Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal, UT

Louise Speaks:  After getting a bite to eat, we once again crossed state lines into Utah to find the Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah side.  This park contains over 800 paleontological sites and has fossils of dinosaurs including a nearly complete skull, lower jaws and first four neck vertebrae of the specimen DINO.  The park was declared a National Monument on October 4, 1915.  Visitors from all over the world travel to Northeastern Utah to see the vast stretches of visible evidence that these monstrous creatures once roamed the earth.


Dinosaur National Monument spans more than 200,000 acres.  Thousands of fossils were discovered here in 1909, and 80 acres were declared a protected national treasure in 1915.  The huge expansion came later, in 1938, to protect the site’s extensive natural history.  In addition to dinosaur fossils and dinosaur footprints, this part of Utah is home to many ancient petroglyphs  and pictographs.   As stated in a previous post,  the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument is an excellent destination for accessing deep canyons along the Yampa and Green Rivers. The Colorado side offers some glorious river views, but doesn’t say much about dinosaurs.


We were more interested to see dinosaur fossils and footprints, which can be found on the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.  This is where the world-renowned dinosaur quarry is located, where dinosaur digs have uncovered a wealth of prehistory.  More than 1,500 fossils are still embedded in the cliff face here.  During the summer you can take a shuttle bus  between the Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall.   However, since it is October we were only able to tour the Exhibit Hall and Visitor Center.

Although almost all visitors come for the  main attraction, which is a steep cliff face, now enclosed within a large building, covered by hundreds of large fossilized dinosaur bones.  Some visitors choose to see a few dinosaur bones  viewed on a nearby trail.  For 50 miles north and east, the land becomes mountainous, and a large area of colorful canyons and ridges is protected within the monument boundary.  We chose to stay at the Exhibit Hall and see the bones from an air conditioned building.  The famous quarry building is located a quarter of a mile from the entrance road at the edge of the Split Mountain foothills.  Not sure if the Quarry was even open as it is October, but the Quarry  protects the source of the largest single collection of bones from the Jurassic period ever found.

As we left the Visitor Center there is a scenic drive, still within the Dinosaur National Monument, that leads to the Josie Morris Cabin.  The Josie Bassett Morris Ranch Complex comprises a small complex of buildings where Josie, a small-time rancher and occasional accused stock thief, lived until 1963.  The ranch,  was established by the Bassett family in the 1870s.  Josie grew up there, and through her family came to know a number of outlaws, including  Butch Cassidy,  who frequented the area.   From her mother’s example and from growing up on a cattle ranch, Josie learned the skills of riding, roping, shooting, cattle raising, and strong-willed independence. She was tried and acquitted for cattle rustling in her 60s and made brandy and wine from local fruit and berries during Prohibition.

A succession of five husbands made Josie notorious.  She divorced four of them, a scandalous process in those days, and was widowed once.  That husband died, most likely of acute alcoholism, although some claimed Josie had poisoned him.  She was never free from rumors.  In 1924 she built a new cabin.  While clearing brush for her new gardens, Josie became very frustrated by her long skirts which got in the way.  So, she switched to wearing pants, almost unheard of in those days.  For work she wore bib overalls; for trips to town she donned western-cut twill trousers.  Skirts were reserved for funerals and weddings.  One day while working her long, curly red hair, which she coiled on her head, became entangled in the thorns. She cut herself free with an axe and then finished the shearing job with scissors.  From then on she wore her hair short. Josie had broken with convention once again and created her own distinctive style.

Josie continued living in the cabin for over fifty years until she fell on ice and broke her hip in 1963.   She died the following year at the age of 90.   The ranch house started as a low square log cabin, with a kitchen added later.  The cabin now has 4 bedrooms.  The house is surrounded by dependent structures, such as a chicken house, outhouse, root cellar, sheds and a small barn.  A bridge provided access to the root cellar, located across the creek.  The Morris ranch complex was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 19, 1986.


We spent more time at Josie’s cabin than we did at the Dinosaur bones.  The fall colors, the location, the nearby creek, was just the cutest place.  On our way out of the cabin area, we passed Turtle Rock along with other rock formations.  Quite an interesting day.

Originally I would give the Dinosaur National Monument a C rating…the bones didn’t do much for me, but after spending time at Josie’s Cabin, I would recommend coming here and it now gets a B rating...especially in October because of the fall colors.

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