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

Originally posted Oct. 14, 2014

Every year, National Fossil Day is observed by the National Park Service during mid-October. 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

Explore a Ruined Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Ken explores some of the passages at the ruin of Lowry Pueblo. © Laurel Kallenbach

Ken explores some of the passages at the ruin of Lowry Pueblo. © Laurel Kallenbach

(Originally published on October 18, 2008)

Along Colorado Highway 491, pinto and Anasazi bean fields line the road—as do spectacular sunflowers. (Dried Anasazi beans, sold as local souvenirs, are an heirloom variety grown from seeds found in ancient pottery.)

At the hamlet of Pleasant View, Ken and I followed Road CC nine miles (on asphalt and gravel) to Lowry Pueblo, just one of Canyons of the Ancients’ multitude of archaeological sites, most of which are unexplored.

This settlement was home to about 40 people in the late 1100s, and the stabilized masonry walls mark small rooms.

Lowry has one of the region’s largest kivas—47 feet in diameter—with floor stones laid in a decorative pattern. The signs tell about the various interpretations of the patterns, which supposedly tell a story.

There’s no gas or food in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, so pack food and lots of water. And be sure to have a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt and pants, and plenty of sunscreen to shield you from the intense sun. Sturdy footwear and good socks will protect you from rocks and cactus.

What’s There

Lowry Pueblo is a small site with reconstructed ruins to explore. There are interpretive signs, brochures, a picnic table and pit toilets—but no water.

For more information on the region, visit the Mesa Verde Country visitor information bureau.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Searching for Painted Hand Pueblo: Canyons of the Ancients

Underneath the rocky overhang of Painted Hand Pueblo is the faint, painted outline of a hand that gave this ruin its name. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Underneath the rocky overhang of Painted Hand Pueblo is the faint, painted outline of a hand that gave this ruin its name. ©Laurel Kallenbach

(originally published August 29, 2011)

If you’re driving through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado, don’t miss a sweet little ruin down a mile of dirt road off Road 10. (It’s not too far outside of Hovenweep National Monument, another enchanting site for prehistoric ruins in the Four Corners area.

My husband, Ken, and I bumped down the road (it can be a little rough) until we found the Painted Hand Pueblo trail leading to a lovely 13th-century Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) tower gracefully perched over the canyon.

We parked and then took the short ¼-mile hike. The beginning is easy, leading through piñon and juniper forest. Scrambling down the banded sandstone to reach the tower’s base was more challenging (I was glad to have sturdy hiking boots!). However, the view of the stacked-brick tower beckoned. As we explored and enjoyed the tower, it was Ken who found and pointed out the faint shape of three white hands painted on rock—the reason for the ruins’ name. The lonely call of a hawk overhead got me wondering about the long-ago artist who left handprints handprint on this peaceful valley.

What’s There

Painted Hand has interpretive signs and brochures at its trailhead. There’s no water or toilets—and the road is rough. (We made it in our Toyota Camry, but if the roads are muddy, you might need a four-wheel drive.)

For more information on the region, visit Mesa Verde Country visitor information bureau.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in national parks:

Shakespeare’s Words Journey Across Centuries on First Folio Tour

Portrait of William Shakespeare in 1609

Portrait of William Shakespeare in 1609

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and in celebration of the Bard, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.,  has launched a tour of the First Folio, a book published in 1623 that includes 36 of his plays—18 of which had never been published before.

Why stand in line to see an old (and rare) book published by friends and fellow actors seven years after Shakespeare was dead? By my reckoning, The Bard’s plays have influenced Western culture more than any other written work except the Bible.

Researchers believe that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were printed; 233 survive today, of which 82 are in the Folger Shakespeare Library collection.

Shakespeare's First Folio tours the U.S. in honor of the 400th year of The Bard's death. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Shakespeare’s First Folio, a collection of his plays, tours the United States in honor of the 400th year of The Bard’s death. ©Laurel Kallenbach

On the national tour, the book is open to the immortal words of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. As I stood over the nearly 400-year-old book—separated from it by security glass—I got chills as I read the whole monologue. Those so-familiar lines ponder questions about life and death.

How far that little candle throws his beams (Merchant of Venice)

The Boulder exhibit includes costumes worn in productions by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Costumes worn in productions by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Without the First Folio, some of my favorite Shakespeare plays, such as Macbeth, As You Like It, The Tempest, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and The Winter’s Tale could have been lost.

Can you imagine a world without lines such as “Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble” from Macbeth? Or “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Shakespeare tackled human dilemmas of yesteryear that are still pertinent today. For instance, racism appears center stage in Othello and The Merchant of Venice. We can learn as much from Julius Caesar’s chilling tale of political ambition today as people did more than 400 years ago.

Sir, I am too old to learn (Midsummer Night’s Dream)

The exhibition, titled First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare brings the First Folio to all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The 2016 exhibition features First Folios from the Folger Shakespeare Library, whose collection of 82 of these very rare books is the largest in the world.

Anatomy drawing by Vesalius ©Laurel Kallenbach

Anatomy drawing by Vesalius ©Laurel Kallenbach

The First Folio exhibition also includes Renaissance books that were contemporaries of Shakespeare, including an anatomy manual by Andreas Vesalius, Galileo’s drawings of moon craters, a handbook of herbal medicines, Demonology by King James I, and history books and maps that may have inspired Shakespeare when he was writing his plays.

Colorado’s First Folio was hosted at the University of Colorado Art Museum in Boulder. At our exhibition were also costumes and stage weapons used by actors in the annual Colorado Shakespeare Festival, held on the CU campus.

My life, my joy, my food, my all the world! (King John)

Going to see the First Folio here in Boulder (through the end of August 2016) was the literary equivalent of the Holy Grail for me. Back when I was a kid, I used to peruse a heavy, green-silk bound copy of Shakespeare’s plays—an ancient book that was bigger than anything else on my parents’ bookshelves. At first, I trolled Will’s plays for exotic names for characters in stories I wrote.

Hamlet's monologue: To be or not to be. On the right column is the famous line: "Get thee to a Nunnery." Photo courtesy Folger Library

Hamlet’s monologue: To be or not to be. On the right column is the famous line: “Get thee to a Nunnery.” Photo courtesy Folger Library

In junior high, I named our family’s black cat “Hecate” after the goddess of witchcraft, who appears in Macbeth. In eight and ninth grade I read Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As an English major, I took courses in Shakespeare in both undergrad and grad school.

Starting in 1986, I began playing music on the lawn before performances of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival—and have done so every year since. Attending the plays in an outdoor amphitheater under the stars is a magical, annual summer tradition.

Get thee to a nunnery… or a First Folio (Hamlet)

The First Folio sign ©Laurel Kallenbach

The First Folio sign ©Laurel Kallenbach

  • Theatre geeks and Shakespeare fans should flock to the First Folio, which is on display at museums, libraries, and theatres across the country. Click here to see when the First Folio is coming your way in 2016.
  • First Folio at the University of Colorado–Boulder: August 2016
  • A full digital version of one of the Folger’s First Folios (no. 68) can be viewed in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s digital image collection.

Laurel Kallenbach, “I’ll call for pen and ink and write my mind” (Henry VI, Part I)

The Wisdom of Will:

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and
some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night)

“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet)

I've always been in love with William Shakespeare. ©Ken Aikin

I’ve always been in love with William Shakespeare. ©Ken Aikin

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar)

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (As You Like It)

“Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.” (Romeo and Juliet)

“Have more than thou showest. Speak less than thou knowest.”(King Lear)

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” (Alls’s Well That Ends Well)

“This above all: to thine own self be true.” (Hamlet)