Fossil Studies: Dinosaur National Monument

Quarry Exhibit Hall

Not far from Red Fleet State Park, in the northeastern part of Utah referred to as Dinosaurland, is Dinosaur National Monument. This amazing national park was the climax of our fossil studies and a dream come true for our dinosaur loving kids. We parked for three nights at the Outlaw Trail RV Park in Jensen, UT and spent several days exploring this truly unique and wonderful park!

Quarry Exhibit Hall

The highlight and best-known feature of this park is the Quarry Exhibit Hall. When dinosaur bones were discovered in this area, much of it was well excavated and the bones they found are centerpieces in museums around the United States and the world. But so rich was this collection of bones that paleontologist Earl Douglass suggested leaving it intact, building a structure around it and opening it up to the public. That is what they did in 1958, and 60 years later you can still visit this “astounding and instructive sight”.

Quarry Exhibit Hall

Imagine walking into a building and being greeted by a wall of dinosaur bones, two stories tall. There are visible skulls completely intact, and a great variety of other types of bones. Some are so small it takes time and study to notice them. Others are so large you can’t miss them. The bones lowest down are within reach, and people are permitted to touch them.

Quarry Exhibit Hall
A small section of the “wall of bones”

 

Quarry Exhibit Hall

 

Quarry Exhibit Hall
Peter can’t get over it – he’s touching a real dinosaur bone!

 

Quarry Exhibit Hall
Micah got to touch one too!

The Exhibit Hall also has plenty of information to help visitors understand what they are seeing in the wall of bones. There are interactive exhibits, videos, and plenty of display cases. Of course, the Junior Ranger activities were high quality as always!

Quarry Exhibit Hall

Box Canyon Trail

As if a giant wall of dinosaur bones wasn’t enough, this park has even more to offer! It is also a beautiful natural area and we enjoyed driving through the park on the Utah side. There are many more hiking trails and canyons to explore on the Colorado side of the park.

Box Canyon Trail
There were plenty of rocks to climb!

We spent a sunny afternoon hiking the half-mile Box Canyon Trail. It was an easy trail leading into an impressive box canyon, and it offered plenty of rocks and trees to climb. It wasn’t far, and we were able to slow down and let the kids set the pace as they explored the nature around them.

Box Canyon Trail
Water is just irresistible!

 

Box Canyon Trail
And trees to climb! Rocks, water and trees – what more could you ask for?

Petroglyphs

Along the road, we stopped to see petroglyphs left by the Fremont people approximately 1,000 years ago. There are many locations throughout the park to view petroglyphs, but we were satisfied to explore the ones that were closest to the visitor center and just a short walk from the parking area. Back at the visitor center, a ranger taught the kids about petroglyphs using scratch art and they were able to make their own petroglyphs based on what they had seen. It was a seamless way to merge art and creativity with the history and science they were learning!

petroglyphs

 

petroglyphs

Dinosaur National Monument was a park that we almost skipped. It wasn’t a part of our original plan, so it was a detour off of our intended route, into areas of high elevation and steep grades. I’m so glad we decided to brave the steep roads and cooler temperatures. I’m glad that we took the time to go a bit out of our way to experience something amazing! That’s the gift of this lifestyle: the journey is more important than the destination, and we have the flexibility to take opportunities as they arise. Dinosaur National Monument is a treasure and I’m so glad it has been preserved in this way for all of our benefit. It is truly “one of the most astounding and instructive sights imaginable.”

 

 

2 thoughts on “Fossil Studies: Dinosaur National Monument

  1. This looks like an amazing set of sites! Wow! I’m glad you all had such a great experience with that – we’ll definitely make sure it ends up on our itinerary. And, as a side note, I’m impressed with your ability to allow the kids to be kids. I struggle with letting mine do things like climb, get wet/muddy, run too far ahead, etc. Yes, I admit to being a helicopter parent when it comes to potential injury. All I can see are bloody knees and tears. So when I see other parents who can let their kids go a little further out of the protective bubble, it’s a good reminder to me that I can and should relax a little (as long as they aren’t going to die, a little bit of learning via the school of practical lessons isn’t the end of the world!).

    I got way off track there. Anyway, thanks for this post! I had no idea people could actually touch real dinosaur bones here and now I’m excited to go check it out…in several years.

    1. Yes, definitely add it to your itinerary! Our kids are really into dinosaurs right now and they really loved this park. I had never heard of it either and that’s why it wasn’t originally on our itinerary. I’m so someone mentioned it to us!

      Relaxing in the way you’re describing has been a process. Part of it for me was realizing that ultimately it is so much better for their development to have a bit of freedom and learn their limits, cause and effect, consequences, etc. I also realized that a lot of the “no’s” I was saying were about me and not them. I didn’t want them to get muddy because it was more work for me to get them cleaned up. I started reading about “yes” parenting and while we definitely still believe in setting boundaries and discipline, we have also learned to pause before saying no and ask ourselves why we’re saying no. Eventually they have to learn to fall and pick themselves up again. Somehow it seems safer that they learn it now than in 10 or 20 years.

      Honestly, some of it came naturally with changing our lifestyle, too. And a good bit of it comes from the joy I feel in watching them having these kind of magical childhood experiences. It’s hard when they’re as small as yours are. My guess is that you’ll grow in this area as they grow – especially if you want to 🙂

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