Dinosaur National Monument ... to be Discovered

Posted On
Jan 05, 2010
Dinosaur National Monument is a legacy of rivers, from the ancient waters that deposited the fossils of the Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center to the present day Green and Yampa rivers. Mud from an ancient river preserves a time capsule from the world of dinosaurs. As you explore the craggy hills, discover fossil bone fragments of a long ago world where the planet's largest land creatures once roamed and died. The dinosaur quarry reveals many secrets of the past, but the remote and rugged land around it, created by today's rivers, is a secret of the present, known to few travelers.


Discover Time.
In 1909 while searching for something "big" for the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered one of the richest Jurassic era dinosaur fossil deposits in the world. Quarries in Dinosaur National Monument have yielded numerous mountable skeletons, eight skulls (a rarity), and new dinosaur, mammal, and reptile species from the fossil record.


A short trail near the visitor center allows a walk through layers of time and a chance to find clues that reveal the changing environments of the past. Investigation of the rock layer at one end of the trail unveils numerous small fossils such as belemnites and ammonites, ocean creatures thought to have lived here 160 million years ago. Several rock layers and seventy five million years later (or 85 million years ago), this area was again covered by an ocean, evident by the fish scale fossils found in a different rock layer at the opposite end of the trail.


However, it is the middle rock layers of the trail that holds the most fascination for many people. About 150 million years ago, a system of rivers made their way through a shallow valley and small ponds dotted the landscape, an ideal setting for dinosaurs. Discovering the dinosaur bone fragments, including a "string" of vertebrae, may be the highlight of this excursion through the layers of time.


Discover Beauty.
The Yampa and Green rivers have sculpted dramatic and steep chasms in the monument's canyon country. Isolated from main traveled routes and perhaps overshadowed by the uniqueness of the quarry, the canyon country remains relatively unexplored by most visitors. Any of the overlooks along the Harpers Corner auto tour route provide vistas spanning as much as one hundred miles.


Visitors prepared for a steep decent through the narrow, steep-walled Sand and Pool Canyons will enjoy a drive to Echo Park, a large meadow at the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers. Upon arriving at this location over a century ago, explorer John Wesley Powell claimed, "… [the Green River's] peaks and crags, its amphitheaters and alcoves, tell a story of beauty and grandeur that I hear yet …"


Discover Spirit.
Wild and dangerous, romantic and adventurous, for most people today the American West is an almost mythological world, one separated from ours by time, technology, and civilization. Yet, for Josie Bassett Morris, the Wild West was a stark reality. Josie lived most of her 90 years in this austere, yet beautiful landscape in a time simpler than today. A time when people depended directly on the bounty of the land for survival and "neighbors" for companionship.


Many legends surround pioneer Josie Bassett Morris, ranging from the number of her husbands to outlaws she may have befriended. But her spirit cannot be denied. In the early 1900's, Josie independently established and maintained her home-site along Cub Creek. As visitors explore the area, her pioneering spirit is illustrated by the buildings she constructed, the trees she planted, and the box canyons she utilized for corrals.


Discover Mystery.
About 1,000 years ago, the Fremont people lived in this area and left evidence of their presence in the form of petroglyphs (designs carved in rock) and pictographs (designs painted on rock). Were they created as art? Are they religious symbols? Is it a method of communication? Was someone just doodling? Petroglyphs and pictographs found throughout the park spark many questions but incomplete answers often follow. The fate of the Fremont culture is unclear, since it is difficult to trace as a distinct culture after about 1200 A.D. However, the petroglyphs and pictographs survive as a vivid reminder of these ancient people.


The "Classic Vernal Style" of design predominates in Dinosaur National Monument. Human-like figures, animal-like figures, and abstract designs characterized this style. Some of the clearest and most accessible designs can be found along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks auto tour route. Several drawings depict recognizable figures, such as big horn sheep, lizards, and people; however, the meaning of these figures lingers as a mystery.


Discover Adventure.
John Wesley Powell was one of the first explorers to brave the canyon's white waters by boat. In his journal, he wrote of his passage through Split Mountain: "Down the river we are carried by the swift waters at great speed … its waters are heaped up in great billows, that tumble back in breakers… The bow of the boat leaps high on a great wave; the rebounding waters hurl us back, and the peril is past."


Today visitors can experience that same type of river adventure on a one- to five-day rafting trip through Dinosaur National Monument's canyon country. The Green River between the Gates of Lodore and Split Mountain should never be mistaken for a gentle and simple float. Even today, an inexperienced oarsman can find his boat pinned on rocks with his ego bruised. Gates of Lodore contains multiple challenging Class III and Class IV rapids while the Yampa River sports many Class III rapids and one Class IV known as Warm Springs Rapid, which has a hydraulic named Maytag that has been known to flip boats. Best to discover this adventure with an experienced boatman or, better yet, with one of the several commercial guide services operating here.


Perhaps the unexpected is what Dinosaur National Monument is all about -- a gallery of dinosaur bones in solid rock, the whisper of flowing water heard from a sun-baked canyon rim, the aroma of Douglas-fir on the high mountain slopes. Time and the rivers have been long at work on this land. Take the time to discover its secrets.


For more information:
Dinosaur National Monument
4545 Highway 40
Dinosaur, Colorado 81610


(435) 781-7700


River Trips, Dinosaurs, Museums