Living in the past

Dinosaur resident shares prehistory with future generations

Wearing his wide brim hat and big black sunglasses, Dana Forbes treks through weeds and over hills pointing out bones and fossils most people would assume are just rocks.

He has the look of a paleontologist, and with his keen eye and knowledge of the items he points out, one might assume this man has been digging for bones his entire life.

But he hasn't.

Two years ago Forbes purchased land 18 miles east of Dinosaur with intentions of planting an orchard and "homesteading" the property with his wife and five children.

Little did Forbes know that the 100-acre plot was littered with thousands of dinosaur bones.

"When I bought the land I had no idea this was out here," he said. "Then one day an old man stopped and asked me 'Do you want to make some money?'"

The man, who lived up the road from Forbes, took him for a walk on the property and at one point stopped and picked up a dinosaur vertebra.

The discovery sparked Forbes' interest, but the Rangely school teacher had no experience in digging bones, and had no idea how to go about uncovering the mysteries the land had to offer.

It began with a sign

Then on Dec. 20, 2000 (Forbes remembers the exact date), a few months after he and the elderly gentleman had taken their walk, Forbes was elk hunting on his land to no success.

He sat down to rest and mulled over his bone situation.

"I said 'Lord, you've got something out here but I'm blind and ignorant,'" he said. "Show me where it is."

At that moment he said he looked down at the ground next to him and spotted what he believed might be a dinosaur bone jutting out of the ground next to him.

Forbes walked back to the house and got his brother-in-law, and the two dug into the spot.

They uncovered a 5-foot-long femur bone.

That's when it all began.

"That was our first big find," he said. "From that point on the boys and I have been discovering a lot of things. Right now we're at a point where we're digging out one-quarter of an allosaurus skeleton."

The dinosaur business

Forbes now works full time excavating the bones located on his property and giving tours to people.

But he doesn't do it alone.

His wife and three sons Peter, Evan and Israel work with him digging on the property and hosting dig groups and educational tours.

The company the family runs is called Dinosaur Excavations.

It costs $3 for a basic tour and $60 to participate in an actual all-day dig.

"We felt this was something God put out here and we wanted people to know about it," Forbes said. "We want them to be able to appreciate the creations that are out here."

There are other digs available in Colorado, including Rabbit Valley near Grand Junction and Crow Canyon near Cortez.

But what makes Dinosaur Excavations unique is that although people are not allowed to bring home a big piece of a skeleton being excavated, they are allowed to take a smaller bone or two they dig up home with them.

"We try to make sure they leave with some bones," Forbes said.

A family affair

He said he's happy it is a business in which his whole family can participate. His whole family, that is, except for his 2-year-old twin daughters.

"I had been hoping and praying for something the whole family could get into," he said. "There's not a lot of lawns for the boys to mow out here."

He said his sons contribute considerably to the business.

"They boys will discover things and begin new sites," he said. "It's fun to see them involved in that way."

Dana's wife, Brenda, said she is happy to be involved.

"The part I like most is finding new bones," she said. "I'm learning as I go."

She said she is also happy the whole family is involved.

"We try to make it as much of a family business as possible," she said. "Our original intention was to have a family business doing organic farming, but this is how it worked out. We hope to make it a family thing where other families can come have a good time."

Israel, 11, said he enjoys the new family business, but doesn't plan on digging bones his entire life.

"I think I want to be a firefighter who fights wildfires someday," he said.

In the meantime, however, Israel must settle for teaching people how to spot a dinosaur bone like he did all day Wednesday when a group of students from Christian Heritage School in Steamboat Springs visited Dinosaur Excavations.

Sharing the wealth

The Forbes family showed students how to search for tiny dinosaur bones called "float" when searching for big bones.

Students had an opportunity to search for fossilized items and look at the bigger skeletons currently being excavated.

Monica Verploeg was one of several mothers who drove and accompanied the children on the trip.

She said she was impressed.

"I think it's amazing," she said. "It's interesting how hard it is to find that stuff. It makes you wonder how often you're out hiking and see these things without knowing it."

Jordan Bernard, a fourth grader, said he had never seen dinosaur bones except for in museums.

"I thought it was really fun," he said. "I learned a lot about dinosaur bones and how they get them out of the rock."

Forbes said although he teaches people what to look for in hunting bones, he is still learning.

"It's hard to find them unless you know what you're looking for," he said. "I try to pick up as much as I can from the excavators that come out."

Several professional excavators work with Forbes on his digs.

Once the bones are excavated, they are put in a cast and sent to Forbes' partner, Joe Taylor of the Mount Blanco Fossil museum in Crosbyton, Texas.

Taylor has been to Forbes' property to help him on his digs and has been a mentor for Forbes.

"I went to Texas last week to pick up some new techniques," Forbes said. "At some point we would like to have our own museum out here."

Forbes estimated that about a dozen skeletons have been discovered so far on the property and work is being done to excavate three of them right now.

Forbes said there is enough work to keep him busy on his 100 acres for quite a few years.

"It's mind boggling how many bones there are here," he said. "There's more bones here than there are people in Colorado."

Forbes said he doesn't plan on a career change anytime soon.

"This is what I enjoy doing," he said. "I enjoy educating people and giving them the excitement of discovering dinosaur bones."

Those interested in taking a tour or working an all-day excavation, they can call Forbes at 970-374-2706 or go to the Dinosaur Excavations Web site at:

www.dinosaurexcavations.com.

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