Dinosaur National Monument

In the background stands one of the of the two Dinosaur Visitor Centers. Greg reads a plaque about our Stegosaurus friend to the left. He was one of nine life-sized dinosaurs sculpted by Louis Paul Jonas of the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit at the 1964-65 New York’s World’s Fair. After the end of the fair, the dinos toured the country on a flatbed truck for several years before finding new homes. The Fair’s Stegosaurus ended up here at Dinosaur where it has greeted visitors ever since.

October 6 – 10, 2020

After three years we were in the right part of the country with the right weather and finally got our chance to visit Dinosaur National Monument. Actually, I had already visited the monument some 32 years ago. I remembered a huge wall of Dinosaur fossils but not much else. So although we love fossils and had been on a quest to find them, we were happily surprised to find that there was much more to the monument than old bones.

The monument is a 210,000-acre park that straddles two states, Utah and Colorado. It is stunningly beautiful. There are trails and vistas. There are petroglyphs and an old homestead. There is a river that runs through the middle of the monument flanked by canyon walls. There are wildlife and birds. Lots of birds. And there are, of course, dinosaur fossils. After 32 years those old bones were still there and they seemed to have held up pretty well!

All the fossils are found on the Utah side. A Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall encloses a huge wall of ancient bones. Because of the pandemic we were had to acquire timed tickets to visit the exhibit. The tickets were free but required a one dollar processing fee. We were able to get two for first thing in the morning the day after we arrived.

After exploring the fossils, trails, and other sights of the Utah side we moved on to the Colorado side of the monument. There we found hiking and off-road driving trails. Someday we will own an off-road vehicle and leave no part of a National Park unexplored! Unfortunately, it got cold and we left in a hurry and didn’t get to see any White-tailed Prairie Dogs. Next time!

There is also a northern part of the park we have time to explore before the temperature started to drop. The Green River flows south into the monument here on the Colorado side. It streams southward until it intersects with the Yampa River then flows west into the Utah portion of the park while the Yampa flows east through Colorado. Rafting and camping along these rivers is a unique way to explore the lesser-seen parts of the monument.

But enough of my words, it’s time for photos with captions by Greg. So put your thinking caps on, you’re bound to learn something just like we did.

*All pics are click to enlarge.

Utah Hikes

Over 80 million years ago the landscape here was flat sediment. Over the next 20 million years pressure from below bent the many layers of rock up into an arch. Erosion has exposed these layers since. The Morrison Formation (layer) is where Jurassic dinosaurs are found. It is 146 to 156 million years old. It is mostly made of sediment deposited during that time. The 200 million-year-old Nugget layer is composed of quartz sand.

Sounds of Silence Trail.

View of the white Split Mountain from the Sounds of Silence Trail.

Two hundred million-year-old bluffs of Nugget sandstone on the Sounds of Silence Trail. Trace fossils of insects and one Triassic dinosaur fossil have been found here.

River Trail along the Green River looking north.

River Trail along the Green River looking south.

Green River near the boat landing.

Cabin built in 1913 by Josie Bassett Morris. Josie was married five times and divorced four. During Prohibition visitors came for her home-brewed apricot brandy and chokecherry wine. In her 60s she was tried and acquitted twice for cattle rustling. She lived here without plumbing or electricity for 50 years.

Box Canyon Trail near the Josie Morris Cabin.

View from Club Creek Petroglyph site.

View on the Desert Voices Trail.

Near the Quarry Exhibit Hall in the Morrison Formation is the Fossil Discovery Trail. At this spot, the ground underfoot is made of almost vertical thin layers of shale. Weathering has turned the surface into small fragments. We read that you can see fossils of fish scales in the shale. Here we went off trail to hunt. We may have found some, but are not positive.

These Jurassic dinosaur vertebrae can be seen on the Fossil Discovery Trail. In 1909 paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered Apatosaurus bones near here and the search was on. At that time the focus for paleontologists was to excavate large skeletons and ship them to museums. Douglass worked with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. He shipped the most complete Apatosaurus skeleton ever found back to Pennsylvania. But in the process of excavation, he found a huge bed of fossils now known as the Carnegie Quarry.

Quarry Exhibit Hall

After partially excavating the bed, Earl Douglass envisioned a covered display where people could come view, and even touch, a wall of Jurassic fossils. The Quarry Exhibit Hall was built. It was closed for a short time when the foundation started to settle but has been re-opened. Printed guides and interactive displays help you identify what you are viewing. You can also view online videos made by park rangers climbing the wall to point out interesting finds.

There are 1500 fossils on the wall, with remains of many different beings often jumbled together.

This pair of upside-down femurs belonged to different species. On the left is Diplodocus, which grew to 79 feet long, weighing 16 tons. And on the right is Apatosaurus, which averaged over 70 feet and 20 tons.

Remains of a Stegosaurus. These guys grew to lengths of 29 feet, weighing up to seven tons. They are famous for having ridges of bony plates along their spines.

String of Diplodocus tailbones.

Here is a juvenile Camarasaurus with its complete skeleton still mostly embedded in sandstone. Adults grew to 75 feet, weighing up to 51 tons.

This small running crocodile was frozen mid-stride 149 million years ago.

The Allosaurus was smaller than T-Rex and preceded it by 100 million years. An intact skull of an Allosaurus was found at this site. This cast is from one discovered at the Cleveland-Lloyd dig in Elmo, Utah.

Petroglyphs

There are many petroglyphs in the Dinosaur National Monument. Made by humans pecking through desert varnish to expose the lighter stone beneath, they date from 100 to 700 years old. Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs.

Deer Petroglyph at Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs.

Petroglyph of a costumed figure at Club Creek.

