History | Facilities and Services | Activities
Dinosaur National Monument protects a large deposit of fossil dinosaur bones--remains of the so-called "terrible lizards" that lived millions of years ago. The dinosaurs weren't really lizards, and most of them weren't even terrible. But some of the first dinosaur fossils ever found were huge bones and teeth, very lizard-like except for their size, and so the idea of monstrous lizards was born. Today, many ideas about dinosaurs are changing, and the fossils at Dinosaur National Monument continue to help us learn more about these fascinating animals.
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The fossils that give the monument its name were discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass. He was a paleontologist (a scientist who studies prehistoric life) who worked for the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Douglass knew that some of the rocks in northeastern Utah were the same kind that had produced dinosaur skeletons elsewhere, so he went there hoping to find more bones for the museum. In fact, he found thousands of them, and spent many years digging them up and shipping them to Pittsburgh, where many skeletons are now on display. President Woodrow Wilson heard about the great dinosaur quarry that Douglass had started, and proclaimed the site as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915. Years later, the National Park Service began to develop the quarry as it is today. The rock layer containing the fossil bones forms one wall of the Quarry Visitor Center. On this wall, paleontologists have carefully chiped away the rock to uncover the bones and leave them in place. More than 1500 fossil bones can now be seen in this unusual exhibit.
Why are there so many bones in one place? The rock around them is made up of sand and gravel, just like the sand and gravel you might see along a large river. Such a river flowed through this area 150 million of years ago, and many dinosaurs lived near it. Now and then some of them died near the river. During rainy seasons, the river overflowed its banks--just as many rivers do now--and picked up some of the dead dinosaurs lying nearby. A few of those bodies were whole, but many had probably decayed or been eaten by other animals, so that just the bones were left. The bones and bodies were carried by the river and deposited in the main channel. The current buried them with sand and gravel. The place that is now the Quarry was at one time a river channel.
As ages passed, that river vanished, but other rivers and seas came and went, leaving layer after layer of sand and mud that slowly solidified into rock. Even the buried bones became as hard as rock, as water seeping through the ground filled them in with dissolved minerals. Later still, strong vise-like forces began squeezing the Earth's crust in this area, bending and tilting the rock layers--just as the pages of a paperback book will bend if you push on it from opposite sides. But the more that the rocks were pushed upward, the more they were worn down by rain, snow, frost, and wind- -layer after layer. Finally, some of the long-buried dinosaur bones began to show up near the top of a steep hill, and Earl Douglass saw them.
The Dinosaur Quarry is 7 miles north of Jensen, Utah, and encloses 1,500 dinosaur bones. There are exhibits that tell the story about the bones. You can watch technicians working on fossils in the paleontology laboratory through the laboratory window. There is a wonderful bookstore that specializes in dinosaur books and natural history books. It is open daily; 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with extended hours during the summer. Due to limited parking at the Quarry a shuttle bus carries visitors from a lower parking lot to the Quarry from Memorial Day through Labor Day. During summer months there is an entrance fee.
Headquarters Visitor Center is on US Highway 40, 2 miles east of Dinosaur, Colorado. Exhibits and a 10-minute orientation program provide information about the monument's scenic canyon country. There is a nice bookstore here. No fossils can be seen in this area. A short nature trail begins at the visitor center. It is open daily 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., during the summer. Winter hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, closed on weekends and holidays. There is no entance fee.
Ranger Talks and Walks are presented in the summer. Our ranger talks and walks are a great way to see more of the park and have a fun experience with an expert guide. A schedule of talks and walks is not printed for distribution. Inquire at either visitor center to find out what is going on that day. Rangers lead guided walks to explore the park's geology, wildlife, ecosystem communities, and cultural sites. Short talks about dinosaurs and paleontology are presented each day in the Dinosaur Quarry between 10:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Evening talks on a wide variety of topics are presented at the Green River Campground campfire circle each night, Wednesday through Saturday. An evening talk is presented at Echo Park Campground every Friday and Saturday, followed by a guided walk the next morning.
Nature Trails are located throughout the park. The six self-guiding nature trails are a mile or less in length and are easy walks. There are several other longer trails in the park for those who want a little more challenge. Overnight hiking trips within the monument require a free backcountry permit, available at the Dinosaur Quarry and Headquarters visitor centers, or from a field ranger.
