Tag Archives: archaeology

Dinosaur National Monument

Overview

As its name suggests, Dinosaur National Monument was first created in 1915 to protect an archaeological dig.  The 200-foot long wall of unexcavated fossils at Dinosaur Quarry outside Jensen, Utah is still the park’s main attraction.  A major addition of 200,000 acres was added in 1938, stretching into the neighboring state of Colorado.  More than 90% of the National Monument (click here to see where it ranks in our Top 10) is managed as wilderness and is best explored by whitewater rafting the Green and Yampa Rivers.

Highlights

Dinosaur Quarry, Harpers Corner Road, Fremont pictographs, Jones Hole Trail, whitewater rafting

Must-Do Activity

Whitewater rafting trips on the Green River can last a few hours or multiple days depending upon where you put in.  We highly recommend a three night trip starting at the Gates of Lodore with Adrift Dinosaur or one of several other outfitters.  They also offer multi-day trips down the Yampa River, which is undammed and only navigable during the spring snowmelt.  If you do not feel like getting wet, simply enjoy a quiet picnic on the shoreline at easily-accessible Split Mountain (or take a high-clearance vehicle down the rough road to scenic Echo Park).

Best Trail

The 4-mile long Jones Hole Trail is accessible to rafters on the Green River and from a fish hatchery at the end of a paved road near the Utah-Colorado border.  It provides access to Ely Creek Falls and the Deluge Shelter pictographs, which are approximately 800 to 1,400 years old.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Dinosaur Quarry may be the only mountainside in America surrounded by its own glass-enclosed, air-conditioned building.  It contains thousands of fossilized bones of giant creatures sitting in the same place they have been for the past 148-million years.  It is a completely different experience than seeing dinosaur skeletons reconstructed in a museum, although they have those, too. 

Peak Season

Spring and summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

No entrance fees for the Colorado side, but $25 per vehicle to enter the Utah side to view the Dinosaur Quarry.

Road Conditions

There are many dirt roads in the National Monument, some of which are impassable when wet, so check at a visitor center before entering.  The roads to the Dinosaur Quarry, Jones Hole Trailhead, Deerlodge Park, and Harpers Corner are paved.

Camping

There are several campgrounds within the park accessible by paved or unpaved roads, as well as numerous backcountry campsites located along the Green and Yampa Rivers (plus, one on the Jones Hole Trail). 

Explore More – Who was the one-armed Civil War veteran that led the first exploration of the Green River (and named the Gates of Lodore after a poem) in 1869?

WONDON WAS HERE

Colonial National Historical Park

Overview

Jamestown and Yorktown, Virginia are linked by the 23-mile Colonial Parkway, which passes through the well-known tourist attraction of Colonial Williamsburg.  After the colony of Fort Raleigh proved a disaster, it was not until 1607 that the first successful English settlement was founded at Jamestown, Virginia.  On October 18, 1781, General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his British troops at Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.  Though it was more than two years before a peace settlement was reached and General George Washington was able to march back into New York City, from where he retreated in 1776. 

Highlights

Historic structures, Voorhees Archaearium, glass blowing demonstrations, French ship replica, cannons, historic trails, Yorktown Victory Monument

Must-Do Activity

Remember back in 1777 in the aftermath of the battles of Saratoga when the French said they would help kick the British out of the 13 colonies?  Well, not much happened until nearly four years later when Admiral de Grasse defeated the British fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  The ships were unable to resupply General Charles Cornwallis’ troops at Yorktown, who then faced a siege by the combined American and French forces.  Inside the National Park Service visitor center at Yorktown is a replica of a French ship that you can walk aboard without getting seasick.  It also has a replica of General George Washington’s battlefield tent.  Outside, cannons abound along the auto tour.

Best Trail

Five miles of trails wind through Old Towne and New Towne in Jamestown, Virginia.  There is an entry fee charged, since most of this section of the park is run by the non-profit organization Preservation Virginia.  This includes admission to the excellent Voorhees Archaearium, a museum built atop the foundation of the historic statehouse.  Do not miss the reproduction glassblowing house.  This area also contains portions of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary War National Historic Trail and Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The original 1607 James Fort was triangular in shape and, of course, had cannons facing the James River.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be muggy

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/colo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Visiting Yorktown is $10 per person or free with the America the Beautiful pass, but entering Jamestown requires a payment of $20 per person or $5 per person with the America the Beautiful pass.  There is a separate entry fee for nearby Jamestowne Settlement living history museum , but it is free to walk the streets of Colonial Williamsburg (more info on our other travel blog).

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is no camping permitted within the park, but several private campgrounds can be found in the area, as well as numerous hotels since you will probably want to spend more than a day given the park’s proximity to Colonial Williamsburg.

Explore More – When an “ill” General Cornwallis sent his second-in-command to formally surrender his 8,000 troops, General George Washington was insulted and deferred the honor of accepting to whom?

Badlands National Park

Overview

Badlands National Park is known for its fossils, but not all of the mammals here are extinct.  Bison and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park, in addition to common prairie residents that include pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

Highlights

Door Trail, Notch Trail, Conata Basin, Sage Creek Road

Must-Do Activity

Driving the dirt road back to the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground, you will likely encounter a roaming bison herd and several prairie dog towns.  Bighorn sheep and pronghorn can also be found near the road.

Best Trail

The Notch Trail is only 1.5 miles in and out, but is an adventure with a large ladder, badlands, cliffs, and an excellent overlook at the end.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bighorn sheep, many with large curling horns, seem to pose atop the badlands formations, especially around the Pinnacles Overlook.

A big horn sheep in Badlands National Park

Peak Season

Summer, but we prefer the fall when it is less crowded, especially in Sage Creek Primitive Campground.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/badl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Badlands Loop Road is paved, and Sage Creek Road and Conata Road are both graded and passable to all vehicles.  Sheep Mountain Table Road in the Stronghold Unit may be more difficult when wet, but otherwise does not require four-wheel drive as designated on the park map.

Camping

Cedar Pass Campground has RV sites and the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is located down a good dirt road on the west side of the park. Backpacking is free and only requires registration at the trailhead.


This design we created to celebrate Badlands National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many endangered black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the park in 1994?

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Russell Cave National Monument

Overview

Humans have been visiting Russell Cave in northeast Alabama since about the time its limestone roof collapsed creating an entrance around 10,000 years ago.  A timeline of human invention was preserved in the floor of this hunting camp for millennia, from atlatls to bows, pottery to pump drills.  The park rangers were the friendliest we encountered during Pretirement and often offer demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.

Highlights

Museum with American Indian artifacts, boardwalk to cave entrance, nature trails

Must-Do Activity

There are a select few artifacts displayed on site in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.  From there a short boardwalk leads through the forest to an overlook of the archaeological digs at the cave entrance, which you cannot enter. 

Best Trail

Two nature trails (0.6 and 1.2 miles long) split off from the boardwalk to explore the surrounding hills.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This cave is not famous for its pretty cave formations, but for its incredible archaeological record.  If you want to see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, I recommend you head west to the impressive Cathedral Caverns State Park.

Peak Season

Summer, when it can be muggy and buggy.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ruca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but RVs are not recommended on Highway 156 if entering from the north.

Camping

DeSoto State Park has a campground and primitive camping is allowed at three sites in nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Explore More – How far down into the cave floor did archaeologists dig in the 1950s?