Where else would you find amazing geology, dinosaur fossils still stuck in the wall and some Americana besides? Well at the Dinosaur National Monument of course! The park can be accessed from two locations off of Highway 40. The Western entrance is near Jensen, Utah, in the Northeastern corner of the state. The eastern entrance is about 40 miles east at a little town called Dinosaur, in the northwestern side of Colorado.

A Wall of Dinosaurs, Oh My!

What makes this park really special, to a Grandma that loves dinosaurs (me), is the partially excavated wall of fossils. Over 65 million years ago, a river bed slowly dried up, leaving animals searching for water dying of thirst. During other periods, the river flooded, pushing animals into an eddy and leaving them there. Eons later, the push and pull of the continents tilted this zone up on its side, at almost 90 degrees to its original position.

Wall of Bones – Some can be touched.
Could you put this puzzle together again?

Creation of the Dinosaur National Monument

Of course we would not have known all this if it had not been for Mr. Earl Douglass, a researcher for Carnegie Museums in 1909. He was hunting for more dinosaur bones to go with their existing, very popular, exhibit. Mr. Douglass found some bones protruding from the top of a hill, and continued to investigate. Soon he was calling for help. The overall excavation lasted over 12 years. It was Earl Douglass’ idea to stop excavating before all of the bones were removed and build a display area around the bones still in place. It is thanks to his foresight that we get to see (and even touch) the fossils now. My imagination goes on forever seeing these amazing animals settled into the stone. What a find!

A Geological Feast!

The canyons along this area of the Rockies are spectacular examples of the geologic process that occurred throughout the Western US. According to scientists, the North American continent was flat and covered by inland seas. About 300 million years ago, the continental plate, collided with other plates. The western plates slipped under the North American continent, rubbing off island chains and other small continents which eventually created California, Oregon and British Columbia.
Split Mountain

Over a period of millions of years the land mass of the continent, including what is now the Rocky Mountains, was lifted several thousand feet.  In the area of the Rockies, the land didn’t just gently lift, it crumpled into bends and folds and crevasses as it was pushed between the two continents.

The Green River
The rivers, in this case the Green and Yampa Rivers, were probably there in some form all along. The mountains came up, but not quickly.  Every inch the mountain raised up was cut back down by the flowing river.  The canyons of the Rockies, with the rivers still in place, tell the tale. Millenia of layers of rock, laid flat and then crumpled, were cut through by the persistence of water. As my husband says, “miles of exposed geology!”

And A Little Americana…

Then there is the story of Josie Bassett Morris. Born in 1874 to a frontier family, Josie learned to do the chores along with the guys, and then dress for dinner with the girls. Suspected of being a close friend of the Butch Cassidy Bunch, her life was far from normal. As a single mother, Josie decided to homestead a ranch in Cub Creek, near her family home. She worked the ranch alone, and sometimes with her son and other family members until she died in 1964. The cabin and part of the ranch land are preserved as part of the Dinosaur National Monument.

Josie Bassett’s cabin

Travel Notes

Dinosaur National Monument is definitely worth a detour if you have the time to get into the area. Follow Highway 40 to the Colorado/Utah border and you will be right there. The dinosaur wall and Josie’s cabin are available only from the West entrance (Utah side). Take a separate day to do the eastern entrance for the views. No dinosaurs on the east side! However, there is an amazing Jeep drive down into the Canyons on a dirt road. Save time for that drive and bring a LOT of water and snacks.  There are NO services inside the park.
There is a campground inside the park called Green River Campground which has a maximum vehicle length of 35′.  It is beautiful and right on the river. Reservations are difficult to get during high season.  In addition, there are a couple of dry camp options but they are quite small.
Campground on the Green River inside Western Entrance to Dinosaur National Monument
Campground on the Green River inside Western Entrance to Dinosaur National Monument
Commercial campgrounds are available in Jensen and nearby Vernal, UT.

Back to you

Have you seen Dinosaur National Monument? Which parts did you enjoy? We did not do much hiking because it was VERY hot when we were there.  Have you tried the hikes?
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