Tulin's new Vernal Page
Dinosaur National Monument takes its name from a remarkable deposit of fossil bones in the southwestern corner of the area—a spectacular burial ground which is actually a “sandbar cemetery” on an ancient river course.
Fossilized bones of crocodiles, turtles, and 10 species of dinosaurs have been brought to view by excavating river sediment in the 150-million-year-old Morrison Formation.
Rivers also play a vital role in the present natural history of the monument Not only do the Green and Yampa rivers provide pleasant streamside habitats, they are master tools of erosion in a rugged canyon wilderness. Here are faults, folds and other structures in the earth’s crust which have been carved majestically and exposed to view.
Most of the Monument land lies northeast of the quarry. It is an area of wild rivers, rich in the history of exploration, reclusiveness and outlawry that marks it as one of America’s last inaccessible regions—a romantic place where the Old West stayed young.
Leave Vernal east on Highway 40 from Vernal Ave. and Main intersection.
About a mile south of the highway is Stewart’s Waterfowl Refuge, Utah Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources.
Junction—turn left on U 149 to Dinosaur quarry. At this intersection, you will find a State Welcome Center and rest stop.
Split Mountain Gorge can be seen on the right—this is where the Green River emerges from the canyon area into the Ashley Valley.
Entering Dinosaur National Monument. The road follows along the back of the Green River at this point.
Entrance station (entrance fee charged during the busy months) and junction—turn left to visit the Dinosaur Quarry. The Dinosaur Quarry contains a fine bookstore, exhibits explaining what you are seeing in the Quarry and 1,600 fossil dinosaur bones. Discovered in 1909 by Carnegie Museum paleontologist, Earl Douglas, the Quarry is the best Jurassic Period dinosaur find in the world. From 1909 to 1924, Douglas discovered 10 species of dinosaurs, twenty complete skeletons, which are displayed in museums throughout the country, and rare juvenile dinosaur skeletons and skulls. The Quarry is focused on understanding the ecosystem the dinosaurs lived in. To do that, a multi-disciplines approach to the study of the past is being pursued and has resulted in the discovery of a new species of dinosaur, salamander, frog, lizard, mammal and plants. By protecting fossils we can better understand the present.
Parking area—take shuttle bus (summer only) to Visitor Center. Ask about petroglyphs, Josie Morris Homestead, and hiking/biking trails.
Junction—turn left to begin self-guided auto Tour of the Tilted Rocks (guide booklets can be obtained from a pamphlet box beside the road). Tour takes about 1 ½ hours. Discover Indian rock art, geology, wildlife and historic ranches. Scenic views of Split Mountain, the Green River and Cub Creek await you. The Desert Voices Nature Trail has wayside signs for adults and children. Cool, green box canyons entice hikers at the end of the drive. Return to US 40 or Jensen.
Turn left on US 40 to continue tour to Harper’s Corner and scenic drive through Dinosaur National Monument. The town of Jensen was settled in the mid-1800s, and some of the original log cabins of the early settlers are still visible.
Green river crossing.
Musket Shot Springs. Turnout-marker telling of expedition made by Father Dominguez and Father Escalante in September of 1776. They were the first known white men to come through this part of the country. Cockleburr Flatface of Blue Mountain to the left—graphic view of the upheaval of the earth’s crust visible on the face of the cliffs. Winter sheep range—arid desert country grows only sparse grasses and sagebrush on which sheep forage during the winter.
Entering Dinosaur, Colorado. Continue on Highway 40 through Dinosaur (last place for gas, water, etc.) to Monument Headquarters before going into the mountain area.
Junction—turn left at the Monument Headquarters sign to enter the visitor center and begin the self-guided auto tour, Journey Through Time. The Monument Headquarters Visitor Center has exhibits and a ten-minute audio-visual program that will orient you to the Colorado side of the park. Beginning at the visitor center is the Cold Desert Nature Trail. This half-mile-long, easy walk will introduce you to the desert shrub community and its wildlife. From Monument headquarters parking lot turn right onto the Harper’s Corner Road to begin the 31-mile (one-way) self-guided auto tour. Allow 2-4 hours to take this drive. You can obtain the auto tour guide at the visitor center bookstore or from a pamphlet box beside the road at the beginning of the drive. The Journey Through Time Tour will introduce you to the geology of Dinosaur. It’s the varied geology of the area that is responsible for the great biological diversity to be encountered along this drive. The diversity of Dinosaur is one of the many reasons it is unique and a national treasure. Drive on to discover that diversity.
Plug Hat Nature Trail and picnic area. Parking for the nature trail is on the right. The trail is quiet, short, and an easy walk—a place where you can discover the pinion and juniper forest community. Pinion and juniper forests cover a vast number of acres in Utah and Colorado. Learn their importance to wildlife and to us. Across the road is the entrance to the picnic area and great views of Blue Mountain and the exposed colorful rock formations below.
Turnoff—Canyon Overlook, picnic area (one mile) and nature trail. The short and easy nature trail will take you to a spectacular view of Yampa Canyon. Along the way you will discover the Douglas fir community perched on the heights of the mountain’s north slope.
Utah-Colorado state line.
Turnout—view of the Mitten Park Fault—forms the eastern escarpment of Harper’s Corner and crosses the northern end of Steamboat Rock. Displacement is from 1500’-2000’. These dislocations in the earth’s crust were in response to the uplift of the Uinta Mountains millions of years ago. You can see the folded and faulted Moenkopi and Park City formations far below this level. They are younger and belong above the Weber Formation upon which you stand.
Junction—tour continues straight ahead on paved road (right to Echo Park Campground and Picnic Area). If you take the side trip to Echo Park, it’s advisable to check road conditions and weather (unimproved road).
Turn left to Scenic Overlook—gives a scenic view of Island Park on the Green River far below.
Iron Springs Bench Overlook—gives a breath gives a breathtaking look at Steamboat Rock, the Yampa River, the canyon and its joining with the Green River and Echo Park.
Utah-Colorado state line.
Echo Park Overlook—spectacular view of Echo Park immediately below with the canyons of the Yampa River beyond. The colorful rock formations are well worth viewing.
End of road; however, the trail takes you to Harper’s Corner (a must!). This affords a view of the Yampa and the Green River where they come together at Steamboat Rock, and you can also see the canyons running both directions of the Green River. Very spectacular, a sight to behold, out of this world!
End of tour. Total travel time: 4 ½ hours. Dinosaur Quarry visit: 1 hour. Harper’s Corner Trail: 1 hour. Picnic lunch: 1 hour. Total: 7 ½ hours.