Some of the largest concentrations of Jurassic era fossils in the western United States are found near Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado. An astonishing number of natural and cultural attractions bring the area’s prehistory to life whether you’re a trained paleontologist or an amateur dinosaur devotee.
Grand Junction, Colorado
As the locals will tell you, Grand Junction is a great place to play. It’s surrounded by miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, award-winning golf courses, mountains to ski and climb, and water to raft, kayak, and ﬁsh. Grand Junction is located in the Grand Valley, bounded by the Grand Mesa National Forest, the largest ﬂat top mountain in the world; the spectacular red rock cliffs and spires of the Colorado National Monument; and the rugged Book Cliffs. Located at the conﬂuence of the Gunnison River and Colorado (formerly known as the Grand River), the area boasts a moderate year-round climate that supports orchards, vineyards, and wineries. And in this era of the disappearing city center, Grand Junction’s historic downtown is a great place to shop, stroll, and grab a bite.
Museum of the West
Step into a replica of a uranium mine, admire handwoven Navajo rugs, an outstanding ﬁrearms display, and hundreds of exhibits showing life in the historic West. The extra effort to climb the four-story Sterling T. Smith Educational Tower is rewarded with a spectacular 360-degree vista and a working weather station. 462 Ute Avenue, downtown Grand Junction.
Admission charge. 970-242-0971; www.wcmuseum.org
In 1900 Elmer Riggs, Assistant Curator of Paleontology at Chicago’s Field Museum, discovered the bones of the previously unknown dinosaur Brachiosaurus altithorax on this hillside near the eastern boundary of Colorado National Monument. The original quarry site with a reproduction of the Brachiosaurus bones is a highlight of this three-quarter mile trail that interprets the geologic and dinosaur history of the area and provides great views of the countryside.
Trail open sunrise to sunset. From Grand Junction west on Broadway (Hwy 340); left onto South Broadway.
This small town is known in mountain biking circles for its legendary Fat Tire Festival, Mike the Headless Chicken legend and festival, and an enormous dinosaur in the heart of town.
Dinosaur lovers will never forget their visit to the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey, a hands-on, interactive prehistoric adventure. Stand your ground against life-like robotic dinosaurs and live through an earthquake. Watch paleontologists in the lab preparing fossil materials for museum collections and display. See real dinosaur fossils and giant cast skeletons of Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Utahraptor, and Velociraptor. Open seven days. 550 Jurassic Court, Fruita (exit 19 from I-70). Admission charge. 970-858-7282; www.dinosaurjourney.org
Colorado National Monument
Managed by the National Park Service, the Colorado National Monument is a geologic wonderland of sheer-walled canyons, red sandstone cliffs, pinnacles and spires, and a hikers paradise. Take Rim Rock Drive for a breathtaking 22-mile trip along the very edge of the mesa, from one end of the Monument to the other. Make sure you stop along the way. There are no more scenic “scenic overlooks” anywhere else. Visitors Center offers interpretive displays, video presentation, books, maps, posters. Open seven days. West entrance off Hwy 340, three miles east of Fruita; east entrance off Monument Road, west of Grand Junction. Entrance fee. 970-858-3617; www.nps.gov/colm
McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area
This 124,000 acres of canyon land stretches from Fruita, Colorado, into southeastern Utah. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), its boundaries include the 75,000-acre Black Ridge Wilderness, over 20 miles of the Colorado River, hundreds of miles of mountain biking and off-road vehicle trails, natural sandstone arches, and some world-class paleontology sites. 970-244-3000; www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/mcnca.html
Dinosaur Hill Visit
The quarry site where Chicago Field Museum paleontologist Elmer Riggs made another of his history-making ﬁnds. In 1901 he recovered one of the most complete specimens of Apatosaurus (formerly known as Brontosaurus) known at the time. A halfmile trail also takes you to the top of Dinosaur Hill for 360-degree views of the Grand Valley. Interpretative trail signs are also designed for the visually impaired. Trail open sunrise to sunset. Hwy 340, 1.5 miles south of Fruita.
Fruita Paleontological Area
This fossil-rich area of the Morrison Formation was set aside because of numerous extremely rare and scientiﬁcally important ﬁnds, including many lateJurassic bones and adult dinosaurs smaller than chickens. See an actual dinosaur bone still in the rock. Interpretive signs along the half-mile trail tell the area’s geologic story. Trail open sunrise to sunset. Hwy. 340, south of Fruita and Dinosaur Hill; take Kings View Road; continue 0.5 mile after dirt road begins to small parking area on left.
