dinosaur national monument

Dinosaur National Monument

National Park Service Site: 76 of 417

Dinosaur National Monument is a perfect example of why we want to visit all 417 sites managed by the National Park Service. This place shows that the names of the NPS sites are not at all an indication of their quality; Dinosaur is every bit as cool as any of the national parks we’ve visited and the resources it protects are incredible. The NPS’s naming system is a bit weird, and the process of getting made a park vs. a monument or another kind of site is VERY political. So we’re extremely excited to have a goal of systematically visiting the rest of these protected places; after all, as Americans we are part owners of all of them and we want to take full advantage of that birthright! Our time at Dinosaur was especially enjoyable because we went with our good friends Jen, who is the biggest national park super-fan on Earth, and Brady, who studies archeology and excels at explaining things to our kids. So, essentially, the perfect companions for this park.

Dinosaur straddles the border between northeastern Utah and Colorado; on the Colorado side are free-flowing wild rivers and canyon scenery, while on the Utah side the biggest draw are the eponymous DINOSAURS. This monument contains one of the highest concentration of dinosaur fossils in the world, and by far the coolest fossil display I’ve ever seen—inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall, around 1,500 partially-excavated fossils are on view in the quarry where they were found, encased in an air-conditioned building (this is important in the desert). Beyond the quarry wall, there were displays and exhibits about archeology and pre-historic life, fully reconstructed skeletons and fossils you could touch. It is an incredible place.

After we’d taken in the Quarry Exhibit, we walked back to the visitor’s center via the Fossil Discovery Trail, a path that winds through rocks layers containing more fossils and bones in their natural state. We loved finding these fossils in the wild, even if it was really only Brady and Jen who could actually spot them, and Graham legit thought he was some sort of Indiana Jones.

Though not nearly as hot as during the high summer, Dinosaur was still pretty oven-like that September day, so after a picnic lunch we headed down to splash in the Green River. With soaring cliffs and mule deer on the opposite bank, cool water and shade, and sand and mud to play in, we whiled away the afternoon.

Finally in the late afternoon, when the light was soft and temperatures lower, we headed out on the Desert Voices Trail.

This is a beautiful hike through red desert scenery with views of Split Mountain, rock layers, and striped badlands. It reminded us in some ways of the East side of Capitol Reef and we were awed by its scenery. We also loved hiking with friends; David and Brady discussed the state of the world, Jen and Graham argued over whether Snape is actually a true bad guy—important conversations happening all around.

By the time we got back from the hike, the sun was nearly down. We caught the sunset as we drove along Cub Creek Road, had dinner together and then Jen and Brady headed home.

We had half of the next day to keep exploring Dinosaur; we spent it driving the length of the super scenic Cub Creek Road and ended at the trailhead for Box Canyon. The hike into the canyon is short and easy, really more of a walk, and it was a fun one for the kids: lots of rocks to climb, dirt to dig in, and echoes to create. After Box Canyon, we checked out the cabin where Josie Barrett lived for 50 years all by herself. We had fun trying to help the kids imagine what it would have been like to live there, and all the things Josie was responsible for doing herself.

We really, really loved this national monument. The fossils were just epic, and the scenery, hiking and river were cherries on top. This is one we could definitely come back to again and again!

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