Adventure of the Week: Dinosaur National Monument
JENSEN, UTAH — As a freshman geology student at Kansas State University, I made a grand discovery when I accidentally sat on a triceratops femur while exploring a rancher’s fossil-filled land in Montana. Years later, I continue to take credit for the find even though it was only the dumb luck of a young, wannabe paleontologist.
My passion for dinosaurs probably goes back to when I was 6 years old and first saw “Jurassic Park” —the beginning of a journey that, at least for a short time, pushed me toward the profession.
So, naturally, whenever I hear someone mention Dinosaur National Monument, I think back to those days of exploration, of making that groundbreaking discovery similar to Sue Hendrickson and Peter Larson — of whom I’ve met — when they chanced upon the immaculate tyrannosaurus rex “SUE” in South Dakota, which is housed at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Dinosaur National Monument, located on the Utah-Colorado border about two hours west of Steamboat Springs on U.S. Highway 40, is something of a dino graveyard. Though, the monument has more than 210,000 acres to play in, only a small portion of it includes the visible remains of its namesake residents.
However, paleontologists continue to unearth new dinos on occasion.
Earlier this week, I visited the dinosaur quarry for the first time, a long overdue trip for a dino lover such as myself. The quarry is located four miles north of Jensen, Utah, and only takes an hour to explore.
The main draw is the exhibit hall, where approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones from numerous different species — including the well known stegosaurus, allosaurus and apatosaurus — are viewable, still partially encased in the rock that has preserved them for millions of years.
In some cases you can even touch the fossils, which date back 149 million years, in the late Jurassic period, nearly 75 million years before a T-rex ever roamed the earth.
It costs $20 per vehicle to enter the quarry, unless you have a national park season pass. There is a frequent shuttle you can take from the visitor’s center to exhibit hall, and an optional walking trail available for the more adventurous (you can see fossilized clams and fish scales along the way).
If you’re similar to me, making a camping trip out of the experience is the way to go. Dinosaur National Monument is basically an upside down “T” with the quarry located at the bottom left. For this trip, we camped near the Gates of Lodore, located in the northernmost portion of the monument, a popular spot for rafters wanting to play on the Green River.
Unlike my previous trip to Dinosaur, where we camped in the centrally located Echo Park, the weather was agreeable, even if the hiking opportunities weren’t as abundant. The “lower right” portion of the monument is where you’ll find the Yampa River, and the Deerlodge Park Campground is easily accessible off U.S. Highway 40.
Also worth the drive, is a visit to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, located about an hour northwest of Dinosaur National Monument. It’s an easy drive from the quarry to the gorge via Vernal, Utah. More of a playground than any sort of national park, Flaming Gorge is a haven for boaters, fishermen and hikers alike.
While the campgrounds do have bathroom facilities and running water, as a whole the area is extremely remote, so make sure to be well-supplied. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
I managed my recent trip in one night — a perfect day trip from Steamboat Springs —complete with amazing rivers, awe-inspiring canyons and the chance to hang out with a few of your 149-million-year-old friends.
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