Travelers visiting Utah usually focus on the state’s major attractions for obvious reasons. And yet, overlapping the Utah/Colorado border there is this hidden, largely unknown gem well worth visiting – DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT!
That’s right, DINOSAURS!
Dinosaurs once roamed this area, and their remains are still visible here today. However, this place has much more to offer from the depths of time beyond just dinosaurs! (But yeah, I’d say they’re pretty amazing.)
There are two entrances to Dinosaur Nat. Mon. – one in Utah, the other in Colorado. These are two different areas, and the roads do NOT connect within the park. We only visited the Utah side of the monument – the CUB CREEK AREA. If you want to see the highlight of this place – the Quarry Exhibit Hall where all kinds of dinosaur bones lay embedded in the rock, this is where you want to go!
We didn’t quite know what to expect when we headed towards the monument as part of our road trip. But once we got there, we were truly blown away!
The monument has a lot to offer, and we were glad to have a few days to explore the area. Our stay was unfortunately interrupted by a quickly spreading wildfire just a day before our scheduled departure, but at least we now know that in the midst of an active evacuation, we can clear a campsite with record speed!
These were the highlights of our visit.
If they sound like something YOUR family would like to do, make sure to visit too!
⦊ Quarry Exhibit Hall
This is simply an unforgettable way to see (and touch) real dinosaur bones!
The Quarry is a building that essentially encloses and protects a wall of exposed bones of dinosaurs that roamed the rivers and plains of this area approximately 149 million years ago. It’s not just a few random pieces of bones here and there though. In fact, there are over 1,500 dinosaur bones to be seen here at the Quarry!
To access the Quarry Exhibit Hall during peak season (late May to mid-September), park at the visitor center and either hike up or hop on a FREE shuttle that leaves every 15 minutes. There is also the option of driving up yourself if you arrive early enough (8 – 9:15 AM), but the very short shuttle ride was actually fun and added to the experience for our kids.
There are numerous ancient petroglyphs and a few pictographs found here at Dinosaur National Monument that give even more depth to this special place. The elaborate artwork was created by Fremont Indians who lived in these canyons about 1,000 years ago. While the purpose and meaning of the symbols and the fate of the Fremont culture remain unclear, no one can stop the imagination from running wild and the mind from going in the time-travel mode. Who made these? And why? What did the person look like? Feel free to sit back and ponder…
Swelter Shelter is located 1 mile from the visitor center along Cub Creek Rd. You can find the petroglyphs and pictographs just about 200 feet from the road.
A larger petroglyph site can be found further east along the same road, about 9 miles from the visitor center. Keep to the left when the paved road forks and turns into gravel road. Once there, the main petroglyph rock panel is an easy walk from the parking lot.
There is also a short (0.2 mi) but moderately strenuous trail here at this spot that will take you to the rare large lizard figures that are not common at other local sites. We didn’t get to see these because of the blazing wildfire, but this is what you can expect:
More petroglyphs and pictographs can be found scattered around the park and accessed from different roads (remember, these roads do not connected within the park). Look for Deluge Shelter, McKee Springs, and Pool Creek if you want to see them all.
⦊ Hiking Trails
There are several trails here in this part of the monument that are perfectly suitable for families with kids.
If you’re not up for hiking, you can complete the AUTO TOUR instead. The Tour of the Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive follows Cub Creek Road that extends for 10 miles from the visitor center. There are 15 interesting stops along the way, and you can pick up the auto tour brochure at the visitor center.
Dinosaur N.M. – SOUND OF SILENCE TRAIL
Sound of Silence is a 3-mile loop trail, located about 2 miles east of the visitor center. It’s rated moderate to difficult, but it was a mostly easy hike – if it weren’t for the heat! We found the trail pretty easy to follow, but make sure you stay on the trail about 2 miles in if you’re going clockwise – instead of taking the spur east to another trail (Desert Voices).