Lizard Petroglyphs at Club Creek. The one in the foreground is about six feet long.

Petroglyph of Big Hand Wick Head and his minions at Club Creek.

Petroglyph at Club Creek Petroglyphs.

Wildlife

Common Side-blotched Lizard basking in the sun.

You may be hard-pressed to identify this Rock Wren by song since it can carry over 100 tunes. It’s not a heavy drinker. All of its water comes from food. It must have trouble finding its way home, though. A Rock Wren lays a stone path to the crevice where its nest is hidden.

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Golden Eagle on the wing.

This American Tree Sparrow has flown from Canada (or Alaska). Like us, he’s heading south for the winter.

House finch. Originally from Mexico, these were released in the US and have replaced populations of purple finches and house sparrows. Depending on their diets, the males can develop bright red coloration on the breast and face.

Orange-crowned Warbler. What if birds, like dinosaurs, were extinct and all we had to go on were fossilized bones? We’d have no way of knowing about the varieties of color and behavioral adaptations. Maybe dinos were colorful and had odd behaviors too. We’ll probably never know.

The Woodhouse Scrub-Jay displays evidence of all kinds of brainpower. Only humans have a higher brain to body mass ratio. Jays plan for the future by caching food in over 200 locations, keeping track of the expiration dates. They demonstrate being able to put themselves in another’s place by re-caching if they are seen. And, of course, they watch other jays, stealing their hidden food.

The Sandhill Crane species can call us humans newcomers. The oldest Sandhill Crane fossil is 2.5 million years old.

They have a loud distinctive call. After seeing this flock we took a hike, hearing them from over a mile away.

If approached by predators these birds will spread their wings and hiss. If threatened they will kick or stab with their beaks.

Painted lady butterflies are found all over the world. Citizen science projects have helped map their migration patterns. Some have traveled from as far as Iceland to the Saharan Desert. Like Monarch butterflies, their migrations may be multi-generational. The females are prolific and the males are polygamists. They don’t have fixed seasonal breeding grounds, but travel towards rainy areas to increase the likelihood that their young will survive.

The Dusky Grouse is non-migratory but has the strange habit of moving to colder, higher elevations during winter.

Colorado Hikes

Pretty, but where are the water skiers? In 1950 there was an effort to build the 550 foot high Echo Park dam. It would have flooded this wilderness area, creating a vast lake for recreation and water storage. Activists from all quarters joined together, finally squelching the attempt in 1956.

View of Echo Park Road, one of the back-country, high-clearance trails through the eastern side of the monument.

Ruple Point Trail.

More of the Colorado side of the Dinosaur National Monument.


Do you like fossils? Do you have a favorite dinosaur? Do you enjoy bird facts? Leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Wild Bird Wednesday Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

19 thoughts on “Dinosaur National Monument

  1. I love this post, Duwan. I read a book about Utah dinosaurs you’ll want to find once you’re close to a library–Raptor Red (by Robert Bakker). It puts the reader in a Utah raptor’s head (her name is Red) and we get to follow her life. It is amazing. I’d be surprised if they didn’t have it at that exhibit.

    That does it–I need to read that book again.

    • Duwan said:

      I will keep an eye out for Raptor Red. They don’t have it in any of my digital libraries. Sounds interesting! Thanks for the recommendation.

      • I did a quick Google search and despite being an older, I didn’t find it. Even my favorite free press, Project Gutenberg, failed me. Sigh.

    • Again, I was thinking about you when reading this blog post, Jacqui, knowing it would be right up your alley. The book you mention sounds intriguing!

      • I’ve often wanted to do just what Duwan is doing but at early man sites. Of course, I’d have to go to Africa!

  2. Thanks for a great tour of a place that’s been on my must visit list. Where did you spot the sandhill cranes?

    • Duwan said:

      The sandhill cranes were on the Utah side of the monument not far from the monument campground. There weren’t there one day and the next there were hundreds. I assume they were just passing through. I highly recommend Dinosaur – a good one for your must-see list!

  3. Michelle said:

    Sandhill Cranes makes me think of the novel ” Even Cowgirls Get the Blues ” !

    • Duwan said:

      It has been sooooo long since I read that one – maybe 40 years. I don’t remember the sandhill cranes but I do remember enjoying the book.

  4. Thank you for an informative tour with beautiful scenery and photos. The petroglyphs look amazing. I like fossils and am interested in birds. I see a lot of sparrows and warblers where I live. Last week I was excited to see two red cardinals and their nest. #MCoW

    • Duwan said:

      I’ve never seen a cardinal out west but we used to have them in the Midwest where I grew up. Such pretty birds!

  5. Wow! What a superb series of photos! It’s amazing what the world has in its history. Love your scenery and critters, too.

    Your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week is an exciting addition! Thanks for joining us!

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! We love being amazed! And thanks for hosting MCotW!

  6. WOW! What a captivating tour!
    I enjoyed the info and fabulous photos, Duwan!

    Happy Thursday!

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks Veronica! Happy day to you too!

  7. The scenery is, indeed stunning. The dinosaur bones are a nice bonus! 🙂 Seriously, though, I’d love to visit that NP one day. So diverse! You are the second one to post a blog about it this year (I think it was this year), so now I’m double intrigued. I first read about it on the Gallivance blog. Well done on this informative and detailed post, you two. One to be savored and stored for later as well. 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      I found the Gallivance blog post. It was posted last September.

      I think you’d really enjoy this park. And there is some stellar free camping right on the park boundary. I’d love to visit again.

  8. I love Utah. The big 5 and beyond. Great petroglyphs and critters. So much to see on your blog. Thanks for visiting mine too.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks Sharon! Utah never disappoints!

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