(CBS4) – In May, a construction crew was hard at work to expand Windcrest Retirement Community in Highlands Ranch when something caught the eye of George Lane, a contractor with Brinkman Construction. He convinced his supervisors to stop and call the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Among those who headed to the site, Natalie Toth, the museum’s chief fossil preparator.
“We went out to the site to assess the situation and we found what they bumped into was in fact some fossils,” Toth said.
Those fossils turned out to be dinosaur bones.
With that identification and a helping hand from another Brinkman contractor, Kelly Trucking, Toth began the hunt for the bones, hoping to find enough to identify the creature.
It turns out a triceratops lurked beneath the dirt … and a lot of water.
“It was a challenge really dealing with the water when we were out there,” Toth said.
CBS4 quickly asked to team up with the museum to tell the story of the dinosaur hunter.
“This program is a fascinating look behind the scenes of a significant discovery, right here in our own backyard,” said Tim Wieland, CBS4 News Director.
“Just as important, this is a story that will inspire you. Natalie Toth is brilliant, relentless and passionate about her work. In our special, Natalie talks about how she did not have many female paleontologists to look up to as role models. It’s exciting to think that some girls will watch this program, meet Natalie, and think, ‘I can do that.'”
For eight weeks, reporter Jamie Leary and photojournalist Mark Neitro led the CBS team to capture the museum’s work to dig up and preserve the triceratops.
For Neitro, it’s his second dino dig; he also followed the efforts to dig up Tiny, the Thornton torosaurus.
“It was incredible to see another dinosaur found in the Denver metro area, so close to a residential area,” Neitro said. “I never expected that much mud. That made it really tough to keep my gear safe and clean.”
“It was just another incredible experience with the museum staff and volunteers, to see the work they do to save and preserve these prehistoric finds.”
It was Leary’s first experience of digging up fossils and she threw herself into it wholeheartedly, picking up tools to help.
“I wasn’t sure how close they would allow me at first but most of the time all you have to do is ask!” Leary said.
“Before I knew it, I was covered in plaster too, my hands on dinosaur fossils … it was a surreal experience. The volunteers were so incredibly gracious to show me a few basics. I don’t know how much I actually helped but I learned so much.”
Now they’re sharing the story of the dig in a CBS4 Special, “Dinosaur Hunter: Discovery in Highlands Ranch.” It chronicles that dig that started in snow, where volunteers dealt with gallons and gallons of mud.
“Every time we try to uncover a bone or even try to identify a bone,” Toth told Leary in the field, “it makes things tricky to know what it is when things are soaking wet.”
But at the heart of this story is Toth herself, a woman who discovered a career where she could continue to be outside and make discoveries.
Now Toth is growing in a role model for girls, showing them the beauty of science.
“Having the opportunity to speak on behalf of women in science is something I feel really strongly about and is something that is super important. We need more women in science so I think that since I get to have that role, it’s important to that I take it on full force.”