Situated in a remote region of northwestern Colorado and extending into eastern Utah, you’ll find Dinosaur National Monument. This is Green River country, the river winding through memorable rock formations and desert landscapes. But the real treasure of the region is what’s beneath the ground. You’ll find some of the world’s largest deposits of dinosaur bones in Dinosaur National Monument. Our visit today is to the monument’s Fossil Bone Quarry.
In 1909 paleontologist Earl Douglass, working for the Carnegie Museum, discovered plant and animal fossils at this site. A quarry was established revealing rich deposits of Jurassic-era dinosaur bones. Dinosaur National Monument was created in 1915, initially protecting 80 acres in the quarry area but now expanded to 210,844 acres. There are limited access points into the monument, so a large part of it is desert wilderness. Fossil Bone Quarry is the most western access point.
As you enter the monument through the Utah entrance, you’ll see the new Fossil Bone Quarry Visitor Center which contains some informative displays and a few fossils. The displays are interesting but provide only a superficial overview of the region and are not the reason you came here.
From the Visitor Center you catch a tram which runs several times an hour. It takes you on a short (about 5-10 minute) ride to the Fossil Bone Quarry site. The Fossil Bone Quarry is protected by a recently renovated building which surrounds the quarry site. It is quite an impressive structure, providing two levels at which to see the quarry, as well as new displays of dinosaur fossils and such. The dinosaur fossils are embedded in a sloping rock formation that was thought once to be a sandbar beside a river. It’s thought that carcasses of large number and variety were carried downriver during floods and such, and became stuck in the sand eventually to be fossilized. You’re here to see and enjoy some of these amazing scientific findings!
Fossil Bone Quarry, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
The “Wall of Bones” within the Dinosaur Quarry building contains truly impressive amounts of fossils partially exposed to reveal the 1500 or so bones (remember these are just a small part of what’s in this deposit). There are two viewing levels, both worth exploring as they give you a different perspective of this unusual fossil bed. There are few places in the lower level where you can touch some of the dinosaur bones, a unique and interesting experience. The building was reconstructed a few years ago, with deep pillars providing better stabilization of the structure which sits on unstable clay.
As mentioned, the Quarry area makes up only a small part of the land included within the national monument. The remaining area includes many dramatic canyons cut by the Green and Yampa rivers, making it a popular destination for whitewater rafting trips. Famed explorer, John Wesley Powell, explored the Green River almost 150 years ago. He landed at this famous landmark, a site commemorated by a plaque.
The park’s back-country is rugged and remote and offers places of solitude with the opportunity to explore desert landscapes and search for Indian petroglyphs. It’s a great day trip destination, but linger longer if you want to experience the hidden treasures of this desert landscape. Be forewarned that as with many desert environments, summer days are extremely hot while winter days can be very cold, especially at night.
Something about seeing dinosaur bones always brings out the kid in me. So I was definitely in my element at this site. I’m sure you’d enjoy a visit as well, and I hope one day to return to the area for a rafting trip on the Green River.