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.

This one was visiting during the traveling “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

Read about my experience digging for dinosaurs: “Be a Paleontologist for a Day” 

Dino Dig in Colorado: Be a Paleontologist for a Day

Digging for dinosaurs at Mygatt-Moore quarry in western Colorado. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The green-and-purple tail of Triceratops disappears over the crest of the mesa, headed west through the desert toward Utah on I-70 with our van driver in hot pursuit. I sit shotgun, and behind me a seat full of kids shouts, “Catch up, catch up!” Bouncing around in a back seat is my brother, David.

Heavily loaded with children and parents, the van chugs up the mesa and we again spot the Triceratops—a.k.a., the Dino Mobile, piloted by ace paleontologist John Foster, who leads our caravan to the Mygatt-Moore Quarry for a day-long Dino Dig. The Dino Mobile, decked out with three horns and trademark bony head-frill, emits occasional bursts of fossil fuel from its tailpipe.

The excavation, sponsored by the Museum of Western Colorado, is wish fulfillment for the prehistoric-reptile obsessed kids in the van—including David and me. Once upon a time, we were fossil-collecting eight-year-olds who used to bicker during road trips about who was tougher: Tyrannosaurus rex or Dimetrodon.

Like these hunters, we two spent our childhood locked in titanic struggle for no reason other than preadolescent rage about family pecking order. I fantasized about being an only child with nearly as much passion as becoming a paleontologist. He wanted to take his know-it-all sister down a peg. There was hair-pulling, arm-twisting, and, yes, even biting at which my brother was the clear champion.

The Dino Mobile, decked out like a Triceratops ©Laurel Kallenbach

But that was ancient history—almost as long ago as the 150 million years we’re traveling back in time today. David and I are going back to the Jurassic. We’ve partnered up for a brother-sister road trip with a prehistoric theme. No longer adversaries, we both agree we have more in common than not—including our love for the outdoors and for dinosaurs. So, we’ve met in Grand Junction, Colorado—he lives in Montana; I’m from Boulder—to commemorate the car-camping treks of our childhood. Luckily for us, nearby western Colorado and eastern Utah comprise some of the world’s best dinosaur country, much of which we can access via the scenic, 512-mile Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Byway.

Quest for dinosaurs

Paleontologist John Foster demonstrates how to brush away dirt at the dig. ©Laurel Kallenbach

As the Dino Mobile and our van pull into Mygatt-Moore Quarry, Dexter—who has just graduated from kindergarten summa cum laude—announces he’s going to unearth a dinosaur skull today. The eight-year-old inside me thinks, “No way! I’m going to find it!” After all, I’ve got more than four decades on the kid.

First, though, we paleontologists-in-training learn the ropes. Dr. Foster demonstrates how to use our tools and tells us how to spot dinosaur fossils; they’re darker than the surrounding clay. “Never remove a fossil from the ground until a paleontologist has documented where it’s located,” he says.

David and I pick a spot under the shade awning, strap on knee-pads, arrange old carpet squares to kneel on, and start digging with screwdrivers, using them to delicately lift horizontal layers of the bleached-out clay, which was once mud along an ancient river. We scrutinize every earthen clump, sweep non-interesting pieces into a dustpan with a small paintbrush, and eventually pour the waste into a bucket. We’re hyper-vigilant for anything dark. A piece of bone will have a spongy texture; teeth are shiny black.

Fifteen minutes after we start, young Dexter calls out: “I found something!” Our heads pop up like prairie dogs on alert. Paleontology assistant Tom Temme checks, and then confirms, that Dexter has indeed unearthed a dinosaur bone fragment. David and I exchange determined looks, as if to say, We’ve been upstaged by that pipsqueak? We apply our screwdrivers to the clay with renewed fervor.