Auto Tours begin near the Dinosaur Quarry and Monument Headquarters Visitor Center. The Tour of the Tilted Rocks self-guided auto tour begins near the Quarry. Allow about 1Ĺ to 2 hours for this 22-mile round trip. This tour is a brief look at the monument's diversity, sights, and stories. The Journey Through Time self-guided auto tour begins at Monument Headquarters. Allow about 2 to 4 hours for this 62-mile round trip. This tour will introduce you to the diversity of communities in the Dinosaur ecosystem and the complex interactions between plants and animals and their environment. Both tours are fun, interesting, and beautiful.
Picnic Areas are located in Colorado at Headquarters Visitor Center parking area, Plug Hat Butte, Canyon Overlook and Echo Park Overlook along the Harpers Corner Road. In Utah picnic areas are located at Split Mountain Campground and Josie Morris Cabin. Picnickers are welcome to use any campground when space is available.
Roads to the Dinosaur Quarry and nearby campgrounds are paved and open all year. Harpers Corner Road is paved, but closes in the winter due to snow. The Deerlodge Road is paved and is open all year, although it may be snow packed in winter. The Diamond Mountain Road to Jones Hole is paved and is open all year. Most other roads are unpaved and impassable when wet. Most unpaved roads, when dry, can be driven with care in passenger cars. It is best to inquire about road conditions before driving on unpaved roads.
Self Guiding Nature
Sound of Silence Route: The Sounds of Silence route is also close to the Dinosaur Quarry and is about 3 miles long round trip. This is not a "trail" in the traditional sense, but rather a route, which is difficult to follow and is designed to challenge you as a hiker. The purpose of the route is to help you learn to find your way and properly hike in the desert. An added benefit is that you will experience silence like you have probably never experienced it before.
Cold Desert Trail: This trail is located at Monument Headquarters Visitor Center along US 40, 2 miles east of Dinosaur, Colorado. It is a 1/2 mile in length and is an easy walk. Many people find the desert shrub community that stretches out for miles beyond US Highway 40, to be a monotonous and lifeless landscape. That is not the case and this trail tries to prove it. The trail will introduce you to the variety of plants and animals that make the desert shrub community their home. This is a great trail for the family and a good way to prepare yourself for the drive up the Journey Through Time self guiding auto tour along the Harpers Corner Road which begins at Headquarters.
Plug Hat Trail: This is another short trail along the Harpers Corner Road. It is 1/4 mile in length and an easy walk. Like the Cold Desert Trail, this trail at Plug Hat is an introducation to the flora and fauna of the pinion pine and juniper forest community. An added bonus is the spectacular views of the surrounding landscape from the trail. There are also additional signs and scenic views across the road at the Plug Hat picnic area. The Plug Hat picnic area also has a short trail that is accessible to those confined to a wheel chair and the pit toilet is also fully accessable.
Harpers Corner Trail: At the end of Harpers Corner Road is this 2 mile long round trip trail that is moderately difficult. If I had to pick a "must hike trail", this would be it! The trail will take you to the end of a point from which you will have an eagle's view of dramatic geologic features and a breathtaking view of the canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers. The best times to walk this trail are in the early morning or evening when the light is especially dramatic for artful photographs.
Gates of Lodore Trail: At the end
of the campground at Gates of Lodore is a 1 1/2 mile round trip trail
that is an easy walk. The trail offers spectacular views of the river
gorge and introduces some of the plants and geology of the area. One
question will boggle your mind, "Why and how did this river cut
through this mountain rather than flow around it?" After walking
the trail chat with the ranger at Lodore and get recommendations about
other sites to visit in Browns Park. There is a lot to see in the north
end of the park.
Jones Hole Trail and Ely Creek Trail: This may be the prettiest hiking trail in the park. From the Dinosaur Quarry, drive 1 hour along the Brush Creek Road and Diamond Mountain Road to the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery has parking, restrooms, and an information kiosk for your convenience. The Jones Hole Trail is 8 miles long, round trip, and will take you from the hatchery down to the Green River. It is a moderately difficult walk if you go the distance; an easy walk if you go a short distance. Half way down the trail is Ely Creek, 4 miles round trip, a good compromise destination.
The Jones Hole Trail follows the clear, spring-fed waters of Jones Hole Creek. In the summer when it is warm, you can wade in the creek, but do so with care. The rocks are covered with algae and are slick and sharp. Brown and rainbow trout make their home in the creek, feeding on the abundant supply of aquatic insects that graze upon the algae clinging to the rocks. I've seen muscrat in the creek, attracted to the abundat aquatic vegetation and mink hunting for trout. After the sun sets Yuma myotis and silver-haired bats snatch aquatic insects that have hatched and are flitting about looking for mates. Keep an eye out for mammal tracks left the night before in the mud by striped skunk, racoon, ringtail, and mountain lion. The life in Jones Hole is an intricate web of interdependence between plants and animals.
