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Tom Ward Exterior Murals

This artwork is the original idea of hotel owners Meredith and Greg Tally, who commissioned the murals. Working in conjunction with Morrison Natural History Museum Curator Matthew Mossbrucker and master muralist Tom Ward, the Tallys wanted to represent the ancient plants and animals of Colorado, as well as a general geologic time mural to place everything into context. The team mapped out the art over the spring of 2013, with Ward painting the murals in the summer and fall of that same year.

Ice Age Colorado

Colorado’s Front Range looks largely as it does today. Grasslands and hills give way to the glacier-covered peaks of the Rockies in the distance. In the foreground, a pride of American Lions challenges a herd of Columbian Mammoths. The Mammoths posture and threaten the predators, and soon will charge if these large cats don’t back down. A colony of prairie dogs pop up from their burrows and whistle warnings of their own. Caught in the middle, a family of Jefferson’s Ground Sloths scurries through the confrontation with their young. They are in as much danger of being trampled or gored by the panicky Mammoths as they are being pounced on by the cats.

Cretaceous Rockies

This mural covers two walls, and depicts Colorado during the Late Cretaceous. The Rockies are already rising along the Western Interior Cretaceous Seaway, although the sea is not visible in the tableaux. Dawn Redwoods, flowering magnolias, and Bald Cyprus line a stream. Nestled in their leaves are something new – blooming flowers. Stomping through the right panel is a top predator that every other creature cannot ignore. Tyrannosaurus rex bends down, his toothy maw stretched almost in a smile. In the words of Ward, “I wanted to paint him so he could be alternately saying, ‘Hello’ … or, ‘What’s for lunch?’”

A herd of Edmontosaurus watch warily in the distance. Some Dromaeosaurus hiding in the reeds flee at the T-Rex’s approach. On the trunk of the cyprus, a small, nondescript lizard freezes. In the left panel, a bellicose Triceratops bellows and stands its ground, refusing to yield territory to the T-Rex. Some ostrich-like Ornithomimus run away at the showdown developing between the two giants. A flock of pterosaurs — in this case Quetzacoatalus — soar overhead, unconcerned.

So what’s caught T-Rex’s attention? Why, it’s you! Please “feed” yourself to the T-Rex, and take a picture or two.

Time Spiral

The Tallys envisioned a spiral of the Story of Life. It is meant to echo the shape of prehistoric ammonite shells, as well as a Fibonacci Spiral of The Golden Ratio. Life explodes out of the Archean Age 3.8 billion years ago, a billion years after Planet Earth formed. Each Period of geological time is represented by a totem animal, or mascot. This fanciful presentation echoes the science books that the Tallys loved as children.

Cambrian

(541 – 485 million years ago) — Mascot: Anomalocaris — During the Cambrian, animal life diversified rapidly. The oldest ancestors of boney animals appeared. With a name meaning “abnormal shrimp,” the sea creature Anomalocaris most likely captured prey with its long arms and bit them with its ringed mouth, which it could not fully close. Anomalocaris was four feet (1 m) long, and roughly as big as a medium sized dog.

Ordovician

(485 – 444 million years ago) — Mascot: Trilobite — The Ordovician might as well be called, “The Golden Age of Trilobites.” This creature’s name in Greek means “”three lobes,” due to the distinctive three parts of its segmented exoskeleton. Trilobites are one of the most diverse groups in the fossil record, with over 17,000 different species flourishing during the Paleozoic Era. Their heyday was the Ordovician.

Silurian

(444 – 419 million years ago) — Mascot: Eurypterid — During the Silurian, many groups of boney fishes appeared, swimming alongside some truly fantastical marine life. Eurypterid’s name comes from “eury” or “wide” and “pteron” or “wing,” because of its broad swimming paddles. The biggest species of Eurypterid were over eight feet (1.5 m) long. These “sea scorpions” lived in fresh or saline water, and may have spent some time on land.

