Dinosaur National Monument – Vernal, UT

Manila, UT

We have wanted to visit Dinosaur National Monument for awhile now, but it never seems to be on any of our travel routes.  Since it is within reasonable driving distance, we decided to make the drive while here near Flaming Gorge.  So Saturday we were up early (for us) and on the road heading back east on UT-44.  At its intersection with US-191 you turn to the north to go to the Flaming Gorge Dam.  But we turned south headed for the town of Vernal (pop. 10,800).  As we drove through town we were impressed by the baskets of Petunia’s that lined the main street.

In the center of Vernal we turned to the east on US-40 and drove about twelve miles to the road leading to the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Center.

Dinosaur Monument  Quarry Visitor Center

This park contains over 800 paleontological sites and has many dinosaur fossil beds.  The dinosaur fossil beds were discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass, a paleontologist working and collecting for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  He and his crews excavated thousands of fossils and shipped them back to the museum in Pittsburgh for study and display. Many of the fossils are now displayed at museums around the country.  They will be labeled Jensen, Utah.  President Wilson proclaimed the dinosaur beds as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915.

We entered the visitor center and immediately heard an announcement that the shuttle to the Quarry building was preparing to depart, so we quickly hopped aboard.  This open air shuttle takes visitors up a road closed to the public for about a mile to the Quarry Exhibit Hall.  The building is designed to cover the south side of a rock outcropping containing hundreds of bones that have been partially exposed.  The rock is called the “Wall of Bones.”

The Quarry Exhibit Hall with the Wall of Bones on the right

The building contains two viewing areas, a balcony where you can view the bones on the upper part of the wall, and the main floor where you can touch some of the bones.

The “Wall of Bones”

You can ride the shuttle back down to the visitor center or hike back on the one mile Fossil Discovery Trail.  We opted for the trail.

The trail takes you by a couple of petrified bones and fossils in the rocks.

As we hiked near the ranger living quarters, we notices what at first appeared to be a dog in the yard.  We quickly realized it was a coyote looking for lunch.  Speaking with a ranger we learned he hangs around the compound frequently.  Apparently rabbits like to munch on the grass near the compound and the coyote likes to munch on the rabbits.

After checking out the visitor center, we secured a guide book (for a dollar) and drove on to Cub Creek Road, a 10 mile long paved and dirt road that provides a scenic drive along the south face of Split Mountain.  There are examples of Indian petroglyphs and pictographs and interesting rock formations along the road.

Bentonite Formations

Turtle Rock

Elephant Toes

Flute Player

Cub Creek Road ends at the Josie Morris Ranch Complex.  Morris was a colorful local character, married five times and divorcing four of her husband.  At the age of forty she moved out to the canyon where she build a ranch. She lived there alone in a cabin for over fifty years until she fell on ice and broke her hip in 1963.  She died the following year at the age of 90.  Morris was tried and acquitted for cattle rustling in her 60s and made brandy and wine from local fruit and berries during Prohibition.

The Morris Cabin

Josie Bassett Morris

On our drive back to Manila we made a stop to visit the Moonshine Arch (Day Trip 12 brochure picked up at the dam), located six and a half miles north of Vernal.  Once we found the left turn off the highway (a bit hard to find), we drove about a mile on a dirt road to a parking area.  If you have a high clearance vehicle you can continue for another half mile, but a deep ravine in the road right next to the parking area discouraged us from driving, so we parked where the brochure suggested and hiked to the arch.

One of the high clearance sections of the road

The hike from the parking area is about a mile long through loose sand then going steeply up some slickrock.  But the cool arch makes the effort worthwhile.

The Moonshine Arch is about 85 feet long and about 40 feet high.

It was a long drive (90 miles one way)  but the visit to Dinosaur Monument and the Moonshine Arch made it worthwhile.  And the great scenery along the way made the drive a bit easier.

Next up is a visit to the Park City area.  More on that later . . .

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42 Responses to Dinosaur National Monument – Vernal, UT

  1. What a place! Fascinating story.

  2. raviolikid says:

    Great trip! I love the petroglyphs! Is there any closer camping or were you in the closest spot?

    • placestheygo says:

      Glad you enjoyed our tour:) There are several campgrounds in or very near Vernal, UT which is about 17 miles Dinosaur NM. There is a nice state park just 6 miles north of Vernal called Steinaker State Park where many people try to stay. Vernal is kind of central to see the Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur NM. We were approaching from the north so traveling to Vernal would have meant mountain roads and switchbacks with the MH which is why we stayed where we did. Hope this helps.

      • raviolikid says:

        Thanks! See you down the road.

      • Sondra says:

        There is camping right in the park, I camped there on the 10th of Sept. its right along the Green River so Its aptly named the Green River Camground. I entered via the West Entrance near Jensen.

      • placestheygo says:

        Yes, Sondra, we knew there was camping in the park. It is a beautiful place to spend time:) But we need electric for our residential refrigerator. We, also, were arriving from the north and then heading back that way so this park worked for us. It was a great place,too:) Thanks so much for sharing:)

    • Marsha says:

      Dinosaur National Monument also has the Green River Campground (rustic) within the boundaries of the monument. We stayed there and took a couple day hikes, including the canyon hike near the Morris cabin. Dinosaur was a pleasant surprise on our trip this year.

