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:
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!
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!
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!
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.”
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.
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”