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Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado

A primordial oasis of rivers, bighorn sheep, and canyons.

by: Phil Carson

PAGE 1 2

Contact Information:

Dinosaur National Monument Headquarters National Park Service Box 210 Dinosaur, CO 81610 970/374-3000

Location: Dinosaur National Monument is in Moffat County in Northwestern Colorado, 90 miles west of Craig, Colorado. Jensen, Utah, and Dinosaur, Colorado, have gas stations, small groceries, and cafes. Dinosaur also has limited lodging. Vernal, Utah, and Rangely and Craig, Colorado, have motels, restaurants, stores, and medical services.

Getting There: Take Highway 40 east from Salt Lake City directly to monument headquarters, two miles east of Dinosaur, CO. Or take I-70 west from Denver to the turnoff for Highway 40 at Empire, then on to headquarters. Turn north at monument headquarters. At mile 25, a dirt road snakes off to the right; travel 13 miles to Echo Park. At mile 8 on this dirt road, the "Bench Road" splits off to the right. It accesses many of the Yampa's side canyons, where camping is allowed with a permit.

Seasonal Information: Dinosaur is a place of extremes: ~ High temperatures and high visitation occur at the same time, during peak summer months. Summer temperatures can fluctuate between 40 and 100 degrees F. ~ Winter's quiet, snowy landscape is a different scene entirely. Temperatures fall to an average range of single digits to 30s. In winter, Echo Park road is closed, but roads to Dinosaur Quarry and Split Mountain Campground are kept open. ~ Spring brings gentle rains and wildflowers. Fall reveals the gold within green cottonwood leaves. These colorful seasons are the most comfortable and uncrowded time to visit Dinosaur. ~ Rain can bring flash floods.

Wildlife: The sage grouse (the largest grouse in North America) and the tree lizard live here, along with Canada geese. Bighorn sheep graze along the shore of the Green River. Domestic cattle also graze within the park. And if you look up you might see a bald eagle.

Dinosaur is home to at least 15 species of small bats. The spotted bat, with its large pinkish ears and white spots on its black back, may be the park's most beautiful. There are few other places in Colorado or Utah where so many kinds of bats have been found in one place. Protected fish include Colorado squawfish, boneytail chub, humpback chub, and razorback sucker.

But perhaps the most interesting wildlife is history ~ dinosaur fossils that give the park its name. This was home to dinosaurs such as the brontosaurus, diplodocus, and stegosaurus.

Insects: Contact park office for information.

Plant Life: Most of the dry basin-and-plateau land is covered with sagebrush, greasewood, and saltbush, graduating into pygmy forests of pinyon pine and juniper at the higher elevations. Drab as these plants may seem, they are beautifully adapted for their special tasks: conserving water, resisting extreme temperatures, and eking out a living from poor soils.

Arrowleaf balsamroot is a common wildflower that blooms in May and June. Willows and cottonwood thrive at the mouth of Sand Canyon.

Lichens grow on rocks and soil, as well as the bark of various trees and shrubs.

Facilities:

  • Within Dinosaur, Split Mountain and Green River campgrounds are developed. These fee sites can accommodate most recreational vehicles, but there are no hookups or sanitary dump stations. Drinking water, flush toilets, tables, and fireplaces are offered, and firewood can be bought at both.
  • Primitive campgrounds are located at Echo Park, Gates of Lodore, Deerlodge, and Rainbow Park. Drinking water is available at Echo Park and Lodore. Sites offer pit toilets, tables, and fireplaces. Vehicle-based camping is limited to these designated campgrounds.
  • Backcountry campsites at Ely Creek in Jones Hole may be reserved at the Quarry or by phone (801/789-2115). Backpackers may camp in areas that are at least a quarter-mile off any established road or trail.
  • The visitor center, 2 miles east of Dinosaur, offers exhibits and a short slide orientation to the park. It's open daily in the summer and weekdays only in winter.
  • Dinosaur Quarry, 7 miles north of Jensen, UT, is the only place in the park to see dinosaur bones. It is open every day of the year except January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25. Because of limited parking space at the Quarry, a shuttlebus operates daily in summer from the main parking area. During the rest of the year you may drive in directly.

Parking: Contact park office for information.

Permits: A free permit is required of backcountry campers and boaters.

Echo Park, Green River, Split Mountain, and Gates of Lodore are fee campsites. Fees range from $5 to $10 per site per night, except fall through spring when water is turned off due to freezing temperatures and there is no charge. Split Mountain ~ a group site ~ is $20 per night and requires reservations (801/789-8277).

Policies:

  • Camp only at designated sites. There is a maximum of eight people per campsite. ~ Campfires may be built only in fire pits or grate boxes. Wood, dead or alive, may not be gathered.
  • Keep pets on a leash; they are not allowed in public buildings, with hikers, and on the rivers.
  • No off-road driving.
  • Hunting is prohibited.

Hazards:

  • Swimming in the rivers is not recommended because of the hazards of cold water and strong currents.
  • Flash floods may occur in side canyons during rainstorms. Echo Park road is impassable after rain.
  • This is a desert, so carry plenty of water.

Leave No Trace: Camp stoves are recommended. ~ Nearly 2,000 acres of non-federal public land is nestled within the Monument. Respect private property. ~ Don't tread on microbiotic crust (cryptogamic soil).

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: Use USGS County series, 1:50,000; sheets 1 and 5 (of 7) for Moffat County, CO. Also helpful in getting to know the area is Echo Park: Struggle for Preservation.

The Dinosaur Nature Association (800/845-DINO) offers many publications.

Other Trip Options:

  • There are many scenic drives in Dinosaur, including Cub Creek Road, Harpers Corner Scenic Drive, Yampa Bench Road, and Island Park Road. They range from one hour to half a day, but be sure to find out what roads require special types of vehicles.
  • If you want to stay on the trails, try the High Uintas Wilderness (801/722-5018).
  • Or visit Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (801/784-3445), with over 100 miles of trails.

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