After visiting Arches National Park, I involuntarily awoke at 5:00 the next morning with a splitting migraine headache. Our plan had been to wake up early and drive another 250 miles north of Moab to visit Dinosaur National Monument, but there was no way I was going to be able to manage that. I took my migraine medication then made an alternate plan for the day.
Step One of my plan was to allow the boys to sleep as late as they possibly would. That enabled me to have quiet solitude for a few hours while nursing my headache. By the time everyone woke up and got dressed, I took everyone to a Denny’s restaurant for breakfast (brunch?) around 10:00 in the morning. We had a leisurely breakfast, and I started to feel a bit better by this time. We hit the road after breakfast and actually did make the drive to Dinosaur National Monument, but we arrived in the late afternoon and only checked into a hotel instead of visiting the park. We had a low-key evening and went to bed early.
(What’s the difference between a National Park and a National Monument, anyway? Well, apparently a National Park is established by an act of Congress whereas a National Monument is established by an executive order by the President of the U.S. Besides that fact, they are essentially the same thing.)
The next day, Thursday, April 3rd, feeling completely recuperated we went to Dinosaur National Monument first thing in the morning. We were among the first visitors of the day.
At Dinosaur NM, visitors aren’t allowed to see the bone quarry without being escorted by a park ranger. In order to manage crowds, the park offers ranger-guided tours at the bottom of every hour. The first tour of the day was at 9:30, and we were able to belong to that first group which beat most of the crowd for the day.
We drove by ranger-led auto caravan up the hill to the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. The bone quarry is an excavated hillside in which nearly 1500 dinosaur bones are exposed. We saw amazing fossils of Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus, among others. The quarry exhibit hall allowed us to see the excavated rock layer in an enclosed space. In some places we could touch real 149 million year old dinosaur fossils!
These fossils were first discovered in 1909 by paleontologist Earl Douglass for the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Some fossils were so well preserved that the entire skeletal structure was intact. These full skeletons were excavated and transported to the museum in Pittsburgh, but the rest of the fossils were left behind still embedded in the wall of rock. So well preserved are the layers of rock and fossils that scientists can reconstruct how the area looked 150 million years ago. (The dinosaur quarry lies in a rock layer called the Morrison Formation.)
After our time at the Dinosaur Quarry was ended, our park ranger led us out and back to the visitor center. There we finished up the Junior Ranger workbooks and watched the park film. In total we spent only about two hours at Dinosaur NM, but all the boys really enjoyed seeing the numerous fossilized dinosaur bones. (After all, what boy doesn't find dinosaurs fascinating?)
When we were done at the park, we started our 250-mile journey back to Salt Lake City, arriving back home to our camper by dinnertime. In our three-day roadtrip, we drove a total of 775 miles and saw a whole lot of rural, uninhabited Utah. We drove through a different mountain pass each day of our journey, encountering sleet, snow, and freezing rain in the higher elevations. I was white-knuckled driving through the mountain switchbacks in the sleet and snow. So scary! But we managed to make it through the three mountain ranges intact, and we’re all the better for it. Even through scary mountain passes, sleet, snow, migraine headaches, and expensive hotels, we all really enjoyed the scenery of the trip and the two national parks that we visited.