Travel back through time at Dinosaur National Monument
Petroglyphs can be readily seen in several locations along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks auto tour in Dinosaur National Monument.
Article and photos by Kathy Dunker
If you’re looking for a fun weekend getaway for the family, Dinosaur National Monument is one to consider. Located on the western border of Colorado crossing into Utah, it is about a six hour drive to Jensen, Utah which is just a few miles south of the park entrance and the Quarry Visitor Center. Keep in mind that dinosaur fossils can only be seen on the Utah side of the park.
The drive can be accomplished easily through Steamboat Springs or Glenwood Springs, both of which make for nice stops on the way. Vernal, Utah makes for an easy overnight stay with several motels, restaurants, and Utah’s newest dinosaur museum, the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, which includes life-size replicas of dinosaurs.
Heading into Dinosaur National Monument early the next morning is a good idea to avoid the heat. After entering the gates, go to the Quarry Visitor Center. There is a small gift shop and a short film about dinosaurs. From there you can take the shuttle which runs every 15 minutes during the summer to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur fossils.
Paleontologist Earl Douglass started excavations there in 1909 and found an immense deposit of fossils. Dinosaur National Monument was created in 1915 to preserve this large concentration of Jurassic-age dinosaur bones. More than 1,600 fossilized bones were deposited here in an ancient river bed turned to stone, many of which can be seen at the Quarry Exhibit Hall in the position they were found. The Hall was reopened this year after being closed for the past five years.
If it’s not too hot and your kids aren’t too young, check out the Fossil Discovery Trail. The trail is one mile, one-way from either the visitor center or the Quarry Exhibit Hall with a moderate level of difficulty. The trail cuts through tilted rock layers which exposes three fossil areas.
Highly recommended is the Tour of the Tilted Rocks, a 10 mile one-way auto tour route along Cub Creek Road, starting at the Quarry Visitor Center. Guidebooks are available for a few dollars at the visitor center and worth every penny. Along the route are petroglyphs from Indian cultures of 1,000 years ago, which are drawings carved into the rock. You will also see views of geologic layers along the way and at the end is Josie Bassett’s log cabin built in 1913.
For more information about Dinosaur National Monument, visit their website at www.nps.gov/dino.
The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal, Utah, is a great way to get a sense of scale of the dinosaurs with their life-size replicas as well as a thorough display of the different dinosaur periods. The museum is only about a 20 minute drive from the park entrance.
At the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall, you will find an enclosed building showcasing the fossilized bones in their final resting place which were deposited there in an ancient river bed turned to stone.