When I encounter a blackish vein about a third-inch wide, I slow down and carefully trace its edge. Soon the vein forks to the right. My pulse pounds in my ears at the prospect of digging up the bone of an animal never before seen by humans. I call to Kelsie Abrams, a paleontology grad student who’s in Colorado for a summer of digging. She bends over my find. “Yep, that’s a stem of Equisetum—horsetail.” She touches the dark line. “You can tell because plant matter rubs off on your finger like black charcoal.” My adrenaline rush crashes.

David uses the tools of the trade: screwdriver, brush, dustpan, and a bucket for hauling away empty rock. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Equisetum grows everywhere—even today,” David says. “Pretty common.”

I want to strangle my biology-major brother. “Still, it’s a 150-million-year piece of Equisetum,” I retort, but we both know that horsetail is not paleontology’s holy grail.

We continue digging as the sun grows hotter and our legs cramp. Beside us, Frank and his ten-year-old granddaughter, Ashley, hold out a chunk of rock to Tom; there’s something dark in it. Tom carefully breaks off bits of the rock, revealing the tooth of a juvenile Allosaurus, a ferocious meat-eater. Had the tooth been from an adult, it would have been three inches long.

Ashley’s find—just two feet to our right—ignites in us a frenzy of breaking chunks of hardened clay, but the result is only sore fingers.

At noon, Stephen Senior and his ten-year-old namesake unearth another piece of bone. After Tom has flagged its position in the ground, he removes it and passes it to me for a look. I have a hard time distinguishing “spongy” bone from clay. It takes a practiced eye, this digging for dinosaurs.

Sweaty and deflated, David and I quit for lunch and watch Tom drizzle a mixture of acetone and dissolved plastic on Dexter’s bone fragment to keep it from crumbling. Any doubts I have that this Dino Dig is a tourist gimmick evaporate. We amateurs are helping out with real science—hot, back-straining, exhilarating science.

At the picnic table, we ask Kelsie, who has a Diplodocus skull tattooed on her left forearm, why the kids are making all the good finds. “It’s total luck,” she said, sipping Gatorade from a plastic Dinosaur Journey souvenir cup that reads I’d rather be in the Mesozoic. Then she adds that kids tend to “dig in,” whereas adults can be overly thorough. My brother and I look sheepish. Being meticulous is a family trait.

After lunch, we double our speed, yet each time I empty my dustpan I worry I’m discarding a valuable piece of prehistory. We never hit “pay dirt,” but it’s here at Mygatt-Moore Quarry. Fifty yards from where we’re digging, seasoned volunteers are unearthing the five-foot-long femur of an Apatosaurus.

Now that’s the holy grail.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

After the dig, Dr. John Foster gave our group a behind-the-scenes tour of the paleontology lab to see large fossils and some of the tools scientists use to analyze them. Then my brother and I strolled through Dinosaur Journey, a family-oriented museum filled with reassembled skeletons—including our toothsome, 27-foot Allosaurus friend—and robotic recreations of dinosaurs such as the carnivorous Utahraptor and a venom-spitting Dilophosaurus. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Dino Digs is an educational/vacation program by the Museum of Western Colorado, in Grand Junction, Colo., that offers paleontology adventures (half-day up to five-day expeditions) in various quarries in western Colorado and eastern Utah, including Moab.

Laurel: living the paleontology dream! ©David Kallenbach

The digs let you work with real scientists in quarries and learn skills such as spotting fossils and digging them out of the rock or dirt. Participants also get a behind-the-scenes view of how paleontologists clean and study their finds at Dinosaur Journey museum.

Dino Digs are available from mid-May through mid-September. Transportation to the quarry, lunch, water/Gatorade, and tools are provided. The minimum age varies from five to eight, depending on the dig you choose.

 

Related articles:

5 Prehistoric Monsters You Can’t Miss at Dinosaur Journey

 

15 Ways to Get Romantic at a Colorado Eco-Ranch

Nothing's more romantic than a private cabin in the woods at Devil's Thumb Ranch in the Colorado Rockies.

