Dinosaur National Monument: A Treasure Trove of History

October 17, 2016NPF Blog
– Jake Holgerson, National Park Service

Straddling the border between Colorado and Utah, Dinosaur National Monument is a wild landscape of rugged mountains and wild rivers. It's also home to some of the most abundant and well-preserved dinosaur fossils in the world, providing a treasure trove for visitors and scientists alike since the fossil beds were found in 1909. The region was declared a national monument just six years later, and entering Dinosaur National Monument today is like stepping back in time.

Incredible fossil discoveries

Earl Douglass, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, first discovered the fossil beds that would become the centerpiece of the national monument almost 100 years ago. He and his team uncovered thousands of bones in the Uinta Mountains of northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, including species that had never before been seen.

Dinosaur fossil skull and vertebrae embedded in stone  at Dinosaur National Monument
Patrick Toth, Share the Experience

Among the many dinosaur fossils were the bones of Allosaurus, an enormous predator from the Jurassic period, and Deinonychus, a close relative to Velociraptor. Herbivores were even more abundant, including the armored Stegosaurus and long-necked sauropods like Apatosaurus and Diplodicus. Many fossils were shipped back to the museum in Pittsburgh for study, but not all. 

The Wall of Bones

Perhaps the greatest discovery that can be seen at the monument is known today as the "Wall of Bones," a huge layer of rock that has been chipped away to reveal 1,500 dinosaur bones still embedded in their original positions. The wall is open to the public in the Quarry Exhibit Hall, and continues to be one of the monument's most popular attractions.

Dinosaur fossil of a skull embedded in rock at the Quarry Wall at Dinosaur National Monument
National Park Service

The Exhibit Hall itself is built around the rocky surface of the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, which has given architects their fair share of headaches over the years due to the unstable nature of the sandstone and clay surface. In fact, the Exhibit Hall underwent major renovations in 2011, and is now open to the public once again. With the help of an Impact Grant from the National Park Foundation, the Wall of Bones will continue to thrill visitors for years to come!

More than dinosaurs

The remains of the animals that roamed the landscape of Dinosaur National Monument millions of years ago are the main attraction for many visitors, but there are a lot more things to experience at this amazing place.

Dinosaur National Monument landscape at sunset with golden lit grasses in front of striated sandstone cliffs
Jake Holgerson, National Park Service

Spanning more than 200,000 acres, the national monument is ripe for exploration, and there are many outdoor adventures waiting to be had.

  • Hiking - From the dramatic sandstone cliffs along the Jones Hole Trail to the stunning mountain vistas on the Ruple Point Trail, hiking routes of various lengths and difficulty levels can be found at Dinosaur National Monument. Some popular trails begin near the visitor centers, while others are more remote. Wherever you decide to explore, be sure to bring plenty of water, a brimmed hat, and sunscreen.
  • Camping - Six front-country campgrounds provide accommodations for tents and RVs. More adventurous campers can access countless undeveloped backcountry camping sites. 
  • Picnicking - Pack a lunch and enjoy it under the open sky at one of the picnic areas located at Canyon Overlook, Plug Hat Butte, Split Mountain, and the end of Harpers Corner Road. Each picnic area includes grills or fire rings, along with picnic tables and restrooms. 
  • River rafting - Crisscrossed by the Green and Yampa rivers, Dinosaur National Monument offers excellent rafting opportunities, with rolling whitewater and dramatic scenery. Private and commercial rafting trips range from one to five days. 

The fossil beds of Dinosaur National Monument have vastly increased our knowledge of what life on earth was like 150 million years ago. With its stunning displays and outdoor attractions, it remains a place with the power to stoke visitors' imaginations.

Comments

Visited this marvelous site several years ago. Not sure which was more impressive, the dinosaur fossils or the canyon up the road. A beautiful place not to be missed. A bit out of the way but worth every minute to get there!
Cindy
Flynn
My parents were Park Rangers here 25 years ago and this park was my first NPS experience. It was and continues to be, my favorite national park due to the dinosaurs, rivers, canyons and history. Beautiful moths that came out only at dusk, quiet canyons housing quiet predators, waterfowl floating in on large out-stretched wings, rushing water under old plank bridges......all this and more awaits you here! Come visit!
Susan
Johnston

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