Dinosaur National Monument

Right after Memorial Day this year we decided to embark on a tent camping adventure around Colorado and Utah. We had just received our new National Park Pass in the mail and were eager to put it to use.  Our mission was to visit five National Parks in ten days: Dinosaur National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It would create a perfect loop from our starting point in Fraser and allow us to really explore parts of Colorado and Utah we had never seen.  We loaded our cooler, camping equipment, and our bikes into the truck and set off towards our first destination, Green River Campground on the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.

The campground was only four and half hours away so we decided to stop and see a waterfall in Steamboat Springs on our way and have a picnic lunch. We are so glad we did!  Practically located in town is Fish Creek Falls, a 280 foot waterfall that cascades over Fish Creek Canyon.  We parked and then walked an easy 3/4 of a mile to the falls.  It was in full splendor from the spring runoff and the sound was so loud we had to practically shout at each other to talk.  The trails are set up so visitors can get an up-close and personal view of the falls and also a distant view from above.  We enjoyed both before heading back to the truck for a quick tailgate lunch of ham sandwiches and veggies before hitting the road to our campsite.

We had plenty of time to get to camp and get set up before dark, or so we thought. As we started making our way toward the Utah/Colorado Boarder, heavy flumes of smoke began rising in the air.  When we arrived at the boarder we found it closed off by state troopers due to a forest fire that had erupted near the highway unexpectedly.  The troopers thought it might be controlled enough in a few hours to pass through, or we could take a long route around to reach our destination that would also take a few hours.  Dinosaur is located partially in Colorado and partially in Utah and we had only planned on seeing the Utah side.  We thought this seemed like a good opportunity to visit the Colorado side for a few hours and hoped the road would be open later so we could make it to camp for the night.  The Colorado side of the park had some really cool rock formations, and lots of fields with deer grazing.  We enjoyed a nice drive and then headed to the boarder to find it open.  As we drove to camp we could see lots of brush smoldering off the highway and many firefighters working to ensure the blaze was fully contained.

When we entered the Utah side of Dinosaur I felt like we had just entered Jurassic Park! The rock formations were incredible geological structures jutting out of the earth and the Green River flowed through areas with low formed trees and greenery.  It felt like a dinosaur might show up at any moment!  We made our way to camp and got our tent pitched just as darkness was falling.  Our campground was right on the river with towering rocks as a backdrop.  We crawled into our tent and crashed for the night excited to see big fossils the next day.

The next morning we drove to the visitor center and took a shuttle bus to the Quarry Exhibit Hall. The Quarry Exhibit Hall was built around a large cliff that has over 1500 exposed fossils embedded in it from many different dinosaurs. We spent the morning marveling at fossils of the Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and many others. We also found out that there were several complete skeletons that had been excavated in the area and moved to big museums so more people could see them.  We were excited to learn that one was in Denver and another at the Smithsonian Museum of Science and History in Washington D.C., both places we planned on visiting soon.  It would be really cool to see the fossils in person and also know what the land looked like where they came from.

After a morning of fossils we decided to continue our history tour and hike to some places we could see ancient Petroglyphs and Pictographs carved and painted into the rocks by the Fremont People about 1,000 years ago. It is kind of awe inspiring and mindboggling to stand in front of a rock and look at artwork on stone and know other people in ancient times had stood in the same spot and created it.  It’s interesting to think about what their lives were like and how they compare to ours now.  It is one thing to read about Petroglyphs in history books, but to see them in person is truly spectacular.  That’s why it is so important to support our National Parks, they protect not just lands and wildlife, but they preserve history.

We concluded our day by watching sunset from a perch high above the Green River with a cold beer. Dinosaur was a wonderful first stop on our loop tour.  Happy and tired we climbed into our tent and fell asleep to the sound of the river rushing by, thinking about dinosaurs and ancient people, anticipating our next adventure into Arches and Canyonlands.

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