      • placestheygo says:

        Thanks, Marsha! We did drive down and check out the campground. It would be a beautiful spot. We had a few hikes planned for that day but the monument was very quite hot and there was no breeze. Boy were we glad that we didn’t do the three mile loop we had planned after we made that mile climb through the deep sand straight up hill to the Moonshine Arch. We, also, were pleasantly surprised by the entire area. We were glad we made the change to our plans and headed that way.

  3. Where there are rock formations there is Pam! And that second to the last photo says it all. I did not realize there are stuff to do in that area. We will make this on our list for it sure is on our route next year.

  4. pmbweaver says:

    The flowers are absolutely gorgeous!

    Dinosaur National Monument looks like a really neat place to visit. Even seeing the bones, I can’t image something that huge roaming around this earth.

    Split Mountain has just about everything. Great photo of the “toes”….hehe. Love the color of the mountain.

    Moonshine Arch was worth the drive. The Arch and surrounding arches are beautiful.

    • placestheygo says:

      We were really impressed with the flowers lining the Main Street in Vernal. And it was a long way.

      I’m with you, Marsha. It is very hard to look at the size of those bones and imagine something that large walking around.

      It is great to be back to the land of rocks and arches:)

  5. Ingrid says:

    I’ve often wondered if this park was worth the drive since it seems to be so far out of the way. Looks like something I’d enjoy. Another place with amazing views and of course the nimble hiker (and her assistant) were able to sniff out an arch.

    • placestheygo says:

      I always wondered the same thing, Ingrid. Dinosaur NM was very nice and with Flaming Gorge near by, it makes a great place to visit. There is also hiking in the area and several scenic drives, but we ran out of good weather and decided to move on after five days.

  6. Zsuzsa Klush says:

    I think it was 1994 when I was there. Your post brought back some nice memories. I loved Park City, looking forward for your next post also. Z.

  7. explorvistas says:

    Very nice. This would definitely interest us. Thanks for posting, John!

  8. Lenore says:

    I love when they have those guides available at the visitor’s centers. It makes the scenic drives/hikes so much more interesting. Loved the lizard petroglyph. So clear!

  9. libertatemamo says:

    So maNy interesting places we’ve not been to! Never heard of the arch or that cabin. What a great day trip!
    Nina

  10. Ooooooh, I’m so glad we are going there! And that arch…wow! Thanks for the preview! I sure hoep the place we are staying is much closer than 90 miles!!!

  11. Sherry says:

    Well worth the drive, thanks for taking it. This is another place out west that, like you, we didn’t get to. Looks very interesting. Love the rock art. That’s some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Also love the spunky Josie. Divorcing 4 husbands must have made her quite the radical in her time. 5 husbands is pretty radical even now. The arch was a beautiful closing to this great post. Thanks a lot.

  12. Laurel says:

    What a cool place! The visitor center built into the wall of bones is beautiful. And I loved the fabulous rock art (gecko?) — and the cabin and the story about Josie Morris. What a wild and interesting character! Moonshine Arch is gorgeous — good thing, because hiking through a mile of soft sand is a pain.

    • placestheygo says:

      The Exhibit Center was such a cool place. It is very impressive when you first walk in and see how huge and high the wall of bones is. The park brochure called him a lizard but who knows:) While it was only a mile hike, we got a good work out with not only deep sand but a very steep uphill climb the whole way.

  13. LuAnn says:

    I too have wondered if Dinosaur National Monument was worth the trip, but after seeing your photos and reading this post, I believe we need to make this journey some day. That Josie was quite the character! If there is an arch in the area, you are going to find it Pam! 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      We aren’t dinosaur people at all but this was a very fascinating place. And visiting the area you can add in the Flaming Gorge. We were there for five days and still had things we didn’t get to do. So do add this to your list of places to visit:) Love my arches for sure:)

  14. Jodee Gravel says:

    We really enjoyed all the hanging flowers in the coastal towns this summer – fun to see them in Utah as well! My grandmother and Josie would have been great friends, she was the wild one of the family. Unfortunately she passed when Mom was a teenager. Can’t wait to see the park, we would drive a long ways for that! The arches and petroglyphs are amazing – great pics :-)))

  15. Wow! You had me at “Arch”! This is definitely now on the list for our future travels. I’m so enjoying your posts – great info and beautiful photos that really capture the beauty.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks so much:) I must say that we were surprised and pleased with how nice the area was. This was originally not in out thinking but a last minute change, which we are known for:) So glad we did make the trip. Yes, do add it to your list!

  16. jimandbarb says:

    I bet it is nice to be back in Utah! Although we have been near it several times we have yet to stop my the monument. Looks like a very interesting place!

  17. frankeeg says:

    Wow1 Now that I have seen Drumheller in Canada I have to add the Dinosaur National Monument to my bucket list.

  18. Amazing! wonderful pictures!

  19. Pam says:

    All the the things I love in one awesome place! This has been on my list awhile but no one ever posts about it. Thanks for the preview!

    • placestheygo says:

      You are right, Pam. No one seems to visit here. It really is out of the way and tough to get there from certain directions with a large RV. While we aren’t dinosaur fans, we did enjoy this park.

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