Labor Day had arrived and while most people were heading home, we were heading Northeast to Dinosaur National Monument. Our three-hour drive took us through mountains, past lakes, farm lands and high desert. Finally, we arrived in Vernal, the closest town to the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument. If you need to gas up or are in need of groceries/supplies, this is the best place to stop. (Note: there is no gas available within the National Monument). The town has embraced their ancient past and there are many uses of the dinosaur theme including signs, statues and the like. Right by the gas station was this large green dinosaur who was eating a watermelon. Of course, the kids had to get out of the car to go check him out.
It was another 1/2 hour drive to get to the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument from Vernal. We stopped briefly at the Visitors Center to get the lay of the land and to pick up Junior Ranger books. There are exhibits and a short film available.
Then it was on to the Green River Campground which is located a short five miles from the Visitor Center. This campground is scenic as it sits right along the Green River. Cottonwoods shade the sites and there are ample flush toilet locations throughout. (Note: There are no hook-up sites). After a walk to the banks of the river to dip our feet in the cool water, we enjoyed a campfire inspired dinner of hotdogs and s’mores before retiring for the evening.
Today’s adventures began with the Tour of Tilted Rocks, an auto tour that has multiple places to get out and explore. The first stop was to see some amazing petroglyph panels left behind by the Fremont people who inhabited this area about 1,000 years ago. This particular site offered a variety of typical Fremont designs, and included several large lizard figures that apparently are not common at other sites. The figures are actually big enough to see from the road! I found myself fascinated to imagine this civilization and what it was like to live here so long ago. What would they think if they knew their beautiful carvings are still visible today?
Our next stop was to the Josie Bassett Morris homestead. She has a very interesting history starting when her family headed west to homestead in an area called Brown’s Park. Coming from a line of independent minded woman, Josie married five times and divorced four husbands in a time that divorce was unheard of. In 1913, she decided to homestead again, this time by herself, in Cub Creek. Here, Josie built her own cabin and lived primarily on her own for over 50 years. It is a beautiful, rugged and remote location to call home and after spending some time here, my admiration for Josie Morris Bassett grew. She truly was a woman of grit, determination and moxie.
Now for the pièce de résistance of the park… Quarry Exhibition Hall! The hall is located over the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry and there is literally a wall of over 1,500 dinosaur bones. Over here a skull, over there a femur. It is unbelievable. There are remains of dinosaur species such as Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus to name a few. The kids were completely awed and amazed. They even got to touch a real 149 million year old dinosaur fossil!
Next adventure: we took a Ranger-led tour on the Fossil Discovery Trail just outside the hall. Even though you can walk the trail on your own, I highly recommend that you go with a Ranger. The Ranger showed us how to find un-excavated dinosaur fossils in the rock. After we learned what to look for, our whole family was able to make their own finds. It was another highlight of the park!
Since there was some daylight left, we decided to go check out the Rainbow Park & Rainbow Island area of the Monument. (It is approximately 30 miles from the Quarry and is accessed by a dirt road). It was a scenic drive and we pretty much had the area to ourselves. After a stop by the Green River to look for rafters (we didn’t see any) we made one last stop at McKee Springs where we saw some more incredible Fremont petroglyph designs. These eerie “human-like” figures seem to be calling out through time to notice them.
It was time to head back to camp and enjoy another starry night. After the kids were tucked in, Troy and I sat outside next to the fire to soak in the peaceful evening. All of a sudden, I smelled skunk but a few minutes later it was gone. Curious. It was time for me to head inside, however, Troy decided to spend a little more time enjoying the campfire. About an hour later, the trailer door was thrown open, Troy ran in and shut it immediately. He then excitedly told me that as he was sitting there, a very large skunk came out of the bushes and they had a staring contest. Troy didn’t move a muscle as the skunk checked him out, flicking his tail. Finally, the skunk moved on just enough for Troy to escape into the trailer unscathed! Looking out the back window I could still see him exploring our campsite, proud as you please.
Additional Note: Dinosaur Monument also has an entrance in Colorado but there is no other dinosaur exhibits there).