Tag Archives: fossils

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

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Ancient mammal bones from Agate Fossil Beds can be found in museums around the world.  Excavations began at Carnegie Hill in 1904 and soon thereafter at University Hill to be shipped back to Lincoln, Nebraska.  You would never guess at the thousands of fossils removed from these nondescript hills while hiking the 2.7 miles across the prairie from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.

Highlights

Museum, film, Daemonelix Trail

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center has an excellent display of the 20-million-year-old inhabitants of this spot, as well as a great collection of American Indian artifacts.  You can also learn about the mystery of the daemonelix, a corkscrew burrow which baffled researchers until it was eventually discovered to have been formed by palaeocastor, an ancestral land beaver.  

Best Trail

The Daemonelix Trail on the west side of the National Monument allows you to get an up close view of one of the palaeocastor’s corkscrew burrows.  A cast of this exact same formation is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Northwest of the National Monument in Oglala National Grassland, Toadstool Geologic Park is a beautiful badlands that is best photographed at sunset.  While exploring its trails, look for fossilized bones and trackways, plus be sure to visit the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center, which is open in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entrance road from Highway 29 in the west and through the park is paved, but turns to well-graded gravel east of the National Monument.

Camping

No camping within the National Monument, but there is a free primitive campground at Toadstool Geologic Park in Oglala National Grassland.  Fort Robinson State Park offers camping, cabin rentals, and accommodations in former military barracks.

Explore More – How did the frontiersman James H. Cook collect the impressive array of American Indian artifacts now on display in the NPS visitor center?

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Following meetings in regards to development in North Las Vegas, the Protectors of Tule Springs was founded in 2006 and successfully preserved 22,650 acres of federal land eight years later.  The area contains fossils of Columbian mammoths, ground sloths, American lions, ancient camels, dire wolves, sabre-toothed cats, bison, and three ancient species of horse ranging from 7,000- to 250,000-years-old.  There are plans to open a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center at the end of Aliante Parkway.

Highlights

Upper Las Vegas Wash, natural bridge, trash cleanup

Must-Do Activity

The actual Tule Springs are a desert oasis contained within Floyd Lamb Park, operated by the City of Las Vegas.  The Bureau of Land Management formerly controlled the acreage that became the National Monument and it was heavily impacted by garbage dumping, off-road driving, and shooting.  Your “must-do activity” here is to remove some trash.  The Protectors of Tule Springs have hosted several cleanup events.

Best Trail

There are no trails within the National Monument yet, but there are two access points to Upper Las Vegas Wash from Durango Drive and Aliante Parkway.  The wash contains Joshua trees and several patches of the rare Las Vegas bear poppy, and provides habitat for threatened desert tortoises, burrowing owls, and kit foxes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hike the Upper Las Vegas Wash about a half-mile east from the end of Durango Drive and look for a natural bridge carved in the soft mudstone wall. 

Peak Season

Winter when snow dusts the top of the Sheep Range and Las Vegas Range of mountains.

Hours

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is open sunrise to sunset.  Information is available at visitor centers in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. https://www.nps.gov/tusk/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to access points at the north end of Durango Drive and at the end of Aliante Parkway.  Look for wire barriers and small brown NPS signs at the two parking areas.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but free dispersed camping is allowed within Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the north.  There are campgrounds in nearby Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Explore More – In what year did National Geographic conduct a 4-month study here to catalog thousands of Ice Age mammal fossils?

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Like John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon, this area in central Colorado protects a geologically significant window into the past.  Here the fossils are 34-million years old, buried by volcanic debris and lake sediments, with species that do not look that different from plants and animals we see today. 

Highlights

Museum, Ponderosa Loop, Petrified Forest Loop, Big Stump, Hornbek Homestead

Must-Do Activity

A variety of butterflies, birds, leaves, and flowers are nicely displayed in the visitor center.  Our favorite was the bloom of Florissantia speirii, an extinct member of the cocoa family that grew at this site when the climate was much warmer and wetter.  After exploring the museum, head outside on the wheelchair-accessible Ponderosa Loop or hike some of the monument’s 14 miles of trails.

Best Trail

Take a walk on the Ponderosa or Petrified Forest Loops to see excavated stumps of massive redwood trees, fossilized in place with beautifully colored minerals replacing the original organic compounds.  You can even see annual growth rings preserved in the petrified wood.  If you have not experienced the massive dimensions of coast redwoods in California, these stumps will make you want to visit those living trees in person.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On your walk through the ponderosa pine forest, you may spot an Abert’s squirrel, a species known for its long ear tufts.  Also watch for elk.

Peak Season

Summer due to high elevation

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per adult or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but Upper Twin Rock Road is not.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but there are several campgrounds in the surrounding Pike National Forest, as well as dispersed camping opportunities.

Explore More – At the bottom of Ancient Lake Florissant, the microlayers of fine volcanic ash and clay formed what type of sedimentary rock?

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

More than 3.5-million years ago, this section of southern Idaho was on a floodplain of a giant lake.  Lush grasslands and forests attracted camels, llamas, mastodons, zebra-like horses, and a variety of birds.  Their fossils were not discovered until 1928, on the steep bluffs on the west bank of the Snake River, now Lower Salmon Falls Reservoir.

Highlights

Museum, film, Snake River Overlook, Oregon Trail Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Numerous mammal fossils from the Pliocene Epoch are on display at the National Park Service visitor center, located on the main drag in the small town of Hagerman, Idaho.  Scenic overlooks of the Snake River and Oregon Trail are located further south, but there is no public access to the fossil beds.

Best Trail

The 3-mile long Emigrant Trail parallels the Oregon National Historic Trail, which has wagon ruts accessible from both the Snake River Overlook and Oregon Trail Overlook (where there is also a half-mile interpretive trail).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Interstate 84 passes directly over Malad Gorge State Park, north of Hagerman, Idaho.  Take the freeway exit and walk to the canyon rim to see the beautiful waterfall you missed from the bridge.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hafo/planyourvisit/visitor-center-operating-hours-seasons.htm

Fees

None for Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, but there is a day-use fee at Malad Gorge State Park.

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved.  There is a one-lane bridge crossing the Snake River off Highway 30 that was closed during our visit so we took the Gridley Island Bridge instead.

Camping

There are places to camp along many sections of the Snake River, but not within the National Monument.

Explore More – How many complete skeletons of zebra-like horses were discovered within Hagerman Fossil Beds?