunate to have exposed layers of ancient rock from that time period thanks to erosion and mountain uplift,” said Dinosaur Ridge Education Programs Director Erin LaCount. “This family of dinosaurs has since been found in other states, but Colorado was the first site, and people tour that quarry location nearly every day.”

The license plate was proposed by the nonprofit that provides tours and children's camps at the outdoor museum known as Dinosaur Ridge. This fossiliferous section of the Morrison Formation on Jefferson County Open Space land still contains visible bones embedded in Jurassic layers. Atop Cretaceous age layers hundreds of dinosaur footprints are fossilized in what paleontologists have ranked the No. 1 dinosaur tracksite in North America.

Dinosaur Ridge is part of the Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas National Natural Landmark, designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior 50 years ago in November 1973. Like all NNLs, the designation includes an agreement with landowners to preserve the site for future generations. Proceeds from license plate sales will provide financial support for efforts to protect the fossil resources at this nationally recognized site. The plate is expected to be available in January 2024.