Originally posted on October 9, 2016
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 just outside of Fruita, Colorado, I can’t imagine how many years it would take for paleontologists to excavate this many fossils. (And work still continues to go on nearby; a team recently discovered an Ichthyosaur, a giant marine reptile.)
After my brother, David, and got off the shuttle bus that transported us from the Jensen, Utah, Quarry Visitor Center to the the Quarry Exhibit Hall, we entered the beautiful, air-conditioned building. There was definitely dino-magic in the air. It was like the two of us had traveled back in time to when we, as little kids, pored over picture books of dinosaurs.The Quarry Exhibit Hall included an educational center, complete with artist’s renditions of what the ancient reptiles might have looked like 150 million years ago.
There was loads of fascinating information to absorb—and we ultimately did—but like like most people, we couldn’t wait and instead hurried on to the quarry wall to see the actual fossils.
There, we beheld a slanted rock face studded with the fossilized remains of a number of species, including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus.
David and I stood and surveyed the mind-boggling jumble of tailbones and backbones of hundreds—maybe thousands—of ancient life forms still embedded in the rock. The sight took our breath away.
A young girl nearby 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 while petting a tibia bone in the okay-to-touch zone.
To help us make sense of the jumbled hodgepodge of bones and skulls, 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 $2 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, including the sacrum and back plate of Stegosaurus. At the end of our exploration, we just sat on a bench and speechlessly gazed at the magnificent, intact skull of Camarasaurus, a gigantic plant-eater.
Park rangers are always stationed in the quarry hall to answer visitor questions. David and I talked to ranger Tiffany Small, who pointed out a few details that we’d missed. She also impressed upon us what a unique view of the past we were witnessing at Dinosaur National Monument.
“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,” she said.
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 that David and I were reliving our dino-crazy childhood—along with thousands of other visitors each year.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
- 5 Prehistoric Monsters You Can’t Miss at Dinosaur Journey
- Dino Dig in Colorado: Be a Paleontologist for a Day
Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:
- Sea Kayaking in California’s Channel Islands
- Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Fossils Come Alive at Dinosaur National Monument
- 10 Reasons to Celebrate America’s National Parks
- Castles in the Utah Desert: Hovenweep National Monument
- Solar Power Lights Ft. McHenry Historic Monument
- Mesa Verde: An Archaeological Pilgrimage
- Sleep in a Sustainable Hotel in Mesa Verde National Park
- Treasures of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
- Explore a ruined pueblo: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
- Discover Painted Hand Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients