If you didn't know better, you might think that the natural place to find dinosaur bones is in a vast museum in a city such as Pittsburgh or Washington, D.C.
Ironically, the best place in North America, and perhaps the world, to view dinosaur bones still embedded in the rocky ridge they were fossilized in is just 135 miles west of Steamboat Springs near Jensen, Utah. The same trip affords easy opportunities to view dramatic pictographs created by the Fremont people in about 1000 A.D.
The quarry is encased in a building, but it offers large expanses of glass that lets the high desert light in, and your family will be glad for the shade at the height of the summer. There aren't many chances like this one to view thousands of dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period tilted up at just the right angle for easy viewing in what was river bed 150 million years ago.
Dinosaur National Monument comprises a huge expanse of canyons and plateaus that stretch from Moffat County in Colorado to extreme northeastern Utah. Within its boundaries lies the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers.
Visitors to Dinosaur National Monument may want to visit the park headquarters and visitors center several miles east of Dinosaur, but don't expect to see any dinosaur bones on the Colorado side. The only opportunity to see the thighbone of an Allosaurus is at the quarry, seven miles north of Jensen.
To get there, continue west of Dinosaur for 25 miles on U.S. Highway 40. Jensen isn't much more than a crossroads -- watch for a right turn on Utah Highway 149 and continue seven miles north to the park entrance. Visitors to the quarry park in a remote lot and ride a shuttle that runs every 15 minutes.
The quarry is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the rest of the year.
After leaving the quarry, be certain to take the self-guided "tour of the tilted Rocks," which includes three stops where petroglyphs are within a short rocky hike of the informal parking area.
The Colorado entrance (free admission in contrast to the $10 admission per carload at Jensen) offers dramatic canyon overlooks. The best river overlooks require hiking along the Harpers Corner Trail.
Harpers Corner trailhead is 31 miles north of the visitors center. The trail itself is just one mile (one way), but affords dramatic views of the Green River 2,300 feet below.
Tent campers who have a tolerance for taking their vehicle down 13 miles of semi-tortuous unpaved road will find themselves in a relatively lush environment at Echo Park. The road begins 25 miles north of park headquarters on U.S. 40. In Echo Park, the cold spring waters of Pool Creek support cottonwoods and box elders and brilliant lazuli buntings sing throughout the morning.
Rafters arriving at Echo Park from the Gates of Ladore on the Green River and Deer Lodge Park on the Yampa River announce their arrival by shouting their greetings at the sheer face of Steamboat Rock. The echo does not disappoint.
Several designated hiking trails make it easy to explore side canyons in Echo Park. Pet owners should be aware that while dogs are allowed on a leash in the campground, they are not allowed on hiking trails under any circumstances.
A visit to Dinosaur National Monument makes an easy weekend getaway from Steamboat or even a long day's excursion. But it's like visiting another place and time.