SPECIAL REPORT • The West's untapped treasure

Less than 40 miles from modern Colorado Springs is an island of prehistory frozen in stone. Between 34 and 35 million years ago, a combination of mudflows, volcanic ash, and sediment from an ancient lake covered everything from the stumps of giant sequoias (a tree species no longer found in Colorado) to tiny insects.

The site has yielded fossils of leaves, pinecones, insects, fish, birds, and bones and teeth from several types of mammals. Until the creation of the monument in 1969, paleontologists, amateur fossil collectors, and souvenir hunters removed tens of thousands of specimens, but excellent examples are on view in the visitor center. Just outside the door are two easy trails: a 1/2-mile interpretive loop called A Walk Through Time, and a 1-miler called the Petrified Forest Loop. Even the longest trail, the 4-mile Hornbek Wildlife Loop, is not arduous as it winds through meadows and woodlands.

WHERE: From Colorado Springs, head west on U.S. 24, then turn south on Teller County Rd. 1 for 2 1/2 miles to the main entrance.

WHEN: Open year-round.

COST: $2 per person.

ACTIVITIES: Hike eight trails, have a picnic, or go to historic Hornbek Homestead.

CONTACT: (719) 748-3253 or www.nps.gov/flfo.

SERVICES: A simple visitor center has maps and basic displays. Nearest lodging is in the old mining town of Cripple Creek, 17 miles south of the park on Florissant Rd.; contact the Cripple Creek Welcome Center, (877) 858-4653 or www.cripple-creek.co.us.