The trail begins in a wash bed. As the surrounding shrubs recede and about a mile later, you’ll be taken into a labyrinth of small narrow canyons. You will then weave your way up and down through a maze of changing rock formations before you reach the top of a ridge.
When you’ve finished savoring the stunning panoramic views from the top, you’ll start making your way back down into the valley where you return to the trailhead.
There is a somewhat steep and slippery decline and incline in a few spots and you will have to cross over a few steep sections of slickrock, but even our 3-year-old managed to complete the hike just fine.
Dinosaur N. M. – FOSSIL DISCOVERY TRAIL
Fossil Discovery trail is an easy-to-follow 1-mile hike. The trail is accessible either from the Quarry Exhibit Hall (you’ll be returning down to the visitor center via this trail), or from the visitor center (you’ll make your way up to the Quarry). This is an easy trail although somewhat slippery in several places, and shade is non-existent for the most part.
It’s an interesting hike though as the trail takes you through various geologic formations and three fossil areas.
You’ll have another opportunity here to see and touch real dinosaur bones.
BOX CANYON / HOG CANYON
See Josie Morris Cabin below. ⇩
⦊ Josie Morris Cabin
This cabin is the last stop on the scenic drive, and the road ends here.
Who was Josie Morris?
Well, let’s just say that Josie Bassett Morris was a colorful female character of the Wild West…
Strong and independent, she kept breaking female stereotypes of that era. Josie had married 5 times and divorced 4 husbands in times when divorce was virtually unheard of. She did things that were uncommon and frowned upon when it came to women, like wearing pants and short hair. Josie wasn’t trying to get attention though, it was all about being practical. She also brewed and sold bootleg whiskey during the Prohibition years and supplied food to those in need during the Great Depression. Oh and by the way, she was friends with the outlaws since she was a child and became romantically involved with some members of the Wild Bunch gang when she got older.
I guess that’s what happens when your parents build a home on the outlaw trail…
Her family and the outlaws were on such good terms that the outlaws became protective of the family in times of need.
The cabin that you see is Josie’s homestead that she decided to establish here after leaving their family ranch at the age of almost 40. It is were she lived in solitude, fully supporting herself and helping others until passing away in 1964 at the age of 90. Josie Morris was kind, generous, and loved by others.
Rumor has it…
Josie may have been the last remaining associate of the Wild Bunch gang and the last known source of information about the outlaws. By several witness accounts as well as her own words, Butch Cassidy himself supposedly visited her at this cabin in 1930, decades after he was rumored to have died in Bolivia…
Josie’s cabin is a modest structure with dirt floors and loads of charm. It was once surrounded by other dependent structures, most of which are gone now.
Now, if you’re here and up for hiking, you can visit the canyons that once served as natural corrals for Josie’s cattle. Or just walk around the adjacent pond where frogs are plentiful (heaven for small kids!).
You’ll find the BOX CANYON TRAIL here which is short (0.5 mi) and partly shaded and starts just above the parking area. HOG CANYON is another hike that’s slightly longer (1.5 mi) that you can join just past the former chicken coop.
You probably already know that many Utah remote areas are keeping their spots at the top of the famous stargazing list. But did you know that Dinosaur National Monument is also a prime spot to watch starlit skies despite of not being widely talked about?
Whether you’re a stargazing beginner or a long-time veteran of the night-time skies, you’ll be captivated by the spectacular canopy of stars and the clear views of the Milky Way galaxy that extends up above in its silvery glory.
Do you want to watch the magic unfold at your convenience? You can spend a night here!
⦊ Camping at Dinosaur’s Green River Campground
This is a pretty basic campground, so don’t expect any showers or hookups. Picnic tables, fire rings, water, and flush toilets are available though. Many of the sites are quite spacious, private, and some have direct access to the river. The sites have variable shade coverage, but there were a lot to choose from here.
Our kids enjoyed watching the always hungry chipmunks snooping around (watch your belongings!), but the highlight was a snake catching and eating a mouse right in front of their eyes. I know…