Devonian

(419 – 359 million years ago) — Mascot: Tiktaalik — Life during the Devonian bifurcated into land and ocean. The first vertebrate animals capable of venturing out of the water appear. Tiktaalik is a primitive lobe finned fish named for the Inuit word for a species of modern day cod. But the Devonian is also known as “The Age of Fish,” due to the rapid diversification of boney fish and sharks.

Carboniferous

(359 – 299 million years ago) — Mascot: Meganeura — The Carboniferous is also known as “The Coal Age.” Land life proliferates and primitive reptiles appear. Giant scale “trees” dominate the lush landscape, and insect life balloons to truly gigantic proportions. Its name meaning “large-nerved” in Greek, due to the system of veins running throughout its wings, the dragonfly Meganeura ruled the skies and became the first life form to take flight. Its wingspan was around three feet (1 m) wide.

Permian

(299 – 252 million years ago) — Mascot: Diplocaulus — The Permian witnessed the fusing together of all the major tectonic plates, forming the Earth’s second supercontinent, Pangea. The interior of Pangea dried out significantly from the Carboniferous. Giant finned reptiles appeared. For obvious reasons, the boomerang-domed Diplocaulus derives its name from the Greek for “double cowl,” or “double helmet.” The biggest species of this amphibian was about a yard long (1 m). They burrowed in the mud to escape drought.

Triassic

(252 – 201 million years ago) — Mascot: Plateosaurus — While dinosaurs make their debut at the end of the Triassic, this period was mostly dominated by advanced crocodillians. Plateosaurus were some of the first large dinosaurs. They most likely ate plants, although some paleontologists think their sharp teeth indicate they were meat eaters. While frequently depicted as walking on all fours, Plateosaurus was probably bipedal.

Jurassic

(201 – 145 million years ago) — Mascot: Stegosaurus — During the Late Jurassic, dinosaur life grows gigantic, and birds appear. Originally scientists thought that a Stegosaurus’ back plates lay flat along its spine, like shingles on a roof. Thus its name, “roof reptile.” Stegosaurus armatus is the largest known of this genus, and was discovered nearby. Fossil evidence suggests that these dinosaurs started life as small as modern day kittens. An infant Stegosaurus could curl up and sleep in the hind paw track of its mother or father.

Cretaceous

(145 – 66 million years ago) — Mascot: Parasaurolophus — Flowering plants evolved, and dinosaurs grew bigger and bigger through the middle of the Cretaceous. The end of this period witnessed the extinction of all dinosaurs except birds. With a name meaning, “near crested lizard,” Parasaurolophus was a social dinosaur using the resonating chamber in its hollow crest to bugle and communicate.

Paleogene

(66 – 23 million years ago) — Mascot: Uintatherium — The Paleogene was hot, wet and swampy. Uintatherium was first discovered in Utah during the 1870s, and this herbivore’s name means “Beast of the Uinta Mountains.” Uintatherium were six horned and sabre toothed, and amongst the first big mammals to appear. They have no living descendants today. Behind the Uintatherium runs a herd of Hyracotherium, early ancestors of the horse.

Neogene & Quaternary

(23 million years ago — Present Day) — Quaternary Mascot: Mammoth — During the latter half of the Cenozoic Era, life became more familiar to modern eyes. Elephants evolved. Mammoth is the popular name for a family of extinct elephantines known as proboscideans, named for their size. The Quaternary Period saw the first humans appear. Present Day Mascots: Homo sapiens O.C. Marsh & E.D. Cope — No, these are not two hobos fighting by the back door. The Human Era is represented by two squabbling Nineteenth Century paleontologists, who famously launched the Bone Wars with their fierce scientific rivalry. It was agents of Marsh and Cope who dug up the first Jurassic giant dinosaurs in Colorado. They introduced the world to many famous prehistoric creatures, showing people how truly colossal life grew during the Mesozoic. Here Marsh and Cope tussle over an academic paper, each struggling to enter the building first.