If you fish the creek you will need a Utah fishing license. State fishing regulations require the use of flies and artificial lures only; bait is not allowed. Special catch limits apply and you are responsible for knowing the regulations.
As you begin your hike, the trail enters the riparian woods. Riparian is a name applied to the community of plants and animals that make their home in the creek's flood plain. It is a community characterized by high soil moisture (due to its proximity to the creek), higher humidity under the tree canopy, and occasional disturbance by flash floods. Boxelder trees form an enclosed and cool canopy over the trail in the riparian zone. Music from the creek and from the many birds in the canopy will serenade you as you walk. Riparian communities are one of the rarer, but most productive wildlife habitats in this arid landscape.
In a number of places the trail rises out of the flood plain onto the open and warmer benches in the canyon bottom. The canyon benches are above the creek and therefore, have drier soils. This more arid environment supports bunch grasses, mountain mahogany and squawbush shrubs, and juniper trees; good habitat for mule deer and bighorn sheep. If you keep your eyes open you may see them.
The open benches will give you the opportunity to notice the rocks that form the canyon walls. Take a close look at the rocks on one side of the canyon, then look at the other side. Do the rocks look different? They should, you see, the Island Park Fault runs along the base of the canyon wall on your left (east wall). The left wall was pushed up more than 1,000 feet in relationship to the right wall (west wall), long, long, ago. The rock forming the canyon's left wall is the Madison Limestone, a Mississippian Age rock (330-360 million years old), that is a sea deposit containing coral and brachiopod (clam) fossils. The right wall of the canyon is composed of two formations. The lower rock is the Morgan Formation, a Pennsylvanian Age rock (320 million years old) and the upper cream-colored rock is the Weber Sandstone, an upper Pennsylvanian Age rock (300 million years old). The Morgan Formation was deposited in an ocean and contains coral, brachiopod, crinoid, and bryzoan fossils. The Weber Sandstone was a sand dune deposit. The Island Park Fault fractured the rock along the fault zone weakening the rock which aided Jones Hole Creek in cutting this canyon. The variety of rock found in close proximity to one another here at Jones Hole and throughout Dinosaur National Monument, weather into different types of soil, to which plants are adapted. This increases the biological diversity of Jones Hole and the monument.
A little beyond the bridge is an archeological site, Deluge Shelter. Wayside signs explain some of what we know about the prehistoric Indians that have lived beside the creek for over 7,000 years. When you first see the Indian rock art, resist the urge to touch it. Touching rock art abrades its surface and leaves behind oils from your fingers which accelerate the erosion of these 1,000 year old works of art.
When you reach the junction with the Isalnd Park Trail at Ely Creek, approximately 1.8 miles from the hatchery, you have several choices. You can continue hiking the remaining 2.2 miles to the Green River, or you can walk up the Island Park Trail about 1/4 mile to Ely Creek waterfall. This is a wonderful spot, shaded by Douglas fir and birch trees, with background music of cascading, splashing water. This is a great spot to cool off and take a break.
From the waterfall you can continue up the Island Park Trail another 1/3 mile to the fork in the trail. The left fork continues on for 7 1/2 miles, up and out of Jones Hole to the historic Ruple Ranch in Island Park. The right fork takes you another 2-3 miles up into the box canyons of the Labyrinths. The "trail" eventually peters out as you penetrate country far less traveled. In the Labyrinths you are on your own; keep tabs on the landscape as you go so you know how to get back.
As you continue down the Jones Hole Trail a short distance you will cross Ely Creek and come to the Ely Creek Campsite. This is the only designated backcountry campsite in the monument. A free backcountry permit is required to stay overnight at one of the two campsites. You must reserve one of these sites at the Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center. No fires are permitted. Camping is not permitted elsewhere in Jones Hole Canyon or the Labryinths.
When you leave Ely Creek and head toward the Green River you cross the Island Park Fault. The creek continues to cut ever deeper into the Madison Limestone beyone this point. Near the Green River you will walk past a rock outcrop that looks strikingly different from the Madison Limestone. This is the red sandstone of the older Lodore Formation, Cambrian Age rock (510-570 million years old). Trilobites crawled about the ancient Lodore sea floor amongst their neighbors, brachiopods and marine worms in the mud.
The trail ends in the Jones Hole Campground. This campground is for river running parties only. Respect the privacy of river runners in their campsites as you approach the river. Keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep. They often hang out in this area beside the river.
You've earned a rest. At the Green River you can loll about, soak your feet, lay in the shade of the boxelder trees, and watch the river glide by. When you are rested you can start back to your car, IF you can tear yourself away from this beautiful, tranquil scene. When you walk this trail you enjoy an extra special day.
