A Weekend Visit to Dinosaur National Monument and Surrounding Area

A Weekend Visit to Dinosaur National Monument and Surrounding Area

It took me a while to come up with the uninspiring title to this trip review, but it is exactly what it is.  I have wanted to see the Dinosaur area for many years, and my wife was just a little girl the last time she was there.  As usual, I did some research for the surrounding area (northwest Colorado and northeast Utah) and found a lot of interesting places to visit.  We only had a three day Memorial Day weekend to accomplish this trip, so we left the night before and drove about four hours before pulling over in some BLM land and slept in the back of our topper-covered pick up.  We woke up the next morning surrounded by a hilly, sagebrush terrain and were greeted by pronghorn.  We drove that morning back into the mountains, still covered in snow, and eventually back down into lower, more late-spring-like conditions. By the time we got to the Dinosaur area it was more of a desert climate.  Still, it must have been a wet spring, because wildflowers were in full force.  We stayed at a Best Western in Vernal, Utah.  Rhiannon said it was the same place she stayed as a kid. The place had been remodeled fairly recently, so the accommodations were fairly nice. The free continental breakfast was outstanding.  The little town also had an excellent brewery/restaurant called Vernal Brewing Company. We enjoyed the food, beer, service, and decor, but when we tried to return the following day (Sunday) it was closed  -as were all but the shittiest places in town. I blame the Mormons, but maybe I’m wrong. From a traveler’s point of view it just seemed kind of stupid on a holiday weekend with plenty of tourists around. Finding something to eat that night was annoying and unsatisfying.

From this visitor's center you can take a bus up the road to the famous quarry wall, but we decided to take the trail, get some exercise, and enjoy the scenery up close. It was a little warm out, but a nice day, and we got to see some ancient Native American petroglyphs and one section of a rock wall with an occasional dinosaur bone embedded in it. Sorry, photos didn't turn out good enough to post.

The quarry wall is unreal. It is very high, very long, and housed in a giant building. The following photos just don't do it justice. You have to see it in person to experience the magnitude of this amazing find.

This wall contains some 1500 dinosaur bones from many different species, but a majority of them belong to giant plant eating dinosaurs. I believe this is the head of a camarasaurus.

This is not a dinosaur

I found this amazing place south of Vernal in the middle of nowhere called Fantasy Canyon. You drive for a long time through desert badlands and past oil well pumps and arrive at what looks like a natural mud sculpture exhibit.

Fantasy Canyon is along the east shore of what was once Lake Uinta. The rocks date between 38 to 50 million years ago and were created from sediments eroded from the surrounding highlands. These loose sands, silts, and clays were forged into sandstone and shale. Because of the different rates of weathering the more durable sandstone remained while the siltstone and shale eroded away, leaving these spectacular sculptures.

The contrails added to the uniqueness of this place

Next up we drove through Ouray National Wildlife Refuge. Hello Mr. Turkey.

This refuge stretches along 16 miles of the Green River and was established as a sanctuary for migratory birds in 1960. These are a group of cormorants nesting on a dead tree.

More turkeys. At this point we parked the truck, fully intending on going for a little hike in the refuge. Moments later we were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes and ran back to the truck, utterly defeated.

The next day we headed back to Dinosaur National Monument to go hiking. These are petroglyphs from the Fremont culture who occupied the area about 1000 years ago.

Lizards were everywhere

These are going to be some beauties once they bloom.

Ominous weather approaching, so we decided to cut our hike a little short.