Several months ago when we started planning this trip, we knew we wanted to head west. As I started to explore options, I stumbled upon Dinosaur National Monument. We didn’t know many details, but knew with Emmitt’s love for dinosaurs it had to be a stop on the trip.
I think this is my kind of place!Emmitt (as he stares out the window)
We purchased a National Park Pass for this trip. Dinosaur National Park is on the list of accepted parks so our entrance fee was already covered. Due to COVID-19, many of the parks are requiring timed entrance into the park or reservations for activities. I had continued to watch the information for this park, but we were in the clear since this particular park was not implementing those requirements for a few more days.
Upon arrival at the park, we stopped off at the visitor center. From the visitor center, there are two options to get to the quarry – a tram ride or a short hike. Since we weren’t exactly sure where we were headed, we opted for the tram ride to the top of the mountain where the quarry building was housed.
Masks were required inside the visitor center as well as the quarry, but not for any outdoor exploring. (I suppose we will always be able to remember the time period when we took this trip – The One with the Masks. The pictures will have added stories for future generations.)
The quarry was the result of a paleontologist who discovered the dinosaur fossils in this area and wrote to the Smithsonian that he felt this area should be preserved as is for future generations to experience. We have visited dinosaur museums and various exhibits, but each of those have been fossils or replicas fully excavated and reassembled. The wall below is the side of a mountain displaying the fossils still intact in the rock.
There were pamphlets which displayed pictures of the wall and various fossils to help in their identification.
There is a section of fossils close enough for you to touch. The boys were able to touch a real dinosaur femur! Emmitt examined the broken end and the “solid rock” that the bone became. Above the femur, you can see a dinosaur vertebra.
In addition to the wall, there were several exhibits. The femur below was from an adult allosaurus.
The material explained that skulls were often difficult to locate as they easily became detached from the neck and often traveled away from the rest of the fossils. Despite their unusual discovery, the quarry had several skulls available to see.
This fossil below is the largest, most complete of its species.
After leaving the quarry, we hiked the Fossil Discovery Trail, a 1.2 mile hike from the quarry back to the visitor center. This trail included clam fossils, dinosaur fossils and fish scales. In addition, to the fossils, the views were fantastic!
Small lizards scurried along the rocks as well.
The picture below doesn’t quite capture it to the fullest; however, the face of the mountain contained a dinosaur vertebra. It was crazy to be hiking along and look up to see a fully intact vertebra!
After the hike, we took a drive to check out the rock formations.
The drive also included markers for petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are rock carvings while pictographs are paintings on the rock. The images included people, animals and other odd shapes.
The main road continued back to a preserved cabin of a true pioneer woman, Josie Bassett Morris. During the drive, we studied the history of this unique woman who was born in 1874 and later moved to this property as a 40-year old divorced woman to build and maintain this homestead on her own. The property held a small cabin, chicken coop and ranch for her cattle. One of the most impressive facts about this woman is that she lived here for 50 years – until 1964! Just imagine…in 1964 at the age 90, Josie lived in this dirt floor cabin without plumbing or electricity and continued to maintain her homestead!
Two canyons could be found near Josie’s cabin which helped create natural barriers for her cattle. Box Canyon was a short 1/4 mile hike with a beautiful view. It was clear why she chose this area to be one of the barriers for her cattle – those sides are straight up and down.
After leaving Josie’s cabin we drove along the unimproved roads that traveled through additional parts of the park and eventually onto Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The Bureau of Land Management maintains many acres in the country that are open for public access and remote camping for those brave enough to try. During the drive, we found a few campfire rings made of rocks from prior visitors. While I enjoy a good adventure, I’m not sure our camper would have arrived in one piece down these red dirt roads. The signs leading into this area even warn against vehicles without 4-wheel drive and to proceed with caution in the event of rain.
Have you ever driven until the road ran out? We did today. When the road ran out on the map we turned around (although it did appear to continue further). The pictures below display the view immediately after we turned around before heading back. We drove through those incredible plateaus! More than once my phone not only lost signal, it reminded me there was no GPS signal. Good thing there was one road in and one road out!
After dinner we went for a drive to see if we could find Moonshine Arch which is supposed to be close to our campground. Since it was not well marked, we passed the drive the first time. It wasn’t until I read the reviews that said to look for a single black mailbox on the side of the highway that we found the “road.” So we took off exploring on BLM land. Just when we weren’t sure we were on the right path, we found another family who had just returned from the hike to Moonshine Arch. They pointed us in the right direction and we took off. About 5 minutes into our hike we noticed the sun descending quicker than we’d like so we turned around to be sure we made it back to the truck well before dark. Better safe than sorry…we will try that hike again tomorrow. We headed back to the campground and saw the final sunset from the there.