Just 65 miles west of Denver, Devil’s Thumb Ranch sits on 5,000 acres near the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The eco-resort offers sustainable, luxury accommodations in its 52-room luxury lodge, 16 ridge-top log cabins and at the budget-friendly Bunk House.

With old-West flair, Devil’s Thumb Ranch employs both cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned conservation to exist lightly on the land. The ranch’s buildings, pool and hot tubs are heated with renewable geothermal energy. Waste water is purified through sand filtration. Some buildings are “recycled” historic structures that have been remodeled for modern use. For instance, the special events center is a reclaimed, 1850s-era barn.

Cozy rooms and cabins feature all-natural interiors.

Wood and stone interiors bring nature indoors at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Pine from beetle-killed trees becomes gorgeous wall paneling and ceiling beams. The floors are recycled spruce.

The décor has a cowboy theme: The lodge, spa, guest rooms, restaurants and cabins feature antique furnishings (including old saddles and cowboy boots). Artwork and metal work are commissioned from local artisans.

Then there are details such as eco-friendly cleaning products, sustainable restaurants, recycling and water-conservation programs, low energy-use lighting, and recycled asphalt for paving.

High-Altitude Romance

When you’re visiting this outdoorsy resort, green programs may be the last things on your mind. Focus instead on saying “I love you” (during winter) in these ways:

  1. Lounge in your luxurious, mountain-style room or woodsy log cabin. Many have private fireplaces, decks and breath-taking views of the Continental Divide.
  2. Snuggle under all-natural down comforters on your ergonomically correct mattress.
  3. Explore more than 65 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed and tracked trails at the Devil’s Thumb Ranch Nordic Center.

    Unwind in the Ranch Creek Spa.

  4. Steal some time together in the 10,000-square-foot Ranch Creek Spa with the Bonnie and Clyde couple’s massage. (Spa products are all natural and nourishing to the skin at high altitudes.)
  5. Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride across the 5,000-acre property to dinner.
  6. Enjoy a gourmet dinner at the Ranch House Restaurant and Saloon, in an original log cabin. The food is organic and local; 85 percent of the restaurant’s meat and game comes from Colorado producers.
  7. Book an intimate private dinner in John L’s Wine Cellar (its entryway is a giant wine barrel constructed of recycled cherry wood). Pop a cork and pop the question!
  8. Stargaze from the outdoor hot tub.

    There are miles of cross-country ski tracks to explore at Devil's Thumb Ranch.

  9. Limber up together with yoga class. The studio has incredible mountain views.
  10. Challenge each other to a game of checkers in the Game Room.
  11. Snowshoe under the full moon along any of the groomed paths. Not there during full moon? About 2.5 miles of pathways are lit, including those between cabins and the dining areas and activity centers.
  12. Cuddle in front of the fireplace (built of stone from mountain rock slides) in your room or private cabin. The chimneys are EPA-certified to emit 60 percent less smoke pollution.
  13. Watch a film in the 37-seat movie theater in the Main Lodge.
  14. Race each other down the sledding hill or twirl on the outdoor ice-skating rink.
  15. Get married. Devil’s Thumb is an incredible winter or summer wedding venue. Your wedding party can enjoy a romantic getaway, complete with horseback riding or sleighing, skiing or hiking, and rejuvenating spa treatments.

    Wedding bells ring at Devil's Thumb Ranch—winter or summer.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photos courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Farmers, Foodies, and Floods in Boulder County


Heirloom tomatoes at Boulder's Farmers' Market ©Laurel Kallenbach

Over the years, Boulder, Colorado, has garnered kudos as a food mecca: a place where visitors and residents come to revel in seemingly endless gourmet options.

In 2010, Bon Appétit magazine named Boulder “America’s Foodiest Town,” and Boulder’s Farmers’ Market made the 2012 Top 10 American Farmers Markets list by U.S. News & World Report.

None of that high-altitude cuisine would be possible without the participation of farmers, however. Good restaurants and talented chefs depend on flavorful, fresh, organic produce from local farms, and we on Colorado’s Front Range are lucky to have many producers of fruits, veggies, cheese, eggs, honey, flowers, and meat.

Among the casualties of the 500-year flood in northern Colorado this September, however, were farms. Small-scale, independent, sustainable, and often organic farms. Fields of lettuce and squash and peppers and tomatoes were covered in water during the height of harvest season; rain and mud choked plants and dampened the spirits of farmers.

Front Range Farm Relief

To help hard-hit farmers cope, an organization called Local Food Shift initiated the Front Range Farm Relief Fund. Although millions of dollars in flood relief is pouring into our area, very little is targeted to aid local farms, ranches, and food-related businesses, so this initiative is vital for cultivating sources of food that taste great and are healthy for the earth.

Eggplants and peppers fresh from the farm ©Laurel Kallenbach

Contributions go toward grants and low-interest loans to farms, ranches, and food producers impacted by the flood—in hopes of getting them up and running by next spring.

You can donate to Front Range Farm Relief Fund by clicking here. If you live in Colorado, or visit the area and enjoy the foodie scene in these parts, this is a way to help out.

Tables to Farms Lends a Hand

Tables to Farms is a new program launched by Boulder County and Denver-area chefs and restaurateurs as a direct way to help Boulder County farmers whose crops, farmhouses, barns, and homes were lost or severely damaged by the September floods. From now through the end of November, participating restaurants will collect cash donations from customers, and some restaurants will hold special fundraising events. All of the proceeds—100 percent—will go directly to Boulder County farms through the Local Food Shift Group’s Front Range Farm Relief Fund.

The idea for Tables to Farms came from a conversation between Bradford Heap—chef/owner of Salt Bistro in Boulder and Colterra Food and Wine in Niwot—and his neighbor John Bachman of Big Red F Restaurant Group.

“These farmers are our partners and friends,” said Heap. “For over 30 years, we’ve worked to create a sustainable local food-shed. This is the time to step up and support those farmers who have worked so hard to create that dream. This is the time for our communities to rally and show what ‘local’ truly means.”

Flavors of summer and fall: sweet bell peppers. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Salt Bistro’s Tables to Farms special benefit dinner will be Tuesday, October 22, 2013, at 6:30 pm. The fundraising dinner will consist of four courses with paired wines donated by the Natural Wine Company ($120 per person, includes tax and tip). Colterra’s benefit dinner will be Tuesday, October 29 at 6:30 p.m. The four-course with paired wines, also donated by the Natural Wine Company is $150 per person, including tax and tip.

Each restaurant that holds fundraisers can earmark which farms receive the funds from its Tables to Farms benefit. Proceeds from Salt and Colterra will go to five farms they use frequently, and that are most in need: Full Circle Farm, Oxford Gardens, Black Cat Farm, 63rd Street Farm, and The Fresh Herb Company.

Check the Local Food Shift website for other restaurants that are joining in the effort.

Donations at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market

The Boulder County Farmers’ Market is hosting a “Support Your Local Farmer” donation program at both the Longmont and the Boulder markets. For a donation of $2 or more, you’ll get a hot cup of apple cider provided by Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Flowers at the Boulder County Farmer's Market ©Laurel Kallenbach

All donations go to the Front Range Farm Relief Fund. The cider and donation sites are located at the Information Desk, and you can support local farmers until the end of the season.

In 2013, the last farmers’ market in Longmont, Colo., is November 2; in Boulder, Colo., the finale is November 16. (Read my earlier blog post about my hometown farmers’ market.)

Shopping the farmers’ market is one way of supporting struggling farmers. So is increasing our local food purchasing at farm stands and at retail stores like Door to Door Organics, Lucky’s Markets, Alfalfa’s, Whole Foods, and Natural Grocers. And of course, we can all patronize the many restaurants who source locally.

A huge part of the beauty of autumn is local fall produce: I, for one, am not going to let the flood ruin that.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor