Dinosaur National Monument
Investigate the real Jurassic Park
It’s a park to make Steven Spielberg proud, with not only one of the world’s largest concentrations of dinosaur bones from the Jurassic Period ever discovered, but also white-water rafting wild enough to make the most jaded action-film fan squeal. Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Utah-Colorado border, with 210,000 acres of some of the roughest and most gorgeous canyons and mountains in the American West.
Twenty miles east of Vernal, Utah, is the Dinosaur Quarry (accessible only from the Utah side), the destination for most day visitors to the 325-square-mile monument. More than 1,500 bones of the so-called ‘terrible lizards’ that lived here 150 million years ago have been exposed on a 200-foot rock face. You’ll see the remains of the 34-ton, 75-foot Apatosaurus (previously known as Brontosaurus), and the smaller Ornitholestes, meaning ‘bird robber’. Full-size dinosaur replicas round out the displays, with depictions of how these fascinating animals moved and lived.
To the east, at the Canyon Area Visitor Center near the town of Dinosaur, Colorado, you can watch a video about the park and take a hike on a short nature trail into the high desert. Better yet, take the ultra-scenic 30-mile ‘Journey Through Time’ drive north on Harpers Corner Road. It ends at the start of a strenuous but worthwhile two-mile hike from Harpers Corner Trail to a knee-weakening overlook 2,300 feet above Echo Park, where you’ll see the 1,000-foot Steamboat Rock rising above the confluence of the Yampa River, the last free-flowing tributary of the Colorado, and the Green River.
One of the best ways to see this magnificent country is by water, and the monument is as popular for its rafting as it is for its prehistoric skeletons. Choose from two rafting options: the three- to four-day trip down the Green River, starting at the Gates of Lodore (which 19th-century explorer John Wesley Powell described as “a mountain drinking a river”) and ending at Split Mountain Campground near the Dinosaur Quarry; or the four- to five-day trip down the Yampa from Deerlodge Park to Split Mountain. Both offer rapids up to Class IV, and a journey through canyons older than time, where you just might find yourself watching out for a Diplodocus.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.