The Dinosaur Diamond of East Utah and Western Colorado, September-October 2016

Denise and I visited all the dinosaur-related sites that we could find along the Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway in eastern Utah and western Colorado, and while we were at it we took in some spectacular fall scenery.

Map of the Dinosaur Diamond.

Click on the map above to see a larger version.  (Google Maps)

3,018 miles in two weeks, exactly.  Our goal was to drive the so-called "Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway" and live to tell the story.  I know marketing in a name when I see it, and to some extent that proved to be true, but we did the drive and visited seven museums, including one not on the Dinosaur Diamond, devoted to the paleontology of Utah and western Colorado, with a focus on dinosaurs, their fossils and other remains.  The one museum outside the Dinosaur Diamond, the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in St. George, was all about dinosaur tracks.  Two of the sites had dinosaur fossils in situ (still in the ground):  the Dinosaur National Monument Quarry and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.  (There was a third, the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry, located just outside Capitol Reef National Park eleven miles northwest of Hanksville, but we didn't know about it until after the trip and and it may not have been open to the public anyway.)  These and the other sites displayed their fossils, or replicas when the originals were too fragile or valuable to display, and a prodigious amount of information of what is known of the dinosaurs who lived there during the Age of Dinosaurs, the so-called Mesozoic Era from approximately 245 to 65.5 million years ago (Mya).  One can assume the Better Business Bureaus of the towns we visited and stayed in while on this trip were pleased by their marketing and how it brought us there.

The Dinosaur Diamond is a loop through the southwest part of the so-called Morrison Formation, late Jurassic sedimentary rock from ~156-147 Mya, that is especially rich in dinosaur fossils, outcroppings of which are found throughout the western states from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan to northern Arizona and New Mexico.  The Morrison Formation has yielded the greatest number of dinosaur fossil discoveries in North America, and continues to do so.  These fossils were on display in the many many museums we visited on our tour and in museums throughout the world.  The Dinosaur Diamond might just as well have been extended into a Dinosaur Oval by inclusion of dinosaur sites to the north and east, but that would have been too long a drive for us.  That will have to be another trip.

Please see the map above that shows the route of our adventure.  The light red line is the route we traveled.  I highlighted in blue the dinosaur-related sites we visited and in green the natural sites, and the Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway is shown by a dashed gray line.

We began by driving to Salt Lake City and from there to Vernal UT, our first stop on the Dinosaur Diamond.  From Vernal we proceeded counter-clockwise around the loop to Fruita CO.  From there we drove to Moab by way of the Colorado National Monument and a beautiful scenic drive around the La Sal Mountains.  Because it was still, unbeknownst to us when we made our trip plans, the height of the tourist season, we had to spend a night in Monticello UT before our reservations in Moab were available.  The insane crowds at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks caused us to cut our stay short, so we began our drive homeward.  We headed home via Torrey, the beautiful Highway 12 drive over Boulder Pass and the slick rock badlands near Escalante, and St. George where the last of the paleontology museums was located.  From St. George it was a 14 hour drive home.

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