Curiosities of the Best Western Denver Southwest

Orthoceras & Nautiloid Front Desk

These ancient shelled cephalopods were distantly related to squid and octopi. Their tentacles poked out of the front of their shells and they swam backwards. The spiral shelled creatures fossilized in the front desk are nautiloids, while the “ice cream cone” shaped shelled creatures are orthoceras. The stone for the front desk was imported from the Tindouf Basin of Morocco, and dates back roughly 350 million years ago to the Devonian.

Petrified Wood Bar in Paleo Joe’s

From the Greek root “petro,” meaning “wood turned into stone,” the petrified wood in the bar counter is comprised of a series of cross-sectioned stumps fused together by a man-made bonding agent. Petrified wood is formed when a tree trunk falls in an alkaline wet area like a river, and percolating water slowly replaces its cells with pyrite, iron, copper and other minerals. The oranges, pinks, reds and browns of the bar indicate it is most likely comprised of manganese and iron oxides. This slab was pieced together by hand in Israel.

Eusmilus Skull

In spite of its long, sabre-like teeth, Eusmilus is a mammal not closely related to sabre-toothed cats like Smilodon. Rather, Eusmilus is a Nimravid. This cat-like young adult lived in South Dakota during the Early Oligocene, 29 million years ago.

Australopithecus skull

An early hominid first dug up by Mary Leakey in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa, Australopithecus lived during the Pleistocene Epoch about 1.2 million years ago. This antique reproduction skull served as a teacher’s prop in the former East German Republic.

Pteranodon sternbergi Weather Vane

Our smiling flying reptile would have lived 80 million years ago in the Cretaceous at the same time as the dinosaurs. One of the largest pterosaurs associated with the Western Interior Seaway, an adult Pteranodon Sternbergi had a wingspan between 3 and 6 meters (9.8–19.6 ft). This one of a kind, copper and gold leaf work of art was hand crafted for the hotel.

Smilodon

The most famous sabre toothed cat that lived during the Pleistocene Epoch that ended 10,000 years ago. Smilodon is Greek for “Carving knife tooth,” the perfect description for this cat’s long, pointy canines. The original specimen comes from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California.

Short Faced Bear Femur

This massive bear lived in North America during the Pleistocene, as recently as 11,000 years ago. This leg bone was cast from an original at The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. When this supersized bear walked on all fours, it was tall enough to look a man in the eye. While standing on its hind limbs, it towered at 3 meters (10 ft) tall, and could not stand upright in the lobby.

Mastodon Tooth

In ancient Greek, Mastodon means, “breast tooth.” Named by the famed French naturalist Georges Cuvier, who evidently thought the domed ridges of the teeth resembled human breasts. (They don’t). This large elephant-like mammal roamed North America during the last Ice Age, living as late as 10,000 years ago. Its ridged molars were used for grinding up tough plant material such as pine and spruce twigs.

Mammoth Hair

The frozen remains of Wooly Mammoths have been found in the Arctic Circle for centuries. Currently, geneticists are extracting DNA from mammoth remains, and hope to clone the species and bring it back from extinction. There is even talk of establishing a colony of mammoths in Siberia, and opening a Pleistocene Park. This specimen was generously donated by paleontologist Dr. Lou Taylor.

Crinoid Panel

Similar to modern-day Sea Lillies, crinoids were not plants, but animals related to starfish. Its long stalk would anchor to the ocean floor, while its feathery filter feeding tentacles would eat plankton and other small debris. This sample cast represents crinoids from the Mississippian Period, typically found around Crawfordsville, Indiana. The shallow, warm sea that once covered Indiana is similar to the Caribbean today.

Eocene Fish

From a series of fresh water lakes near Green River, Utah, this tan colored, fine grained sedimentary rock is famous for yielding all kinds of fish, turtles, birds and bats from roughly 50 million years ago, during the Eocene Epoch.

Ammonite Panel

Named for the Greek/Egytian god Amun, who typically wore ram’s horns on his head. The curling structure of the Ammonite shell resembles a ram’s horn, and was described as such by the ancient Roman natural philosopher Pliny the Elder. In the Middle Ages, people mistook the spiral shells for petrified coiled snakes, and called them “snakestones” or “serpentstones.” Ammonites were prolific for so long, their various evolved species are used by paleontologists as index fossils to date geologic time periods.

Stromatolites

In Greek, “stroma” means “mattress” and “lithos,” “stone.” These fossilized microbial mattes are amongst some of the oldest living animals on the planet, dating back 3.5 billion years ago to the Archean age. The sulfur yellow stromatolites come from the Strelley Pool formation (Warrawoona Group) in Western Australia, amongst the oldest known stromatolites. There are much younger fossilized stromatolites in the immediate area, in the green space around Red Rocks Amphitheater. There are even “stroms” still alive today, fittingly enough located in Sharks Bay, Australia.

“Igmont”

Nicknamed by the hotel owner’s children, this rubber museum cast of a Monitor Lizard was mistakenly labelled as an iguana by its previous owner. These modern day reptiles live in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. They are meat eating carnivores, and possess a primitive third eye on the top of their skulls that can detect movement, light and dark. Paleontologists think that ancient ancestors of the Monitor Lizard crawled into the oceans, and became the giant mosasaurs of the Cretaceous. Sophie the Tylosaur swimming on the ceiling of Paleo Joe’s represents a mosasaur, and a distant cousin of Igmont.

Alligator Head

This vintage taxidermied head of a North American Alligator was purchased at an antique store in Denver. Alligators and crocodiles come from an ancient family of life that evolved at the same time as the dinosaurs. There are primitive Archosaurs found as far back as the Early Triassic, roughly 250 million years ago. The animals we know today as crocodiles and alligators made their debut during the end of the age of dinosaurs.

Orthoceras Panel

Its name means “straight horn” in Greek. This large ebony panel comes from the Cette Formation of Morocco, and dates back to the Devonian Period, 360 million years ago. Orthoceras were squid like creatures in hard, cone-shaped shells. They swam in the oceans and probably ate armored trilobites and other small creatures.

“Sophie”

“Sophie” is a large, meat eating sea lizard known as a Tylosaurus. Sophie swam in the Western Interior Cretaceous Seaway that divided North America about 85 million years ago. At over 35 feet from nose to tail, Sophie swims from the ceiling of Paleo Joe’s, and her head rests in the lobby. Inside her abdomen are the remains of her last meal — a smaller, six foot sea lizard known as a Pliosaur! Sophie’s remains can be viewed in Woodland Park, Colorado. This version of her was originally a prop in the IMAX movie, Sea Monsters, and is on permanent loan from the Morrison Natural History Museum in Morrison, Colorado. The museum is just ten minutes away from the hotel.