Monday, September 18, 2017

Thar Be Dinosaurs! And Sheep and Mammoths :-)

September 13-15, 2017
Vernal, Utah

An easy 150 mile drive on Wednesday takes us to the little town of Vernal, Utah. We're here to see dinosaurs, and find so much more! 

Fossil Valley RV Park is in the middle of town. It's a perfect spot for all we want to do. The owner, Dennis, is a quiet gentleman, and runs a well maintained, no frills RV-only park. The sign out front is beat up, but the park is clean, level and peaceful. Lots of beautiful tall trees, but Dennis knows which sites are good for satellite and he lets us pick the one we like. Park WiFi works well too.

Wasting no time, we're off to see Dinosaur National Monument. This is a large park, shared by Utah and Colorado. More than a day's worth to see for sure!

More than once we say "This alone was worth the $20 entry fee." It's free with our America the Beautiful membership. 

1/2 mile before the entrance we make a quick stop along Green River. No fish, but there could have been!
 A small and informative Visitor's Center with a good video about the incredible dinosaur finds here - and very friendly and helpful rangers. 
The Carnegie Quarry is mind-blowing for dinosaur geeks like us. I've seen other's pics so I knew we'd love it. But nothing beats the personal experience. We spend a long time reading and touching and just staring at the incredible collection left in situ. 

Experts believe that the cycle of drought and flood along this ancient riverbed led to the large number of skeletons found. 500 specimens have been unearthed. While most are still in the quarry, some are displayed in other museums including the Smithsonian in DC, and the Carnegie in Pittsburgh. 

The Wall of Bones from the second story.

Can you imagine coaxing these huge pieces from the rock?

I took dozen of pics, but you get the idea of all there is to see.

Found in 1924 here at the quarry, this Allosaurus is one of the best preserved complete skulls ever found. More fragile than other bones, skulls are usually found crushed and shattered.

Happy dino-geek with a femur as tall as he is.

In addition to the giant treasures are some much smaller finds. This salamander fossil is about the size of my finger - and is 149 million years old!
I find it fascinating that the covered quarry is only a small part of an area they believe contains many more bones and fossils.

One man's dream realized here at Dinosaur National Monument.
Stunning views draw us further into the park.
We're blown away by the quarry, and would be happy if that's all we see today. Continuing into the park, the happy just keeps coming!

Scoops of ice cream.

This large snake head looks through the small arch.

Colorful uplifts throughout the landscape.

Green River adds another layer of color.

Multiple angles carved by centuries of river flow. See them in the sand to the left?

Bill sees them first. A small nursery herd of ewes and their kids - Big Horn Sheep chill on the beach.

Until recently it was believed the Green River cut through Split Mountain to make two - new evidence shows the separate ranges were there before the river.

Interesting signage adds to the experience.

Straight lines and dripping varnish make this look man made - but it's all Mother Nature doing her thing.

Down river she throws in some purple. Because she can.
While we're here.....
The expected rain comes on Friday, a perfect day to visit the Utah Field House Museum of Natural History (they have a dinosaur almost as long as their name!).

Yesterday's geek-fest continues. If you've seen enough dinosaurs and fossils feel free to bail here.....

We start in the small theater with a video that does a great job of explaining the earth's layers and how they represent millions of years of plants and animals. This information is referenced throughout the museum, making a great foundation for picturing how the area evolved. 

Exhibits include bones and fossils combined with murals depicting how they interacted in different eras. It's truly amazing what we can know today about who was doing what (and why) with who, hundreds of millions of years ago!!

It's not as easy as it looks - what's a fossil and what isn't.

Diplodocus swallowed stones to grind their food for aide with digestion - they lacked back teeth to do the job of mastication.

Haplocanthosaurus skeleton found nearly complete, missing only the head. Believed to have died at a very old age because arthritis was found, but no teeth marks or other indicators of attack or trauma. So cool!!

This Stegosaurus fossil was a rare find because the bones are still in their natural position. It answered questions experts had about plate positioning along their backs.

The juvenile Stegosaurus (cast from the bones) uncovered here is the best sample found to date. 

If we ever move back to a stationary home we'd love a wall of fossils!!

A spiral of shark teeth - 250 million years old.

The small exhibit on the Fremont Indians includes a beautiful collection of old beaded items.

