The Fruita Paleontological Area is a small, one-half-mile square of bentonite just a few minutes from downtown Fruita.
This tiny spot between the mighty Colorado River and the soaring uplifts of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area preserves a diverse piece of prehistoric life from the Jurassic Period, dating back 150 million years.
Among the most unique fossils ever discovered, the Fruitafossor windscheffeli was found and named after 82-year-old Grand Junction resident Wally Windscheffel. Wally is a field associate with the Carnegie Museum. In 1991, shortly after he retired from the Navy, he and his wife Beverly moved to Grand Junction.
Wally had been visiting the Fruita Paleontological Area since 1985 on paleontological digs with Dr. George Callison, another local resident who taught courses with Earth Watch.
In 1998, Wally and one of his buddies found the actual rock that contained the fossil. The fossil wasn’t immediately recognized because it was just a rock with a speck of bone showing. In examining and preparing the remnant over a span of two years, researchers found the fossil, which was not much bigger than a field mouse.
Wally had discovered the fossilized remains of an animal about six inches long and weighing about one ounce. Slightly longer and slimmer than a hairy-tailed mouse, it was a digger, hiding in burrows from larger dinosaurs. Mammals co-existing with Fruitafossor mostly ate insects. Other types of animals living here at that time included crocodiles, turtles, lizards, sphenodonts, frogs and flying reptiles as well as the first birds.
To reach the Fruita Paleontological Area trailhead from Grand Junction, take I-70 west to Fruita, Highway 340/Exit 19. Travel south across the river for 1.3 miles to Kings View Estates Subdivision. Turn right, go through the subdivision and follow the signs toward Horsethief Canyon State Wildlife Area. The trailhead will be on your left, 2.2 miles from the entrance to Kings View Estates.