Vernal, Utah-----is considered the heart of Utah's "Dinosaurland".
Fifty million years ago, this part of Utah was under a 25,000 square-mile inland sea, Lake Uinta. Now, it is an immense wild landscape dotted with several man-made reservoirs, one of which is the well known Flaming Gorge (part of the upper Green River). In spite of the desert-like terrain with it's sandstone rock formations, these various bodies of water are reminders of the land's aquatic past.
This area of land is fascinating and like a magical safe place to be. You can almost envision the landscape of times long ago when wild, immense and strange creatures roamed the terrain.
Vernal is situated between the Uinta Mountains which are the largest, single, east-west-trending mountain range in the Western Hemisphere...and the Uinta Basin, a petroleum-rich inter-mountain valley. These 2 natural features encompass 3 billion years of earth history. Their fossil record covers 600 million years and includes all forms of life from primitive algae to highly evolved mammals.
By 1870, the Uinta Basin was known for its abundant vertebrate fossils when O. C. Marsh from Yale University first identified Eocene (35-45 million years old) mammals. In 1909, paleontologist Earl Douglass of the newly-formed Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, discovered fossil dinosaur remains near Split Mountain, 20 miles east of Vernal and he set up a quarry for excavating specimens. This discovery, one of the world's best concentrations of dinosaur fossils, is now part of Dinosaur National Monument Park.
Rather than lose the prehistoric wealth of the area to eastern universities and museums, community members formulated the idea of a field house. In 1945, the Utah legislature established the Utah Field House of Natural History to house and display "the fossil remains of ancient plant and animal life and other objects of natural history." The field house subsequently became a Utah state park.
So, Vernal and it's surrounding area has several prehistoric sites to visit....."The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park and Dinosaur Gardens"; "The Dinosaur National Monument Park"; and the famous "Douglass Dinosaur Quarry and Visitor Center"....which is within the Dinosaur National Monument area.
The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park and Dinosaur Gardens
Located within the city of Vernal, you can definately stroll through time in this wondrous place. Within the Field House itself, are ancient fossil skeletal reproductions, archaeological and geological exhibits, flourescent minerals and other natural history aspects of the Uinta Mountain and Uinta Basin. It also offers exhibits on eastern Utah history, dinosaur fossils, American Indian artifacts and one of the best geology displays anywhere.
Life-size replicas of dinosaurs sneak into the museum through windows looking out onto the Dinosaur Garden.
But the exciting, unique, main pleasure of this Field House, lies outside in it's.........
Step back in time as you walk through the dinosaur garden where Mesozoic (180 million years ago) creatures dominate the scene. Look up to a full-size replica of a 20-foot tall Tyrannosaurus with six-inch knife-like teeth or look down on a ferocious four-foot meat-eating Coelophysis. There are other prehistoric life including a wooly mammoth.
The extensive dinosaur garden of the Field House contains a swamp area, rock area, small lake and a waterfall. Eighteen prehistoric animal sculptures in their natural setting, most of which are actual life-size reconstructions of dinosaurs, are found along the trail that leads through each area. The statues are wonderfully in proportion to the trees and plants of the garden, and it gives the beasties quite a resemblance of being alive. One can stroll along the paths and catch glimpses of dinosaurs behind trees or find that one terrific head-on position.
Sculptor Ebert Porter created the models, which were acquired by the state of Utah in 1977. A group of 3 concrete dinosaurs by sculptor Millard F. Malin completes the outside display.
Douglass Dinosaur Quarry and Visitor Center
This famous Dinosaur Quarry and Visitor Center is located about 20 miles east of Vernal, near the town of Jensen and offers Utah's most dramatic dinosaur display. The quarry, a working excavation site, is part of, and at the western entrance of Dinosaur National Monument Park. It is the only place within the National Monument where the public can easily see dinosaur fossils embedded in rock. This visitor center, which is built over a fossil bed, is a time capsule preserved in an ancient river sandbar. Here, the fossilized remains of over 2,000 bones have been exposed in a 200-foot-long mountain wall, now enclosed as a permanent exhibit. Other fossilized beasts within the quarry are shown still in their sandstone death pose.
How the quarry came to be, is fascinating. There is an unusually large concentration of bones in this place, as this area was once a watering hole. The rock around the fossil bones tells us that an ancient river once flowed there. Scientists believe that at one time, about 150 million years ago, the river dried up during a drought. The last watering hole was located where the Quarry Visitor Center is today. As the watering hole vanished, the dinosaurs died. Their carcasses were scattered about the dried riverbed. After the drought ended, the river again began to flow. Over time, dinosaur bones were buried under sand and gravel, and the fossilization process began.
As ages passed, that river vanished. Other rivers and seas came and went, leaving layer after layer of sand and mud that slowly solidified into rock. As water seeping through the ground filled the buried bones with dissolved silica, they became rock hard.
About 65 million years ago, strong vise-like forces began squeezing the Earth's crust, bending and tilting the rock layer in this area. The more the rocks were pushed upward, the more they were worn down by rain, snow, frost, and wind; layer by layer.
Eventually, some of the long-buried dinosaur bones began to show up near the top of a steep hill where paleontologist Earl Douglass found them in 1909.
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed this great dinosaur quarry as Dinosaur National Monument Park.
In many areas of the United States, most great fossil deposits have been excavated until there's nothing left to see. That is not the case at Dinosaur National Monument. The National Park Service reopened the Douglass Quarry in the 1950's, not to remove all the fossils, but to develop them into a unique exhibit.
**Digging up new types of dinosaurs allows paleontologists at Dinosaur National Monument to reconstruct the environment that the dinosaurs lived in. Each piece of information, from the types of rocks, to plant fossils, to remains of the frogs, lizards, and salamanders living at the same time as the dinosaurs, helps scientists describe what northeastern Utah looked like when the dinosaurs roamed.
**Fossils are remains or traces of ancient life. They provide the clues that paleontologists use to learn about prehistoric animals and plants. When a plant or animal dies, it usually decays or is eaten by other animals. However if it is buried before that happens, it may become a fossil. Hard materials, such as wood, bones, shells, and teeth have a better chance of being buried and fossilized because they decay more slowly than soft tissues like leaves or skin.
**The dinosaurs of Douglass Quarry lived in the middle of the Age of Dinosaurs. They were one of nature's experiments that succeeded. The first dinosaurs survived, thrived, and ruled the earth for some 150 million years, while adapting to changing conditions. The early dinosaurs multiplied. Some grew larger, some began to walk on four legs, and others grew into different shapes. Each new feature.. a long neck or sharp teeth, or bony plates, if it helped the animal survive, was passed on to later generations. These features became the hallmark of each new kind of dinosaur.
**In order to be classified as a dinosaur, an animal must have...
hip, knee, and ankle bones that allow it to stand with its legs directly under its body.
a ridge on the upper arm bones.
jaw muscles that attach to the top of the skull.
three bones (that make up one side of the hips) that form an open socket for the thigh bone to fit in.
the second finger is the longest digit of the hand.
Dinosaur National Monument Park
This monument is in both Colorado and Utah. It is 210,000 acres of proposed wilderness park. It is as famous for it's dramatic canyon scenery as it is for it's dinosaur fossils. This haunting land is home to one of the world's greatest concentrations of dinosaur bones.
The area offers trails, tours and activities which highlight the parks unique geology, history, wildlife and rugged beauty.