Diploducus carnegii found in the Morrison Foundation, Wyoming, 149 million years after she died. 100+ feet long!
This mammoth is part of the outdoor display that we could view through the window while it was pouring outside. The "hair" is hemp which has to be replaced periodically because the birds love to make their nests with it. Wonder if the big guys had similar issues with their real hair?
Vernal is a great town. It's clean and easy to navigate. Most services are available. There's a decent variety of eateries. People are friendly.

And at least one police officer is really awesome!

Driving a back road while looking for a place to grab some lunch I hear the whoop, whoop behind me that you never want to hear when driving. I pull over and pull out my driver's license. The serious officer asks if I know how fast I was going.....uuuh, no. But I do admit sincerely that I wasn't paying attention, that we were trying to figure out where to eat, that we aren't from around here (you know, in case he didn't notice the California plates), I apologize. He shares that I was going 16 miles above the speed limit. Damn. Just as exciting, the proof of insurance card is expired. This is going to cost a lot of money :-(

While he returns to his vehicle to determine my fate, I pull up the current insurance doc on my phone. When he comes back to my window he hands back my docs and says "Everything's in order." He doesn't need to see the electronic copy. He reminds me that school is back in. I agree I'm a bad person.

And then he tells me to slow down and gives me a big smile. Seriously? I'm from out of state, going way too fast in your town, you had to put your siren on because I wasn't paying attention, I don't have the required proof of insurance, and you're giving me a verbal warning????? All my good driving karma just got cashed in.

Of course we ask him where we should eat. Now that we're all buddies. His recommendation is delicious :-)

We're having such a good time, we've already extended our stay :-))


  1. Just great pictures Jodee. What a beautiful natural area. No wonder the Dinosaurs loved it. Particularly liked the shot with purple that Mother Nature did just because she could. We were mesmerized by the much smaller in situ museum The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs South Dakota. Sure wish we had been with you to see this amazing place. It's been on our list for a long time. Great to see it through your eyes.

    1. Love having you along :-) There's a great mammoth site (covered) in Waco, TX that we really liked too. It's definitely a beautiful area here.

  2. The police stop must have been in Utah, I can attest that the Colorado officers may not be that nice :) At the Mammoth Site the visitor can get right up next to the in situ fossil remains. Pretty cool. Nice sighting of the big horn family enjoying a day at the beach.

    1. I'm still shocked he let me off. This sit you can stand right in front of the bones on the bottom floor - and some you can touch. It's an amazing place.

  3. It certainly looks like you found plenty that you were looking for. If you ever find a real live dinosaur, we need a picture of it. That cop must have been having a good day and you were the lucky one! Thank goodness for that!

    1. We laugh about coming around a corner and running into a dino!! That officer is about as rare as that dino :-)))

  4. Could it have anything to do with Tessa giving him the 'I love you' look? ;)

    That Stegosauraus is definitely on our list, Jodee!!!

    1. She was looking at him from the back seat - that could have been it!!

  5. That area is such a pleasant surprise! How cool you saw the herd of big horn too!

    1. We've been surprised everyday - wait til you see all the pronghorns!!

  6. We liked Dinosaur NM so much the first time we went back again a few years later. The wall of bones is fascinating! Don't know how we missed the museum but will definitely check it out if we ever make a third visit.

    1. I can sure understand coming back to see all of it again. We love it.

  7. Okay now Terry & I HAVE to go see this!

  8. So glad you made the visit to Dinosaur NM. It truly is a magnificent place and this coming from non-dino geeks! We loved everything about but that wall of bones was spectacular! The Utah Field House looks like an awesome place, as well. Great find for a rainy day! It was certainly your lucky day with that officer:)

    1. The silver lining to the smoke making us reroute is having the time to come here - so glad we did.

      Believe me, I have watched my speed the last few days!!!

  9. Your post title made me laugh, and your delight comes through in your post. :-)) We're not dinosaur geeks, but we really, really want to go to Dinosaur National Monument and see everything you did. It's been on our list for a long time! Love all of your little details, like the birdies using the mammoth's hemp hair for nests. I'm wondering how those shark teeth ended up in a spiral pattern in the fossil? So glad you didn't get a ticket. Lots of reasons to be happy there.

    1. The natural beauty of this area really gives the dinos a lot of competition for reasons to come. The fossil was called a Whorl but didn't explain more. So many weird things like that - love it :-)))

  10. What an awesome place. Love that the fossils are left in situ, plus so much more to see, like the sheep. You definitely have good driving karma.

  11. Great story, fossils and officer! The sheep were not so bad either.