Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Canva

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I recently visited Vernal, Utah, and I used this as my base for my walk through time. 

After all, Vernal is located near the Dinosaur National Monument and Red Fleet State Park, and these two destinations are both very relevant and integral to an understanding of extinct ecosystems – and to preserving the diversity of the past and present. 

It’s possible here to reconstruct the ecosystem of about 150 million years ago – and to take an historical walk through time.

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Visiting the Fossil Bone Quarry. Photo by John M. Smith
Visiting the Fossil Bone Quarry. Photo by John M. Smith

Fossils at Dinosaur National Monument

Paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered a dinosaur quarry in this very area, and he began excavating the fossils in 1909.  By 1915, the bones of the Jurassic period dinosaurs were protected within an 80-acre Dinosaur National Monument – and this has now become a 210,000-acre national monument. 

The dinosaur quarry was located in a rock layer, the Morrison Formation, and sediment covered and preserved its fossils, which can now be used to demonstrate what life was like on earth so long ago.

In fact, the Carnegie Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument has found fossils from all four Jurassic period dinosaur groups  (stegosaurs, ornithopods, plant-eating sauropods, and flesh-eating theropods), and fossil pollen and spores have identified over 250 species of plants.

Erosion eventually exposed these, leading Douglass to say that this particular site was “the best-looking dinosaur site I ever found”.  The fossilized bones of crocodiles, turtles, and 10 species of dinosaurs have been discovered here by excavating the river sediment.

 It’s believed that dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago, but it’s still possible to learn about them here. 

For example, at the Harpers Corner Overlook in today’s Dinosaur National Monument, visitors can actually be standing on fossils of ocean life that now lie high above the Green River.  Times – and landscapes – indeed change!

The Wall of Bones at the Quarry Exhibition Hall. Photo by John M. Smith
The Wall of Bones at the Quarry Exhibition Hall. Photo by John M. Smith

Visiting the Wall of Bones

My favorite discovery on my journey was the Wall of Bones, located in the Quarry Exhibit Hall within the Dinosaur National Monument. 

I reached this site by taking a shuttle bus from the Quarry Visitor Centre, and here I found an awesome display of more than 1,500 exposed dinosaur bones, including the neck and skull of a Camasaurus, the leg bones of both a Diplodocus and Apotosaurus, the tooth of a Torvosaurus, and the well-preserved skull of an Allosaurus.  

Now that’s a really unique walk through time!  Visitors are even allowed to touch some of these ancient bones.  Just imagine touching a bone that’s millions of years old!

Dinosaur National Monument extends into the state of Colorado, too, but I only visited the Utah section on my visit.  After thoroughly checking out the Wall of Bones, I returned to the Quarry Visitor Center and walked the Fossil Discovery Trail. 

A reconstructed Allosaurus in Quarry Exhibition Hall. Photo by John M. Smith
A reconstructed Allosaurus in Quarry Exhibition Hall. Photo by John M. Smith

I then drove further into the National Monument, where I found some ancient petroglyphs that are believed to be about 1,000 years old (yes, people have been in the area quite awhile, too).

After my visit to Dinosaur National Monument, I drove to the second major area destination for my walk through time: Red Fleet State Park. 

This is so named for the beautiful red sandstone formations that resemble a fleet of ships floating through the reservoir, but the main point of interest for me was its dinosaur tracks. 

These tracks were formed when dinosaurs roamed the area about 150 million years ago, and a hiking trail now leads to these ancient footprints. However, instead of hiking the somewhat strenuous 3-mile round trip trail, I took a very short boat trip across the reservoir to these very tracks.

I actually saw several three-toed tracks on the site, and I was instructed to place a bit of water in them so that the photos would be more distinct.  Some of the tracks are in the rocky ledge that’s next to the reservoir itself, so some of these will be hidden when the water level is high. 

A drive in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by John M. Smith
A drive in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by John M. Smith

Dinosaurs Ruled the Vernal Area

I used Vernal as my base for this walk through time, and it was quite obvious that I was in “Dinosaurland”.  Dinosaurs ruled in the Vernal area!  

A statue of a pink dinosaur welcomes the visitor – and a series of life-sized dinosaur replicas are displayed in the Dinosaur Garden, located outside of the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum.  Inside are more dinosaur models and an observation window that overlooks a fossil preparatory lab. 

This facility reveals the geologic history via hands-on exhibits and activities – even including a fossil dig.

Ancient pictographs in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by John M. Smith
Ancient pictographs in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by John M. Smith

While in Vernal, I was given a Dinosaur Hunting License, but I only enjoy hunting with a camera.  Be that as it may, this license entitled me to hunt for certain specific species of dinosaurs – and to keep said game after it was properly “inspected by the Utah Game Warden”. 

I don’t believe that this keeps the warden very busy.

For More Information:  www.dinoland.com

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Author’s Bio: John is a freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys travelling the world and writing about his adventures. He has written weekly travel features for a group of community newspapers, presented several travelogues, and is the author of two major cycling books: “Cycling Canada” and “Cycling the USA”

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