Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah

We had a massive family get-together this summer in the western half of Colorado.  I was pretty flexible about the whole trip with one exception: I was taking our kids to Dinosaur National Monument on one of the days.  Even from Steamboat Springs it took a few hours to get there, but nothing was stopping us.

The park straddles the Colorado-Utah border, and there's a lot more to see than just the Quarry Center and cliff face, but that's the main attraction we were there for.  With the heat and the time constraints, there wasn't much else we saw, though we did drive around a bit.  All the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, including my niece and nephew who came along with their dad.  Two other uncles also tagged along.

We came in on the Colorado side and had a picnic lunch at the visitor's center there.  We also emptied our bladders and got a lot of good info and maps and the junior ranger packets.  Then we loaded back into the cars and headed for the Utah side and straight to the Quarry Visitors' Center.



This center had plenty to touch and learn about.  A big chunk of it was also a gift shop.


Unless you get to the quarry in the first couple hours of the day, you can't drive up, you have to take a shuttle up (or walk).  It's not far and the air conditioned buses run every 15 minutes or so.


The hills themselves looked like huge dinosaurs with their mixture of gravel dirt and slanted plates of rock deposit.


A large section of the "Quarry Wall" is enclosed to protect it from the weather and allow folks to enjoy it year-round.  It's thought the site is the result of a large extinction event which was then followed by a flood of sorts that washed all the bodies into and down a riverbed.


The result is a massive cliff face with the jumbled fossilized remains of thousands of dinosaurs.





Here's one of the more famous specimens:


You could stare for an hour.


On the lower lever they had a few skeletons from the area that weren't quite so messed up or tangled with others.


Several spots were designated as okay for touching.


Two uncles, Mike, the twins, and I opted to hike back down to the visitors' center.  The remaining uncle rode back with his two and three of our kids.  The trail was only about a mile and a half long, and the heat was pretty intense, but it was a very dry heat, so it didn't feel so bad.


Signs pointed out several more places with exposed fossils.  Nothing huge, but it was fun to spot the vertebrae sticking out of the rocks.




After arriving back at the museum, getting the kids their badges, raiding the gift shop where Natalie acquired the Junior Ranger vest she wore for the rest of the summer, and loading back into the car, we followed the advice of the rangers and drove up to see the ancient petroglyphs a few miles into the park.  We had already caught a few on the trail down from the quarry.


We drove past several places to camp and saw the river.  Rafting trips are available through private companies, and it would be fun to come back some day and spend some quality time with the area.  It was mostly desolate, but starkly beautiful with its visible layers of geology.  I wonder how this area is with flash floods in the spring.  By the way, a lot of this park is closed in the winter.




The petroglyphs are many thousands of years old (boy, I wonder what they thought of the dino quarry!).  They were created by chipping bits of rock away where the outer layer was darker.  Consequently, they've lasted a long, long time.





If you go to the park's website and look at the map, you can see we visited maybe 5% of the park.  I'd really like to go back someday and see more.

There's not much in the area besides the park.  Jensen is a town on the Utah side with a couple local eateries.  Further to the west is a natural history state park museum.  In the town of Dinosaur, CO, we stopped and got some ice cream at a little shop to tide us over until we could get to a town with fast food for the kiddos.


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