Trail Through Time
Judging by the variety of fossils recovered, a watering hole in this area of Rabbit Valley was visited by thousands of dinosaurs about 150 million years ago. Highlights of the 1.5-mile loop interpretive trail are partially exposed skeleton of a Camarasaurus, large sauropod dinosaurs and bones representing other Jurassic Age dinosaurs, Diplodocus and Camptosaurus. The ﬁrst quarter mile of the lower loop is wheelchair accessible. Check out the view of the distant La Sal Mountains near Moab, Utah. Trail open sunrise to sunset. West of Grand Junction 26 miles on I-70 to Rabbit Valley exit (#2); right from off-ramp; straight to parking area.
Interstate 70 enters Colorado at the western most boundary of McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, discussed extensively in Facet One. The ﬁrst highway exit in Colorado is access to the Trail Through Time and the Mygatt-Moore Quarry. The Mygatt-Moore, in Rabbit Valley, was discovered in the early-1980s and has yielded thousands of Late Jurassic fossils. The site contains the remains of at least six individual Allosaurus, plus bones of Apatosaurus and remains of the rare Jurassic ankylosaur Mymoorapelta. This ancient Jurassic mud hole also preserved thousands of tiny plant fragments in its rock matrix. Volunteers from the Museum of Western Colorado excavate the walls of the quarry each summer. And, here’s the best part: visitors can arrange to participate in these “dino digs”! Exit 2 from I-70. Digs on various days May –August. Fee. Slots fill quickly. 1 888-488-DINO (3466) or www.dinodigs.org for reservations. All excavated bones remain the property of the Bureau of Land Management which co-manages the site with the Museum of Western Colorado 8
Rangely and the Weber Oil Field are located in the bowl-shaped basin where Hwy. 139 runs into Hwy 64. Rangely was established in the 1880s as a ranching and trading center, but early in the 20th century, oil men arrived drilling for black gold. By 1949 Rangely was in the midst of a full-ﬂedged boom with nearly 500 wells sunk into the oil-soaked Weber sandstone formation. The oil and gas industry still drives this community’s economy. Discover the area’s prehistory, Native American, pioneer, and energy development history at the Rangely Museum on the east end of town. See everything from fossil plants, sea creatures, and fossilized dinosaur footprints to the town’s 1913 schoolhouse and a fully furnished 1950s oil ﬁeld camp house. Museum open May – October; hours vary. 150 Kennedy Dr. (970) 675-2612
Canyon Pintado National Historic District
Canyon Pintado (Painted Canyon) was occupied by prehistoric people as long ago as 11,000 years. The meandering canyon is laced with rock art, especially the work of the Fremont culture. The meaning of the pictograph (painted) and petroglyph (pecked) images is a matter of speculation, but some modern Native American groups still claim a cultural connection. Watch for rock art sites along the highway, marked with signs and pullouts. What does this ancient artwork say to you?
Head east on I-70, exiting at Colorado State Highway 139 (Exit 15) and head north toward Loma and Rangely.
Driving through East Salk Creek Canyon, you climb through farmland and rolling hills. Twenty ﬁve miles out of Loma you begin a zigzagging ascent toward Douglas Pass, the highest point on the Colorado side of the Diamond. Desert sagebrush and heat are replaced by aspen, ﬁr, and cool mountain air.
Dinosaur National Monument - Canyon Side
The Colorado entrance to the monument is just 2 miles east of the town of Dinosaur via U.S. Hwy 40. The Canyon Area Visitor Center is located in Colorado at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 40 and Harpers Corner Road. Harpers Corner Road, a 30-mile paved road, provides a dramatic overview of the monument’s canyon country, including views into the Green and Yampa River canyons and Echo Park. Campgrounds, hiking trails, historic and rock art sites, and additional roads (some unpaved, open only in dry weather, and requiring a high-clearance vehicle) are accessible from the visitor center and Harpers Corner Road. Canyon Area Visitor Center, 4545 Highway 40, open early-April through late-October; hours vary by season.
The fee charged Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day at Utah side entrance. 970-374-3000; www.nps.gov/dino