Witnessing the Prehistoric World at Dinosaur National Monument

In one section of the quarry wall at Dinosaur National Monument, you can touch the dinosaur bones. ©Laurel Kallenbach

October 15 is National Fossil Day, and there’s no better place to celebrate it than in the massive quarry house in Dinosaur National Monument, located on the state line between northwest Colorado and Utah.

The famous, 150-foot-long quarry wall is embedded with more than 1,500 fossilized dinosaur bones. It’s literally a log jam from an ancient river where dinosaurs drank and hunted…and died.

The quarry is preserved to show the bones located exactly as they were found, and high-tech touch screens allow you to zoom in for a close-up view of a particular bit of skeleton.

Having recently been on a Dino Dig, I can’t imagine how many years it would take for paleontologists to excavate this many fossils. (And work still goes on nearby; a team recently discovered an ichthyosaur, a giant marine reptile.)

As my brother, David, and I entered the quarry hall, there was dino-magic in the air. A little girl let go of her father’s hand and skipped over to the fossil wall. “I’m so excited! I can’t believe these are real dinosaurs,” she said, petting a tibia bone in the okay-to-touch zone.

An observation deck overlooks the massive quarry wall, which is filled with fossilized dinosaur bones. ©Laurel Kallenbach

To help us make sense of the jumbled hodgepodge of bones, which belong to at least seven species of Jurassic-era dinosaurs, David and I used a guide booklet, “What Kind of a Bone Is That?” (It cost us just $1 at the Visitor’s Center.) The two of us reverted to full dino-nerd mode: we spent a couple of hours ID-ing interesting bones, like the sacrum and back plate of Stegosaurus. At the end, we just sit on a bench and speechlessly gaze at the magnificent, intact skull of Camarasaurus, a gigantic plant-eater.

Some of the fossilized bones preserved in Quarry Hall. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Park rangers are always stationed in the quarry hall to answer visitor questions. We talked to ranger Tiffany Small, who pointed out a few more details that we’d missed. She also impressed upon us how unique this view of the past we were witnessing really was. “People come into the hall and cry because they’re so moved that this quarry has been preserved—and that the remains of these prehistoric animals are still here for us to remember.”

When I asked Ranger Small who gets most excited when they come into this hallowed hall of ancient bones, she replied: “Dinosaurs bring out the kid in all of us.”

I guess she could tell David and I were reliving our dino-crazy childhood.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

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This diorama in Quarry Hall shows the skeleton of Allosaurus and a painting of what the animal might have looked like. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Colorado’s Crested Butte Struts Its Fall Foliage

No wonder Colorado's state colors are blue and gold. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Last weekend (September 23–25), Ken and I headed up to our favorite mountain area: Crested Butte, Colorado. We’ve been there for powder days in winter and wildflower fireworks in summer, but autumn had some sizzle in store for us.

I’m usually verbose on these posts, but this time I thought I’d let the photos do the talking. All I can say is that it’s worth the five-and-a-half-hour drive from Boulder to get to this Shangri-la of the Rockies.

Kebler Pass, just above Crested Butte, boasts the largest aspen grove in the state, but in most spots the aspen hadn’t yet started to change colors. There were a few breathtaking vistas on Kebler Pass,  but I think the first week of October should be insanely gorgeous there.

The Castle spires as seen from Ohio Creek Road. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can take Ohio Creek Road from Gunnison to Crested Butte. (You can also get to Ohio Creek Road from Kebler Pass.) One great reward is seeing the Castle Mountains from that  road.

Ken cycled along the road to Gothic, a mountain town above Crested Butte. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

View from Gothic Road. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

The road up to Gothic displayed some pretty impressive foliage. We were among the many cars that kept pulling over to the edge to snap photos.

Aspen flanking Gothic Road near Crested Butte. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

For tips on scenic mountain drives around Crested Butte, visit the Gunnison–Crested Butte Tourism Association.

Laurel Kallenbach, leaf-peeper

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P.S. Leave a comment below reporting on your favorite fall scenery.

Say Goodbye to the Grump during Crested Butte’s Vinotok Festival

The Green Man at the Crested Butte Vinotok festival. Photo courtesy GCBTA.

For years I’ve been hearing about a cool fall festival called Vinotok, held in Crested Butte, Colorado, a quaint and hip mountain town. This year was my chance to enjoy the golden aspen leaves and this annual celebration of the summer harvest and autumn equinox. (Vinotok is a Slovenian word for “fall wine festival.”)

In Europe as well as in America’s Rocky Mountains, Vinotok is a time of village feasting, of forgetting the woes of yesterday, and honoring traditional Eastern European roots.

In the Crested Butte community, Vinotok is a big deal! Ken and I were there for the last two days, but the revelry had been going all week: wreath-making at the farmer’s market; entertainment by local musicians and poets; storytelling events; Liar’s Night, a time for tall tales, whoppers and adventure stories; the crowning of the Green Man, a symbol of virility and the promise of returning spring; and a Community Feast featuring regionally harvested dishes.

 

The Big Night

On Saturday night, the last evening of Vinotok, things really got exciting. All that day, I saw people cutting aspen boughs and riding back to town with them on their bikes. At 5:30 I found out why. Locals dressed as medieval characters paraded down the streets, their heads ringed with fresh flower or leaf wreaths. They carried banners, flags and torches; the shirtless Green Man was decorated in body paint. As they danced down the streets, groups of these characters stopped into restaurants, sang harvest songs, and invited everyone to attend the evening’s festivities.

Revelers parade through Crested Butte's streets. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Even people who weren’t with the official parade wore costumes or wreaths in their hair. The evening was starting to feel like a Renaissance Faire.

At 7:30, as darkness fell, a crowd formed around a stage in front of The Eldo saloon on Crested Butte’s main street. At 8:00, a drama honoring the cycles of nature was enacted on the stage. I couldn’t see much because there were thousands of people gathered, but apparently there were characters such as the Harvest Mother (a very pregnant woman from town); and the Earth Dragon, representing nature, who battled with Sir Hapless, the symbol of technology. There was much talk about restoring balance—an appropriate theme for equinox, a time for planetary equilibrium.

In addition, the Red Lady appeared—a human personification of Mt. Emmons (better known as the Red Lady), the red-rock peak that shelters the town of Crested Butte. The drama’s narrator made an impassioned plea for protecting the Red Lady from a proposed molybdenum mine opposed by many in the community.

Vinotok participants serenade diners at the Ginger Café. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Burn The Grump

Finally, there was a trial for The Grump, a 20-foot-tall effigy and sacrificial scapegoat for the discordance between nature and technology. All of us in the crowd delighted in finding The Grump guilty, and we screamed “Burn The Grump!”

Then thousands of people poured down Elk Avenue to the town crossroads where a huge bonfire was erected. Into the flames went The Grump; he exploded with a few fireworks.

Now here’s the best part: Weeks before this celebration, local kids made “Grump boxes,” which were set around town. Townspeople write down their “grumps,” grievances they want to forget so they can move into the new season with a clean slate. These thoughts are then stuffed inside The Grump. As The Grump goes up in flames, so does everybody’s complaints.

The bonfire that engulfs The Grump. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

We newcomers had a chance to participate too. Ken and I each wrote down our grievances on little pieces of paper. Then Ken handed them to a Fire Maiden who danced close enough to enormous bonfire to throw them in.

I was impressed to see earnest boys jotting down their grumps. One teenage girl asked to borrow a pen so she could write hers. It was great to see all generations participating wholeheartedly in Vinotok. On the other hand, the event attracted a huge number of college-age revelers more interested in heavy drinking than Eastern European heritage. Well, I suppose over-imbibing is a centuries-old tradition as well.

As I felt the heat from the bonfire flames on my cheeks, I watched the sparks spewing from the fire and floating into the sky.

Farewell grumpy thoughts. Hello autumn!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For more info on future Vinotok festivals, check the Gunnison–Crested Butte Tourism Association.

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5 Prehistoric Monsters You Can’t Miss at Dinosaur Journey


Explore the dinosaurs of the western United States at Dinosaur Journey museum. ©Laurel Kallenbach

In Fruita, Colorado, dinosaurs rule. Traveling through this western Colorado town—only half an hour from the Utah border—you’ll see plenty of dino sculptures and signs, because this landscape is a paleontologist’s dream come true.

For more than a hundred years, scientists have flocked to this part of the country to search for dinosaurs—and they’re still making new discoveries. Thousands of fossilized dinosaur remains have been unearthed in the region.

Fruita is located along the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Highway, a 512-mile loop through Colorado and Utah with designated stops at sites famous for dinosaur finds. If you’re a dino lover, you must stop at Fruita’s Dinosaur Journey, a family-oriented museum filled with fossilized skeletons—including toothsome, 27-foot Allosaurus—and robotic recreations of a number of impressive dinosaurs.

In addition to seeing the paleontology lab, where you can learn about how scientists study the fossils they’ve dug up, you get an up-close look at the creatures, including these five:

Fossilized Allosaurus skeleton ©Laurel Kallenbach

1. Voracious Allosaurus: A seriously carnivorous dinosaur of the Jurassic, this behemoth used its sharp teeth and hand claws to tear into herbivorous dinosaurs, including Brontosaurus. Numbers of Allosaurus skeletons have been found in Rabbit Valley where I participated in the museum’s Dino Dig; in fact, the girl and her grandfather digging next to me unearthed the fossilized tooth of a juvenile Allosaurus. Gazing at the Allosaurus skeleton at Dinosaur Journey museum is terrifying enough, but imagine the horror of seeing a fully muscled and fleshed animal—who weighed between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds—coming at you!

Dilophosaurus ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Poison-Spitting Dilophosaurus: A dinosaur that will hunt you down and spit poison at you? Yikes! Dinosaur Journey’s animated model of Dilophosaurus rears up and drenches museum-going humanoids with poison—OK, it’s just water.

Scientists aren’t positive that this 20-foot monster with twin crests on its head was actually poisonous; it’s a theory. Either way…yuck!

Velociraptor, Dinosaur Journey ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Swift Velociraptor: If you’ve seen the movie Jurassic Park, you know that the small, lithe Velociraptor was formidable because of its speed. There’s just no running away from these track-and-field stars when they’re hungry.

The skeleton on display at Dinosaur Journey looks petite, but you can see rows of razorlike teeth and those creepy, birdlike claws. (Size isn’t everything!) Even the empty eye socket looks terrifying. Imagine this flesh-eater covered in feathers—horror!

Mymoorapelta Maysi ©Laurel Kallenbach

4. Armored Mymoorapelta: Covered in bony armor, Mymoorapelta was named after Mygatt-Moore quarry in western Colorado where it was found. (The same quarry where I dug for fossils!)

Like an armadillo, this dinosaur was biologically furnished with bony, spiky plates that would have made it tough for predators to kill this slow-moving beastie. The sign at Dinosaur Journey calls this guy “Knight of the Jurassic.”

Utahraptor ©Laurel Kallenbach

5. Utahraptor, the Slasher: This hunter was even larger than Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex— and just as fierce. Can you guess the state where Utahraptor was discovered?

With nine-inch-long claws, this predator was the Freddy Krueger of Cretaceous carnivores. This depiction of Utahraptor is truly a bloody nightmare. I’m pretty sure he’s chewing on a vegetarian.

Sarcosuchus is about to eat my brother! ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bonus: Sarcosuchus: A distant, but giant, relative of the crocodile, Sarcosuchus lived 112 million years ago.

The display of this mega-reptile was visiting during the traveling, temporary “Supercrocs” exhibition, so it’s not permanently at Dinosaur Journey. Good thing, or my brother would never have made it out alive!

Fun Facts You’ll Learn at Dinosaur Journey:

  • Stegosaurus is the official state fossil of Colorado.
  • The giant sauropod dinosaur Supersaurus—who probably weighed about 92,400 pounds—was collected near Delta, in western Colorado.
  • During the Early Jurassic, most of western Colorado was covered in sand dunes, and we find dinosaur footprints in these rocks.
  • A young duck-billed dinosaur was found in marine rocks in western Colorado. The animal had been washed out to sea (from what is now Utah) and sank to the bottom.
  • Super-sized Apatosaurus (also known as Brontosaurus) was found near Fruita and probably weighed about as much as 150,069 Big Macs.
  • A tiny Jurassic dinosaur, Fruitadens —who lived at the same time as Apatosaurus—was smaller than a chicken. Apatosaurus was a million times heavier than Fruitadens. Both were found in western Colorado.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

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