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Dinosaur National Monument provides window to the past

By Scott Haws | Posted - Apr. 28, 2011 at 7:00 a.m.


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DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT -- The northeastern part of Utah boasts dozens of state parks. The camping opportunities are endless and include Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument.

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When we visited Dinosaur as part of our Great Escape series of reports, we planned on spending a couple of hours. Instead, we emerged seven hours later, having just scratched the surface of this 210,000 acre window to the past.

Dinosaur National Monument lets you glance back in time some 150 million years. In 1909 to 1924 paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered 10 species of dinosaurs here, 20 complete skeletons. It remains one of the best Jurassic period dinosaur finds in the world.

A walking tour to view the dinosaur bones is temporary as construction wraps up on the new visitors' centers nearing completion.The grand opening is planned for Oct. 4. It will include both the lower visitors' center and the upper quarry exhibit hall. In a few months, the lower visitors' center will offer a shuttle to the upper exhibit in what's called the Morrison Formation, where the old visitors' center once stood.

Earl Douglass
Earl Douglass

Dan Johnson of the National Park Service said, "It is a world-renowned resource, that you can see so many fossils still embedded in the rock in a single place."

This is a new experience for most of the Lawrence family visiting from Salt Lake City. Amy Lawrence last visited about 20 years ago.

"It's hard to go to places like Moab and Escalante with kids so the kids enjoy it," she said.

Obviously Dinosaur National Monument has dinosaur bones, but don't let the name fool you. The monument has much more to offer, from whitewater rafting on the Green and Yampa rivers to unbelievable camping, to hiking.

Like the dinosaurs that once roamed these parts, the monument is massive. It covers more than 210,000 acres with about one-third of it in Utah. The other two-thirds are in Colorado.

Visitors go back 100 years when they stop at the home site of Josie Bassett Morris. She homesteaded a section of Cub Creek in 1913, built a cabin and lived there 50 years until she died in 1964 at the age of 90.

Two short hikes lead to Box and Hog canyons, where the natural barriers allowed Morris to keep her livestock safe.

Whitewater rafting is available on the Yampa and Green rivers
Whitewater rafting is available on the Yampa and Green rivers

As you make your way through the park, keep your eyes fixed on the canyon walls. Sprinkled throughout the monument are tiny windows of past civilizations and cultures like the Fremont Indians, who lived there between 700 and 1,000 years ago.

But perhaps the only real way to experience Dinosaur National Monument is by boat. Both the Yampa and Green rivers flow through the heart of the park, offering breathtaking scenery and world-class whitewater. Several outfitters and guides in Vernal offer single or multi-day whitewater adventures the entire family can enjoy.

The Yampa joins the Green before reaching Colorado, and being the last free-flowing river in the Colorado River system, the Yampa is definitely worth your time.

E-mail: shaws@ksl.com

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Scott Haws

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