Collections from Colorado National Parks

National Park Service, Centennial One Object Exhibit

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from every national park museum collection in Colorado. We invite you to explore museum collections from Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, and Yucca House National Monument. 

This olla was found in the ruins of Bent's Old Fort by the archeologist Jackson Moore in the 1960s. Discovered intact in a pit, this four-gallon olla is an excellent example of the utilitarian items used at Bent's Fort when it served as a fur trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. Similar items are on display and used in living history demonstrations in the reconstructed fort, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the past.

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, BEOL 2304

Bell Toptex helmets provided state-of-the-art head protection for rock climbers in the late 1960s. William Forrest wore this one when he made the first success ascent of Black Canyon’s Painted Wall with Kris Walker in May, 1972. Even today, climbing the Painted Wall is an exceptionally rare feat.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, BLCA 1842

The Scottsbluff projectile point is a late Paleoindian Period tool that dates to approximately 9,500 to 7,500 years ago and represents an early hunting and gathering lifestyle in North America. The point also represents a new era of discovery at Colorado National Monument. Colorado National Monument was initially established to conserve and preserve the natural and cultural resources within its boundaries. However, the monument has only started to conduct surveys to identify all of its cultural resources in the last two years.

During a recent archeological survey, researchers discovered this projectile point, adding new information on the prehistory and history of the monument and the surrounding area. While the monument has only just started to explore and identify the cultural resources within its boundaries, enthusiasm builds as researchers identify evidence of human activity that spans thousands of years. The projectile point demonstrates the great historic and scientific potential of the monument's cultural resources.

Colorado National Monument, COLM 3711

Engine 278 was a workhorse for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad for 70 years. It regularly hauled freight up and down the line in western Colorado, but its most scenic runs were on the twisting tracks in the depths of Black Canyon of the Gunnison between the towns of Gunnison and Montrose, Colorado.

Curecanti National Recreation Area, CURE 1

This wasp ( Palaeovespa sp.} has been chosen to represent Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument as it is one of the rarest and most complete fossils in the monument's collection. This specimen is the monument's icon and is so well-preserved that the stinger is still intact.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, FLFO 51

Within the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, there are over 130 culturally modified ponderosa pine trees. This is one of the largest known groups of culturally modified trees in North America. Indian Grove is a stand of over seventy of these trees and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Dendrochronological research on these modified trees document Native American utilization of bark during the late 1700s to early 1900s. Core samples from this particular tree date back to 1693, with the peel dating to about 1800. The tree was approximately 300 years old when it died of natural causes. It was collected and curated into the park's museum collection in 1995, and is now on display at the park's visitor center.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, GRSA 5483

The canyon head villages of Hovenweep contain some of the most visually striking, well preserved, and accessible examples of 13th Century pueblo architecture and community development within the northern San Juan River Basin. The six units of Hovenweep are at the center of the highest density of known archeological sites in the United States. Multi-story masonry towers and “castles,” with stone walls two and three courses thick, perched atop uneven boulders and cliff ledges testify to the ingenuity and skill of the ancestral Puebloan people who engineered and built this exemplary architecture.

These photographs document the 1941 stabilization work conducted by Charlie R. Steen, seen in the temporary wooden brucing, and the 1947-48 James Lancaster long-term stabilizing masonry work on Holly Tower at Hovenweep National Monument. The museum item demonstrates the importance of not only the mission of the National Park Service to protect and preserve natural and cultural resources, but also the importance of the documentation and preservation of such activities held in the Hovenweep museum and archives. Such collections are still accessed today to help make decisions on the continuing preservation of our most treasured cultural resources.

Hovenweep National Monument, HOVE 18721

Recovered from Mug House during the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project, this small bowl was made during the same time period as the large cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. This bowl is an excellent example of Mesa Verde white ware, made using a coil-and-scrape method of construction that was polished, slipped, and fired. The thick slip often formed fine cracks during firing such as those visible in the interior of this bowl. The Mesa Verde black-on-white design includes highly stylized elements and a flattened rim with black ticking. Bowls were a very common form of pottery in prehistoric Mesa Verde and remain a part of the creative tradition of southwest Native American communities today.

Mesa Verde National Park, MEVE 25656

In 1921, Roger Wolcott Toll arrived as Superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park. Superintendent Toll was a Renaissance man: a writer, photographer, artist, and park manager. As Superintendent, he worked to make park improvements, assisted with rescue efforts, and publicized conservation efforts. Among his achievements were the advocacy and planning for the construction of Trail Ridge Road, and backcountry travel and climbing safety. He researched and wrote “The Mountain Peaks of Colorado” in 1923. By the 1920s, the park's mascot of a Bighorn sheep was already in use in maps, brochures, signage and artwork.

This woodcarving, made by Toll, depicts some of the best known and most iconic features of Rocky Mountain National Park. A blue sky above Longs Peak includes depiction of the Notch, and the crag in foreground is dominated by a Bighorn sheep ram. Paint colors are white, brown, and green. The carving's border is two inches wide, and is stained brown. A lightly incised solid Yellow Pine plank, the relief carving is fashioned out of a single piece of wood, and is representative of 1920s stylized art.
Metal hardware on each of the lateral corners allows for hanging this plaque.

Rocky Mountain National Park, ROMO 2260

A descendant of Lame Man from the Sand Creek Massacre, artist Eugene Ridgely Jr. here expresses his vision of the massacre. Ridgely is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and has resided all his life on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He is a noted artist and musician and has been working at his artistic passions for over 33 years. Eugene is proud to have been selected to design the tribal logo for the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, SAND 515

National Park Service archeologist Al Schroeder recovered this axe while conducting a small test excavation of this otherwise unexcavated valley pueblo. Yucca House is one of the largest archeological sites in southwest Colorado, and acted as an important community center for the Ancestral Pueblo people from 1150-1300 CE.


This stone axe exhibits a well sharpened blade edge with roughly finished grooves. It has a partial haft to accommodate a bent wood handle that would have been secured with yucca. Axes of this sort were made by carefully shaping selected stones by pecking, chipping, abrading, and polishing until the desired form emerged. Serving many functions including pounding and chopping, axes of various types and sizes were routinely sharpened or modified for other functions. Once manufactured, an axe could remain a useful tool for a long time.

Yucca House National Monument, YUHO 38

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from: Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, and Yucca House National Monument.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff: Amber Dumler, Stephen Damm, Ron Wilson, and Joan Bacharach

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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