Dinosaur Ridge, the world-renowned dinosaur track site just 30 minutes from Denver, provides a pathway straight to a local legacy. Since it opened in 1989, visitors have been able to follow in the footsteps dinosaurs left behind along what was once the muddy shore of an ancient seaway known as the “Dinosaur Freeway.” Now, they can also trace the unique impact left behind by local paleoichnologist and co-founder of Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, the late Dr. Martin Lockley.
Lockley had always had an interest in the natural sciences. The son of a Welsh ornithologist, Lockley pursued this interest through advanced degrees in geology and paleontology. In the 1980s, he moved to Colorado to teach geology at the University of Colorado Denver. It was here that his focus turned to an area of science that was unique for the time: paleoichnology, or the study of trace fossils. At the time, dinosaur bones were all the rage in the field of paleontology. Little attention was paid to the dinosaur tracks and traces fossilized right beside them in the bedrock across the world.
“He was instrumental in recognizing things other scientists weren’t paying attention to yet,” reflected Kristen Kidd, Marketing and Communications Director at Dinosaur Ridge. Lockley’s work on trace fossils quickly garnered international attention, leading him to become an expert in the field. He visited track sites across the world, mapping and analyzing tracks from South Korea to South America to Colorado.
In 1989, Lockley co-founded Friends of Dinosaur Ridge in the interest of protecting the dinosaur track site near Denver. Formerly known as the Nelson Hogback, Lockley coined the name “Dinosaur Ridge” for the site and set to work. Friends of Dinosaur Ridge made it possible to close the roads around the site and offer bus tours to the public, making it more accessible than ever. He was an advocate for the track site throughout his life, promoting it to the international paleontological community and his students at UC Denver. And even as he traveled the world, his home base always remained in Colorado.
His staunch support added professional credibility to the site and helped increase public interest. In 2016 and again in 2021, Lockley and his colleagues ranked the top 12 dinosaur track sites in the United States based on criteria such as the number of tracks, ease of accessibility for the public, and variety of species. Colorado’s very own Dinosaur Ridge was named number one.
“He was the source of truth for us,” Kidd said, “he understood just how special Dinosaur Ridge is.”
Dr. Lockley passed away in November of 2023 at the age of 73. His 40 years of travel, research, and advocacy for paleoichnology here in Colorado and across the globe have confirmed the importance of trace fossils in the study of dinosaurs and their behavior. Throughout his life, he published over 1,000 papers and peer-reviewed articles. A TED Talk he gave in 2022 now has more than 1 million views, with that number climbing each day. His pioneering analyses of trace fossils have led to greater understanding of the courting, migration, parenting, locomotion, and herding behaviors of dinosaurs. And thanks to him, Dinosaur Ridge is here to stay.
It’s important for staff at Dinosaur Ridge to uphold Lockley’s legacy at the site. Its Discovery Center will be renamed to the Martin G. Lockley Discovery Center in his honor. The Center will feature rotating exhibits from his personal collections, such as his private field journals, tools from the field, and more. Starting in March 2024, visitors will be able to take a closer look into the mind of the person who helped put the prehistoric past of Colorado – and Dinosaur Ridge – on the map. For more information on the Martin G. Lockley Discovery Center’s re-opening, visit https://dinoridge.org/.