Escape the snow in search of prehistoric life

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When the snow becomes weary, head to Dinosaur National Monument for a refreshing change of pace.

Free admission and camping at the end of October can make the trip an inexpensive incentive --and the area rarely gets much snow, said Susan Walter, district interpreter for Dinosaur National Monument.

"There's a lot to do," she said. "It's beautiful in the winter. It gets very quiet."

Dinosaur National Monu-ment is a rugged and mountainous 210,000-acre area that straddles the corner of Northwest Colorado and Northeast Utah. Driving and hiking trips are somewhat accessible in the winter on both sides. Some locals suggest driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle through the area, and boots are a must.

One monument entrance is near the town of Dinosaur and the other is about 40 miles down U.S. Highway 40 in Vernal, Utah.

Visitors should hurry though to check out Colorado's portion of the monument. The scenic entrance, Harpers Corner Drive, closes when the first snowstorm hits, said Leona Hemmerich of Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur. Still, there are hikes to be done around Colorado's Monument headquarters, a few miles east of Dinosaur.

Center representatives can offer visitors suggestions for winter recreation in the area. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday after November.

Other recreational options in the area include a self-guided petroglyph tour near Rangely, about 20 miles to the south. Deerlodge Park also offers hiking and camping opportunities. The turnoff for the park is about 10 miles southwest of Maybell on U.S. Highway 40.

"As a general rule there's not that much snow here," Hemmerich said. "Maybe a foot of snow at most. It's rare that it is more than that."

For a sure bet, visitors can access a dinosaur quarry in Utah's portion of the monument. It's open seven days a week, except major holidays, and admission is free most of the winter.

The quarry, which is an enclosed mountain of exposed dinosaur fossils, is a good starting point for recreationalists, Walter said.

Roads into the park are plowed and maintained for snow during winter and all hiking trails are open but not plowed, she said.

"I like it here year-round because each season brings different sites," Walter said.

There's a strong possibility that hikers may view bighorn sheep on the Jones Hole trail, and there's an easy viewing of petroglyphs en route to the Josie Morris Cabin on Cub Creek Road.

The Desert Voices Nature Trail, a few miles down the road from the quarry, is a nice round-trip hike, Walter said.

Many of the hikes can be combined to complete longer journeys, she said. Camping also is free for all sites, except at the Green River Campground. Water isn't available at the free sites.

While most people tend to visit Dinosaur National Monument to view its dinosaur bone quarry, those in the know simply know better.

"You really should plan to spend more than a few hours at Dinosaur National Monument," its Web site states. "We guarantee you won't regret changing your plans to include an extra day or two." n

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