Tent and RV Camping
Obtaining campsites in Dinosaur National Monument is on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no reservation service for camping in the monument. Most of the campgrounds do not fill up, except for Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends. Echo Park Campground can fill up on the weekends, but is usually not crowded during weekdays.
The length of stay limit is 14 days.
Recreation vehicles in excess of 35 feet in length cannot be accommodated in any of the campgrounds. There are no hookups. Trailers and motor homes should not be taken on the Echo Park and Rainbow Park roads due to steep dips and sharp turns.
Fires may be built only in the fireplaces provided. Keep your fire small, never leave it unattended, even for a few minutes, and be sure it is out cold before bedtime or departure.
Green River Campground (5 miles east of Dinosaur Quarry) - $12 per night, has 88 sites, handles tents and RVs, is well shaded, usually has drinking water but does not for the 2000 summer season because of a water line break. Some areas will be closed for water line construction, water will not be available. No fees will be charged until construction is complete. Has modern restrooms, tables and fireplaces, firewood for sale, and ranger talks at the campground campfire circle. It is open approximately April to October.
Split Mountain Campground (4 miles east of Dinosaur Quarry) in the summer is for group camping only, but is otherwise open all year. The campground has group camping fees, 4 sites, can handle tents, is shaded, has drinking water, modern restrooms, tables and fireplaces, and firewood for sale. Call (435) 789-8277 to reserve a group campsite.
Rainbow Park Campground (26 miles from Dinosaur Quarry on unpaved road) - no fee, 2 sites, handles tents, no water, vault toilet, tables and fireplaces, and is open all year. Road to campground is impassable when wet.
Echo Park Campground (38 miles north of Headquarters) Newly renavated, $6.00/night, 17 camp sites, including 1 handicap accessable , plus 4 walk-in sites and one group site. Water and vault toilets, handles tents. Check with a ranger on present fire use policy. Access is dependent upon weather, the last 13 miles of road are unpaved and impassable when wet. RVs and trailers are not recommended.
Deerlodge Park Campground (53 miles east of Headquarters)- no fee, 8 sites, handles tents, is shaded, no drinking water, vault toilets, tables and fireplaces, and is open all year.
Gates of Lodore Campground (106 miles north of Headquarters) - $5 per night, handles tents and RVs, has some shade, drinking water, vault toilets, tables and fireplaces, and is open all year.
Overnight backpack and horse pack trips require a free backcountry use permit available at either visitor center or a field ranger.
The Ely Creek Campground in Jones Hole is the only designated backpack campground in the park. You can make a reservation and obtain a backcountry permit for an Ely Creek site at the Dinosaur Quarry visitor center. The campsite is located two miles down Jones Hole Trail and has two sites. A maximum of 10 people can stay in each site, fires are not permitted.
During the low-use river season (second Saturday in September to the second Sunday in May) backpackers can camp at accessible river camps along the Green and Yampa rivers.
Fishing opportunities are available within the monument. The Green and Yampa rivers contain catfish and pike. If you do fish, you need to know how to identify the four endangered native fish that live in these rivers. They are sometimes hooked by fishermen and must be immediately returned to the river unharmed. Jones Hole Creek is clear and cool, a perfect habitat for brown and rainbow trout. Special regulations apply in Jones Hole, such as artificial flies and lures only. All fishermen must have a valid state-fishing license and be familiar with the regulations.
White Water Boat Trips are maybe the best way to see the heart of Dinosaur. Boaters experience the thrill of rapids, beautiful cliffs, bighorn sheep, solitude, and nature, unvarnished and wild.
Mountain Biking is a sport that is slowly growing in popularity at Dinosaur. There are no mountain bike trails in the monument. Bikes can travel on the paved and unpaved roads in the monument, but our roads are narrow and there are no road-shoulder bike paths. Mountain bikes are not allowed on any hiking trails or two-track backcountry roads. The best mountain bike routes in the monument are as follows:
The Island Park Road is 12 - 17 miles long one way and ends at a primitive campground. It is unpaved, but well maintained, and an easy to moderately strenuous ride.
The Echo Park Road is 13 miles long one way and ends at the Echo Park Campground (camping fee). It is unpaved, rough and steep, and a strenuous ride.
The Yampa Bench Road is 51 miles long in the monument and an additional 20 miles or so to US 40. There are no campgrounds or water along this route. The road is unpaved, rough, steep in several places, and a very strenuous ride. Good planning is necessary to do this trip.
For Additional Information Contact:
For more information visit the National Park Service website