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.

GeoCorps interns document fossil bones on the quarry wall at Dinosaur National Monument.  Photo courtesy of the National Park Service 

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.)

This diorama in the Quarry Exhibit Hall displays the skeleton of Allosaurus beside an artist’s painting of what the carnivorous animal might have looked like during the Jurassic Period. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.

In one section of the quarry wall, you can touch the fossilized dinosaur bones. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.)

A closeup of the quarry wall at Dinosaur National Monument shows how it is filled with prehistoric remains, including these fossilized vertebrae. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.

Visitors observe fossils on the quarry wall from the upstairs viewing area. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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

A stegosaurus statue stands outside the Quarry Visitor Center, located on the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument. The Quarry Visitor Center is the gateway to the Quarry Exhibit Hall and the wall of dinosaur bones. It features a staffed information desk, gift shop, and a theater with a 12-minute park film. Exhibits introduce resources and places to explore within the monument. Photo: NPS / Jake Holgerson.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Chandi

    Oh how cool! I have never even HEARD of this place!!!

    • Laurel

      My family first went when I was about 14. It is indeed cool (but hot in summer)!

  • Cindy

    We were at Dinosaur maybe 5 years ago but the quarry was closed. Glad it’s back open. We’ll have to take the kids.

    • Laurel

      The quarry was renovated and closed for several years. It reopened two or three years ago. Definitely worth the trip back!

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