Dinosaur National Monument

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Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument (Branson Reynolds)

The prehistoric Fremont people carved elaborate drawings into the cliffs about 1000 A.D. Fur trader William H. Ashley floated down the Green River not far from that ridge in 1825. Explorer and scientist John Wesley Powell followed the same route in 1869. But it remained for Earl Douglass to take a close enough look at the ridge to notice what was weathering out on its surface. Douglass, a paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had not come here by accident. He knew that similar rocks in Colorado and Wyoming had yielded great dinosaur finds, and he began to search this area in 1908. On August 17th 1909, he wrote in his diary: "At last in the top of the ledge... I saw eight of the tail bones of a Brontosaurus in exact position. It was a beautiful sight. " Those were the first of thousands of bones, including several nearly complete skeletons, that Douglass and his workers dug from this single ridge. Many of them are now on display in the Carnegie Museum.

The quarry site was designated a national monument in 1915, and though Douglass continued to excavate for several more years, he did not remove everything. Today the remainder of the bone-bearing layer forms one wall of the Dinosaur Quarry building. Here the fossil bones are still being exposed in, but not removed from, the sandstone face, creating a unique exhibit of the bones in their natural setting. In the summer, you can watch the Quarry paleontologists as they expose the fossils on high relief.

The canyons of the Green and Yampa Rivers were added to the original park in 1938, but, isolated from main traveled routes and perhaps overshadowed by the uniqueness of the Quarry, they have remained relatively unexplored. A few hardy souls settled in the canyons around the turn of the century, but most of the land is still wilderness.

Published: 16 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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