Dinosaur National Monument

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Split Mountain near the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

Along the border of Colorado and Utah is a natural wonderland spanning over 300 square miles. Here the Green and Yampa Rivers cut through the arid eastern edge of the Uinta Mountains, exposing hundreds of millions of years of geologic history. Among these rock layers are beds from the Jurassic Period that harbor a vast number of dinosaur fossils. This fossil quarry was protected as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915, but in 1938 the park was greatly expanded to include much of the equally impressive surroundings. In addition to the excellent fossils this area now encompasses scenic vistas, fascinating geology, diverse wildlife, thousand-year-old Native American artifacts, beautiful trails, and world-class whitewater rafting. In my opinion if there was ever a national monument that deserved to be “promoted” to a national park, this is it.

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The author at the quarry entrance. Photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

My wife and I trekked out to this remote corner of America a couple of weeks ago and focused our attention on the Utah side of the park. This older section contains what is perhaps the highlight of the entire park, the Quarry Exhibit Hall.

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The excellent Quarry Exhibit Hall. Photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

This structure was built directly over a tilted Jurassic-age rock bed that contains piles of dinosaur fossils. Although many fossilized bones have been excavated, reassembled, and sent to museums over the decades, many more have been left in place in the rock.

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The wall of dinosaur fossils inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

These rocks are made up of 150-million-year-old river deposits. The dinosaurs entombed here were probably caught in flooding events and later buried and preserved by additional river-borne sediments. Uplift and erosion over the last 70 million years have again brought these creatures to the surface.

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The wall of dinosaur fossils inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

Among the remains is the fearsome Allosaurus, perhaps the top land predator of the time:

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Allosaurus information, photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

Fossils include A. jimmadseni

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Allosaurus photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

…as well as A. fragilis:

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Allosaurus photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

There are also the remains of a number of large sauropods of the genus Camarasaurus. The femur of one adult was particularly impressive:

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Camarasaurus photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

A juvenile Camarasaurus was also on display:

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Camarasaurus photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

There were also partial remains of a very young Stegosaurus. The mural suggested the rest of the bones may have ended up in the stomach of an Allosaurus:

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Stegosaurus photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

After leaving the quarry we headed up Cub Creek Road. The colorful, fossil-bearing strata of the Jurassic-age Morrison Formation dotted the landscape:

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Morrison Formation photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

The Green River provided some scenic views near Split Mountain, so named because the river has cut its way right through the middle of this monolith:

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Green River near Split Mountain. Photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

Several cool rock formations were to be found along the road, including Elephant Toes Butte…

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Elephant Toes Butte photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

…and Turtle Rock:

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Turtle Rock photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

A number of locations along Cub Creek Road harbored evidence of more recent life in the area. Petroglyphs from the thousand-year-old Fremont people decorated many of the rock walls. They etched images of their culture in the naturally-occurring desert varnish, a weathering product made up of iron and manganese oxides and clay. These Native Americans created images of themselves as well as desert bighorn sheep…

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Native American petroglyphs photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

…lizards…

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Native American petroglyphs photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

…and…uh…space aliens?

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Native American petroglyphs photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

We came across a couple of current inhabitants of the park including this prairie dog

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Prairie dog photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

…and this peregrine falcon:

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Peregrine falcon photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

Although the area around the Quarry Exhibit Hall and Cub Creek Road provided hours of fascination, we also made a quick trip down Harpers Corner Road on the Colorado side of the park. Sand Canyon provided some colorful views:

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Sand Canyon photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

The focal point of this stretch of Dinosaur was Echo Park, an area of canyons along the junction of the Green and Yampa Rivers. A primitive dirt road leads to the water where caves, petroglyphs, a campground and river rafting await:

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Echo Park photographed 08/05/2013 at Dinosaur National Monument near Dinosaur, Colorado.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time for the adrenaline-rich whitewater rafting that occurs here. At the end of the day, however, we had a decent understanding of the wonders that Dinosaur holds. The numerous, diverse features of this park make it a worthwhile destination and I can’t recommend it highly enough. As I said in the opening paragraph, if there was ever a national monument that deserved to be “promoted” to a national park, this is it. Of the 70 or so units of the National Park Service that I’ve visited, this is easily among my top ten favorites.

About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Culture, National Parks, Paleontology, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dinosaur National Monument

  1. Mike Powell says:

    You do such a wonderful job in highlighting some wonderful locations. This definitely seems to be an amazing place. The fossils are amazing and the scenery is breathtaking, but I am particularly intrigued by the petroglyphs.

    Like

  2. You need to put these in a book Jeremy….good stuff…. Michelle

    Like

  3. Jeremy Sell says:

    Mike: My wife was also particularly intrigued by the petroglyphs. There are a lot of national parks, monuments, and other sites in the four corner states that harbor a lot of these archaeological wonders. Although it’s not something I had considered before, eventually I may have to take my wife out to some of the more notable locations in New Mexico, Arizona, and southwest Colorado.

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