Dinosaur National Monument is located in the northwest corner of Colorado, the orange marker shows the location. It is the most important discovery of the state’s prehistory.
Millions of years ago, the territory was flat, lush and a tropical zone. Water was everywhere and the plants and animals thrived.
Climate change brought a severe drought and the waters dried up. Ancient plants and dinosaurs died of thirst. The last water hole was located in eastern Utah, near the Colorado border.
When the rivers started running again, the remains of the dinosaurs were swept along the river bed and buried in the sand. Rock and other sediment in the river flow buried the fossils for millions of years.
A rare find, the rocks and rock formations of the monument were left here billions of years ago from mountains north of the area, called the Uinta Mountain Range.
When the tectonic plates of the continents started to push together, the upheaval formed the Rocky Mountains and sent rocks rolling into the valleys below.
Many more millions of years went by and about 10,000 years ago, the first Native Americans came to live in the area. This is proven by the many artifacts found near the monument and surrounding areas.
Spanish explorers Dominguez and Escalante explored the area for Spain in 1776. In the early 1800’s, fur trapper and trader William Ashley, traveled down the Green River through the monument in search of beaver.
Adventurer John Wesley Powell and his expedition, traveled down the river in 1869, past the monument and on to the Grand Canyon.
Early settlers to Colorado found the area around the monument too rough to build homes and farm, so many homesteaded the area around the great rock formations.
Earl Douglass was the first person to find dinosaur bones in the area. This discovery was made on August 17, 1909. With word of the find, archaeologists swarmed to the area and a great quarry of remains was uncovered.
Nine distinct dinosaurs were found and remains were sent to museums around the country, of which, the Carnegie Museum became very interested in preserving the quarry.
The museum officials lobbied Washington for protection of this rare find and finally in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson granted 80 acres as a national monument.
More discoveries in the quarry deemed it necessary to add more land to the monument and in 1938, 200,000 additional acres were included. The canyons of the Yampa and Green Rivers were now protected by the monument status as well.
In 1950, the government decided to build two dams, one on the Yampa/Green River and another in Utah. This would have destroyed the fragile ecosystem of the monument.
Many groups and private citizens nationwide protested to Washington, and Congress cancelled the construction of the dams.
However, one dam, the Flaming Gorge Dam, was built further upstream of the rivers, well out of the monument boundaries.
But damage had already been done by fur trappers, settlers, ranchers and the construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam. Bear, buffalo and big horn sheep, animals that had flourished here, were gone from the monument.
Today, the terrain is still rugged, but beautiful in its wildness. Visiting the monument you can see spectacular views from Harding Hole Overlook, Echo Park and the Canyon of Lodore.
The cliff face at Echo Park displays the remains of ancient petroglyphs carved into the rock by early Native Americans. Steamboat Rock at Echo is one of the many rock formations viewed here.
Many fossils are exhibited at the Visitor’s Center at the monument entrance. To get to Dinosaur National Monument, head west on Interstate 70 from Denver and beyond.
Exit north on Hwy. 13 at the town of Rifle and continue toward the town of Meeker. At Hwy. 64, head west to the town of Dinosaur and follow the signs to the park.