Dinosaur National Monument Overview
|View of the Green River, Colorado (courtesy, Western River Expeditions, Moab Adventure Center)|
Dinosaur National Monument is the legacy of rivers, past and present. Here, preserved in the sands of an ancient river, is a time capsule from the world of dinosaurs: the fossil bone deposit that gives the park its name. The Dinosaur Quarry has revealed many secrets of the past, but the remote and rugged land around it, created by today's rivers, is a secret of the present, known to few travelers.
Stand on the tip of Harpers Corner and look down at the rivers far below; your gaze is spanning time as well as space. In the rocks beneath you are fossils of sea creatures two or three times older than the dinosaurs. Upheavals that began about the time that the last dinosaur died jolted these shells far above sea level and downward; cutting rivers stranded them on this promontory in the sky.
Seen in this context, the Age of Dinosaurs is but a brief chapter in a long story, and only a paragraph about the dinosaurs themselves is written in the rocks here. Within this arid setting, the rivers and their canyons are linear oases, in which the green of cottonwoods and boxelders seems all the more vivid in contrast to the surroundings. Boaters drifting along a quiet stretch of water may be startled by the sound of a flock of Canada geese taking wing, or by the sight of a bighorn sheep high on a cliff. Around the next bend might be a surprise of another kind, as the river plunges madly into a foaming rapid. Roar-bounce-splashwho would have expected this in the middle of the desert?
Perhaps the unexpected is what Dinosaur National Monument is all abouta gallery of dinosaur bones in solid rock, the whisper of flowing water heard from a sun-baked canyon rim, the aroma of Douglas-fir on the high mountain slopes. Time and the rivers have been long at work on this land. Take the time to discover its secrets.
This building, 11 kilometers (seven miles) north of Jensen Utah, is the only place in the park to see dinosaur bones. In July 2006, the building was closed due to serious hazards to life and safety caused by the foundation movement. The National Park Service (NPS) is exploring ways to reopen the famous cliff face of dinosaur bones as quickly as possible.
Headquarters Visitor Center
This center, three kilometers (two miles) east of Dinosaur, Colorado, is the gateway to the canyon country and has no fossils. Exhibits and a short slide program provide orientation to the park. Headquarters is open daily in the summer and weekdays only in winter. During the summer the park offers a variety of programs to help you understand and enjoy the surroundings.
No visit to the park is complete without at least a glimpse of the canyon country, and Harpers Corner Scenic Drive does just that. The round trip takes approximately two hours and lets you scan the landscape from roadside overlooks. If you have another hour or two, walk the trail at Harpers Corner itself, which gives stunning views of the canyons below. Some of the most scenic parts of the park are accessible on paved or well-graded roads: Gates of Lodore and Deerlodge Park, where the Green and Yampa Rivers begin their canyon plunges; and Jones Hole, an oasis-like tributary of Whirlpool Canyon with an easy hiking trail alongside a clear, rushing stream. Check out our story on driving Colorado's byways for more insight into backcountry drives in Colorado.
Rougher roads, unsuitable for low-slung vehicles and trailers, lead farther into the backcountry. The most spectacular of these is 21-kilometer (13-mile) Echo Park Road. Before planning any backcountry travel, you should inquire ahead of time for current information.
Split Mountain and Green River Campgrounds are developed. The sites can accommodate most recreational vehicles, but there are no hookups or sanitary dump stations. Firewood can be bought at both. Primitive campgrounds are at Echo Park, Gates of Lodore, Deerlodge, and Rainbow Park; drinking water is available at Echo Park and Lodore. Vehicle-based camping is limited to these designated campgrounds. Wood gathering is prohibited at all campgrounds.
One of the best ways to see the canyon country is on the rivers themselves. Further information is available if you contact the park.
The muddy water of the rivers limits fishing. A state fishing license is required. A number of endangered fish species inhabit these rivers. Check with a ranger for detailed information about conditions.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication