24 hours in the Dinosaur Era

Until mad scientists take Jurassic Park from the green screen to real life Vernal, Utah is the closest you can get to living in the Dinosaur Era. The bones haven’t been converted into living, breathing, teeth bearing dinosaurs. Here in Vernal there is a lot of evidence that the dinosaurs that once called this area home were plentiful and came in all shapes and sizes. Although, there is more than a lifetime of dinosaur and archaeological exploring to do in Vernal, you can pretty effectively transport yourself back in time in just 24 hours. Here is the best way to maximize your time travel.

Start your day in Dinosaur National Monument itself at the Carnegie Quarry, nicknamed the “Wall of Bones.” The Quarry is just a short drive outside of Vernal and it was Woodrow Wilson’s inspiration in 1915  to designate the Monument. The original boundaries just included the area of the bones and its direct surroundings, but was later expanded to include the Green River and Yampa River Canyons. The over 1,500 preserved and restored dinosaur bones are 149 million years old and include a massive stegosaurus neck and allosaurus skull. The truly amazing thing about the Quarry, is that all the bones lie exactly where they were deposited so many millions of years ago.  Paleontologist believe that the bones fell into an ancient river system, floated downstream until they were deposited into an eddy, buried in fine river sediment which preserved and fossilized the bones. Think dinosaur graveyard. The building was created so the wall wouldn’t have to be tampered with, leaving humanity to ogle at the remains of the ancient lizards.

After the morning at the “Wall of Bones,” head back into town to the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, or as locals call it, the Dino Museum. In the car keep an eye out for the town’s mascot, a 25 foot tall hot pink Dinosaur on the right side of the road. The museum is on the left near the center of town. The visitors center immediately reminds you why you’ve come with a massive life-size cast of a 50 foot tall dino found in Vernal. The skeleton is surrounded by windows peering into labs, where paleontologists work on current discoveries.  Inside, the museum takes you on a journey through time and geological history. Everything from the first multicellular organisms, into dinosaur era, through ice age, up to Native Americans and now. There are plenty of interactive exhibits for kids including a bone dig and a butterfly hall. Outside the museum is the Dinosaur Garden, with roughly 20 life size recreations of what scientists believed dinosaurs could have looked like in the flesh.

Last, head to Red Fleet State Park to the Dinosaur Track-way. This short hike winds its way through Utah’s red desert to the banks of a reservoir where you can find preserved dilophosaurus footprints. Bring a swimsuit and a picnic dinner for a sunset swim in the beautiful lake fantasizing about what it would be like to see the bones come to life. The creature that made the footprints is real and you see it saunter away from your picnic spot. Across the lake, stegosaurus slurps at the water and a velociraptor swoops down, just above your head.

You may not have a lot of time in your travel schedule when visiting Vernal, Utah for the first time so these are just some highlights. Coming to our area once is not enough you will have to return for incredible whitewater river rafting, single track mountain biking, fabulous hiking and lots of opportunities for camping.