Dinosaur National Monument – When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

Quarry Building

Vernal, Utah.

Straddling the border between Utah and Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument provides some up close and personal views of fossilized remains of the dinosaurs that once roamed the region in large numbers. We arrived in the area late in the afternoon, driving through part of the monument grounds. It was too late for us to visit the nearby Quarry Visitor Center, so we decided we would head to Vernal, stay overnight and then backtrack back to the park when the center is open.

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Quarry Exhibit Hall

Built on the side of a ridge that contains over 1500 fossils embedded in the rock, there you can marvel at the 150-million-year-old history that is laid bare before you. There are even areas where you can actually touch some of the fossilized remains, and rangers are nearby for answers to your questions.

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The entrance road to the Quarry Visitor Center

There are several scenic drives through the area, and two visitor centers, the Quarry Visitor Center in Utah, and the Canyon Visitor Center near Dinosaur, Colorado. If you want to see fossils, you need to head to the center in Utah. The national monument isn’t all about dinosaurs, so be sure to check out the scenic drives, the Green River at the Gates of Lodore, and maybe even river raft down the Canyon of Lodore. Our focus for this trip, however, found us at the Utah site visitor center, then at the Quarry Building. Last week, we shared our story at the visitor center. This week we check out the fossils made visible at the side of a ridge and protected by a large building.

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Quarry wall

Inside the building, the ridge slope is laid bare before you and in the sediment, you will see hundreds of fossilized remains. One of the first questions I had was how did these remains come to be here, all jumbled together. A park brochure provides the details. “Dinosaur National Monument includes one of Earth’s richest known dinosaur fossil beds. These remains are from the Jurassic period 150 million years ago. During a drought, many dinosaurs died near a river’s edge. When rains returned, flood waters carried the jumbled bones of over 500 dinosaurs, representing ten species, here.

The article continues, “Ancient river sediments, now called Morrison sandstone, entombed the dinosaur bones. Minerals then filled the bones (though some organic material survived) and cast them in stone. Erosion eventually exposed the fossils…”

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Fossil wall

The glass walls of the building made photography challenging in the bright morning sunshine, but suffice it to say there was plenty of light for the visitors to take a close look at the ancient quarry.

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The western edge of the quarry wall

Plaques and diagrams point out some of the remains to help visitors identify the fossils they are viewing. Though the bones are truly a jumble, there are several different identifiable species in the quarry.

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The upper section of the western edge

On the western edge of the rock, most of the visible remains are at the top of the wall. At the western edge of the walkway below, this is a view with my zoom lens set to 26 mm and cropped only slightly.

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A central portion of the quarry wall

There are so many partial remains, but a plaque nearby helps to identify what visitors are seeing in this section.

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Diorama

According to the National Park Service website here, “The Quarry Exhibit Hall allows visitors to view the wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones in a refurbished, comfortable space. Here, you can gaze upon the remains of numerous different species of dinosaurs including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus along with several others. Exhibits, including an 80-foot long mural, reveal the story of these animals and many others that lived in the Morrison environment during the late Jurassic.”

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Diorama

Large dioramas help to identify the common species found in the quarry. This display tells the story of an almost complete allosaurus skeleton found there. Though the species was common throughout the region, it was only here where an almost complete and intact skeleton was discovered.

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Eastern edge of the quarry wall

Between the visitor center and quarry building, you can expect to spend between one and two hours, more if you are intensely interested in these fossilized remains. Be sure to check the hours of operation on the website for summer and winter hours and days of holiday closure. You will find that information here.

Feel free to click on any of the images above to pixel peep in 2K HD, or you can view the entire album on my Flickr site here.

John Steiner

29 comments

  1. Interesting how they built the display center into the quarry. It both protects and allows for viewing. Thanks for explaining how the bones came to be there. Too much light can be challenging, but you did a great job capturing the scene.

    • Thanks, Suzanne. I think an afternoon visit would have yielded better photos, but when one is on a schedule, we don’t always get a chance to stick around for the best time for photographs.

      • I have been to Utah, briefly on a drive to California thirty years ago, I stopped at several places places It was lovely and I said I would be back. Life gets away from you and before you know it, you have little time and lots to see, If I had more resources I would be there today.

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