A Smattering of Thoughts Upon Visiting Dinosaur National Monument

VERNAL, UTAH—Drive around the Great American West for long enough, and you’re bound to see a hand painted sign advertising dinosaur tracks twenty miles that way. Hogwash, likely.


However, there is a spot where you can go and see actual dinosaur bones, certified by archaeologists and overseen by the Park Service: Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the border of Colorado and Utah. The Colorado side is only about a two and a half hour drive from Steamboat Springs, and from what I’m told is a popular spot for rafting, kayaking and canoeing along the Green River. It’s supposed to be a lush setting with hiking trails, and other activities—a nice getaway, close to home. Not that I’ve been.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument


The Utah side, however, is where the dinosaur bones live. It’s about 4 hours from Steamboat, right outside Vernal, Utah. That’s where I went.


I should have known that coming to a place like Dinosaur would mean children, all over the place. Small, blonde-haired children with four, five, six brothers and sisters running around, parents, scarcely older than myself showing them around. Mormons, likely. Budding archaeologists, paleontologists, scientists, and biologists, blooming right before your very eyes. There’s virtually no one there that’s my age. All are families that have come to see the dinosaur fossils, and look at the great lands where these ancient monsters once roamed. It’s a place conducive to childlike wonder, not adult exploration.


There are a few really cool hikes, some of them taking you past dinosaur fossils embedded into the cliffs themselves. You can see pictographs, drawings left by the ancient Indians that once lived there. These relics of the past are fascinating to see but other than that, there’s not much of particular note.


That is, unless you’re interested in seeing the dinosaur bones themselves, dug up in the early 1900’s by Earl Douglass, a paleontologist searching for fossils for the Carnegie Museum. Almost immediately after their discovery, a shelter was built over the dinosaur bones so Douglass and his crew could continue digging in the searing heat and adverse elements—a quarry, if you will.


The site was designated as a National Monument in 1915, and has been overseen by the National Park Service ever since. Now, visitors can go inside a cool, air-conditioned building built into the side of a large hill, and see the original dig site. The dinosaur bones are literally still embedded in the rock itself. They’ve been located, chiseled out, and left in as natural a state as possible for your viewing pleasure.


As a child once enthralled with everything dinosaur-related, I found it pretty interesting to see and touch actual dinosaur bones. It was a trip down memory lane, to a time when I had an insatiable curiosity about these things…but it didn’t exactly incite my adult inquisitiveness. Dinosaur National Monument…a trip worth taking? Surely. But you’ll probably only need a day or two to satisfy your own childlike curiosity with what it has to offer.