The Dinosaur National Monument is Important for Many Reasons
For those interested in paleontology and geology there is one area that remains a place of extreme interest: the dinosaur national monument. In this article we will cover everything you have ever wanted to know about this historic area including: its location, its history and the importance this area plays in multiple disciplines.
What is the Dinosaur National Monument?
When using the word monument often times it brings to mind an image of a manmade tribute; however, in the case of the dinosaur national monument, the monument itself is the land. Located on the border between Colorado and Utah at the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers, the dinosaur national monument is on the southeast flank of the Uinta Mountains. This area was declared a national monument in October of 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson. The entire monument now encompasses some 200,000 acres of land in which a startling number of dinosaur species have been discovered. The majority of the specimens that have been located have been done so in the “quarry.”
What is the Dinosaur Quarry?
The dinosaur quarry is located on the Utah side of the monument just north of Jensen, Utah. The quarry has been the finding place of hundreds of dinosaur specimens. The park contains an actual “dinosaur quarry building” which contains a large wall of rock that has been found in the area. This incredible sixty seven degree piece of rock has hundreds of fossils in it that can be seen due to the fact that the rock has been chipped away from around them to make them more easily viewable by visitors to the center. The dinosaur quarry building was one of the biggest draws of the dinosaur national monument however, in July of 2006 the visitor’s center succumbed to structural problems which had been slowly worsening over time. The structural difficulties of the center arose from the fact that it was built on unstable ground and it was not until April of 2009 that the center received news in regards to the funding it so desperately needed. In 2009 the Dinosaur National Monument was promised over thirteen million dollars to help to reopen the gallery among other things. This incredible grant was made as a part of the Obama administration’s $750 billion stimulus plan. The quarry structure was finally rebuilt and opened again in the fall of 2011.
The Climate of the Dinosaur National Monument
Situated in both northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah the climate of the dinosaur national monument is largely desert-like. As with surrounding areas the summers in the dinosaur national monument can be scorching and the winters can frequently bring snowfall. Ironically while snow may fall in these areas frequently in the winter, rain falls seldom and leads to an arid environment for large portions of the year. The average high temperature for the area is around 61.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low temperature for the area is around 33.3 degrees Fahrenheit. When it comes to precipitation, the dinosaur national monument receives an average of 11.64 inches of rainfall each year. Snowfall in the area tends to average around 41.1 inches per year. While this may seem like a lot of snowfall, the snow that does fall in the area is quick to melt due to the high sun exposure in both Colorado and Utah.
The History of the Dinosaur National Monument
The dinosaur fossil beds that the dinosaur national monument is so well known for were first discovered in 1909. In 1909 Earl Douglass, a paleontologist who worked for the Carnegie Museum, discovered the first dinosaur bones in the quarry. After his initial discovery, Douglass went on to excavate the area with his crews and they went on to find thousands of individual fossilized specimens! Many of the fossils that Douglass and his crews recovered from the bone beds at the monument were sent back to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where they were both displayed and studied by paleontologists. In 1915 after Douglass had recovered many new specimens of dinosaurs in the area, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the area then known as the “dinosaur beds” were to be a dinosaur national monument. Twenty three years after the site was declared as a national monument the boundaries of the quarry were expanded. What was once an eighty acre tract of land surrounding the dinosaur quarry was expanded to over two hundred thousand acres of land.
Historic Sites of Interest in the Dinosaur National Monument
There are multiple areas of interest within the dinosaur national monument, these include: Denis Julien Inscription, Rial Chew Ranch Complex and Upper Wade and Curtis Cabin.
Denis Julien Inscription
The Denis Julien Inscription refers to an inscription that was left by trapper Denis Julien in the Dinosaur National Monument. There are four specific inscriptions that are noted in the National Register of Historic Places as being left by Julien; however, when referring to the dinosaur national monument the inscription is located along the Green River in Moffat County in Colorado. The inscription was left on the face of a rock in 1838 when the French-American trapper passed through the area in the 1830’s. Julien made a habit of leaving his mark as he traveled along the Green and Colorado rivers. In regards to the dinosaur national monument inscription it is located around five feet above normal water level and is found in Whirlpool Canyon. The inscription simply reads “DJ 1838.”
Rial Chew Ranch Complex
The Rial Chew Ranch Complex is an area that once made up a large ranching operation from 1900 to 1949. The ranch was established by the Rial Chew family and continued to operate even after the area was declared a national monument in 1919. The Rial Chew family had a special use permit which allowed them to continue operations in the area until the 1970’s. In the 1970’s the family no longer had a valid permit to operate the ranch and were forced to leave. After leaving the area the ranch complex remained and was comprised of: a house, a root cellar, a cabin, a number of storage buildings and corrals.
The Upper Wade and Curtis Cabin
The upper Wade and Curtis cabin was built in 1933 by John Grounds. The building itself was used as both a ranger station and a guest lodge in the dinosaur national monument. The cabin goes down in the National Register of Historic Places as being the oldest remaining guest accommodation in the park.
The Specifics on the Dinosaur National Monument
The dinosaur national monument is governed by the U.S. National Park Service and is located in both Moffat County in Colorado and in Uintah County in Utah. The closest city to the monument is located in Vernal, Utah. The dinosaur national monument takes up some 210,844 acres of land and is located at the following coordinates: 40°32′N 108°59′W. It is estimated that the monument receives over three hundred and sixty thousand visitors in a single year. The monument is considered to be a multiple property submission by the National Register of Historic Places; this means that it is a thematic group listing in the register that contains a number of individual property locations. The region is also considered an MRA or a Multiple Resource Area.
Some Important Findings at the Dinosaur National Monument
The dinosaur national monument is an important location to a number of disciplines because of the sheer amount of history that is hidden within the land. One of the most significant contributions of the area to the fields of both geology and paleontology is the discovery of multiple dinosaur fossils. Some of the historic fossils to have been recovered from the area include:
- Abydosaurus mcintoshi
- Allosaurus fragilis
- Allosaurus jimmadseni
- Apatosaurus louisae
- Barosaurus lentus
- Camarasaurus lentus
- Dinochelys whitei
- Diplodocus longus
- Earl Douglass
- Camptosaurus aphanoecetes
- Dryosaurus altus
- Stegosaurus ungulates
- Morrison Formation
- Glirodon grandis
- Glyptops plicatulus
- Hoplosuchus kayi
- Iridotriton hechti
- Opisthias rarus
- Rhadinosteus parvus
- Unionid clams
Among these fossilized species, perhaps the most well known to dinosaur lovers is the Allosaurus, the Barosaurus, the Diplodocus, the Captosaurus and the Apatosaurus.
Planning a Visit to the Dinosaur National Monument
The National Park Service offers a very informative website for those interested in paying their own visit to the dinosaur national monument. There are a number of tips that they recommend you be aware of before taking your visit to the park however. One of the biggest tips in reference to passing through the park is that during wet or snowy weather the many clay roads within the park are impossible to pass through even with vehicles designed for off road driving. Other tips to remember when you decide to pay a visit to the dinosaur national monument include: always keep more than half a tank of gas in your car, always be aware of natural wildlife in the area, always be aware of the integrity of roads within the park before attempting to pass them, always watch your step when walking through the park, always keep plenty of water on hand, always keep snacks on hand, always seek shelter during lightening storms, do not climb on the rocks within the monument, avoid bathing in the rivers, do not approach wildlife and always keep a first aid kit on hand!