Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dinosaur National Monument - Uncovering the Past

Sign at Utah entrance to Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Park was given a name to mark it's most amazing feature - hills of sedimentary rock filled
Dinosaur skeleton in Quarry Exhibit Hall
with ancient bones.  We stopped on our drive to Colorado, expecting to see some cool dinosaur skeletons and then mosey on.  What we discovered was that this park holds many treasures besides the amazing fossils.  It is home to a stunning landscape of bare rolling hills and mountains cut by rivers and carved with the petroglyphs of ancient people.  It's almost a shame we only had one afternoon to explore, because it's clear to me that Dinosaur holds many more treasures than it's named for.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

We only had one afternoon to explore this massive 200,000 acre wilderness, so we chose to focus on three activities.  Listed below...

1.  Quarry Exhibit Hall - This is one of the must-see parts of the park.  Instead of leaving fossils exposed to the "elements", the park has constructed an impressive structure around the "wall" of over 1,500 bones.  Visitors can walk the two-storied viewing area and use an interactive touch-screen monitor to find out what each bone belonged to.  To get there, enter the park from the Utah side (near Jensen, UT).  Once through the park gate, park at the Visitor Center.  During the summer, motorized trams take visitors every 15 minutes up to the exhibit hall (5 minute ride).  Once there, you can stay as long as you want, view the "wall" as well as see full dinosaur skeletons and interpretive signs.

Tram to Quarry Exhibit Hall
Exhibit Hall built around a wall of fossilized bone
Visitors get an up-close view of million-year-old fossils

2.  Fossil Discovery Trail - From the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you can take the tram back to the Visitor Center, or you can hike back on the easy, 3/4 mile (one way), trail.  The sandy path winds through the nearby hills where you will observe dazzling rock and discover million-year-old fossils still embedded in sandstone.  A description of the rock, fossils, and trails can be found HERE or a guide can be purchased at the visitor center.  I LOVED this short hike.  The layered bright orange and red rock was an exotic sight to a non-desert native like me!  Although short, pack at least 1 L of water a person and protect yourself from the sun.  It was hot.
Walk between colorful hills on the Fossil Discovery Trail
Flowers bloom against brightly colored rock

3.  Cub Creek Road - Once back at the Visitor Center, we filled our water bottles, and drove down the Cub Creek Road.  To get there, simply exit the parking lot of the Visitor Center and turn left.  This road winds along the Cub Creek, providing pull-out stops to important and impressive sights including 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs of the once-abundant Fremont people.  More information about the people at the their art can be found HERE.  At the end of the road, visitors are offered a small, shady picnic area and pit toilets along with the historic Josie Bassett Morris homestead - the cabin of the famous pioneer woman.  In total, the road extends 10 miles from the Visitor Center to Josie Morris's cabin, but we spent at least an hour stopping and walking/photographing the scenery and petroglyphs.
Faint petroglyphs of the Fremont people
Lizard Petroglyph made a thousand years ago

Amazing scenery along Cub Creek Road
It's truly a shame we didn't get to spend more time at Dinosaur National Monument.  One afternoon only gave us a small taste of what the park has to offer - stunning scenery, pure wilderness, and evidence of those who have lived there.  I can't wait to go back and explore more of this national treasure.  

Other Recommendations...
- Bring water bottles and sun protection - it's hot and sunny!
- Don't drive Cub Creek without stopping and walking to the points of interest.  This provided some of the best views in the park as well as a chance to see ancient petroglyphs.
- This is a great "family-friendly" park.  It wasn't crowded and all three places listed are very family friendly.

Pulled out to view petroglyphs (on rock on left)
Please leave questions and comments below...