Dinosaur National Monument celebrates 100 years
National Park in Colorado, Utah featuring special activities throughout the year
Come October, Dinosaur National Monument will celebrate its 100th birthday, and park staff as well as surrounding communities are coming together to highlight all of the features and attractions that make the monument an international tourist hotspot.
President Woodrow Wilson declared the area a national park on Oct. 4, 1915 after paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered a large amount of fossils in a quarry in northeastern Utah. Douglass was exploring the area for fossils to send back to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. After thousands of fossils were excavated and sent to the museum for study, Wilson set aside 80 acres to be considered National Park land. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the park to 210,000 acres in order to protect stretches of the Green River and the Yampa River. The monument spans across Colorado and Utah in the southeast portion of the Uinta Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains.
The fossils date to the Jurassic period — the period most highly acclaimed by Hollywood — which began about 208 million years ago, but visitors can see and touch rock layers that date back 1.1 billion years. In the canyons of the park, 23 of these rock layers can be seen.
“There are more rock layers here than in the Grand Canyon,” said Dan Johnson, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the monument.
These ancient rocks make the geology of the area a sight to behold.
“A visit to the monument is a crash course in geology,” said Sonya Popelka, chair of the Dinosaur Centennial Planning Committee. “It creates a topography and color variation that is beautiful to photograph.”
The Carnegie Quarry in Utah where Douglass discovered many of the area’s fossils is one of the park’s most famous locations. The quarry exhibit hall, which received an $8 million refurbishing job in 2011, houses more than 1,500 visible fossils. Ten different dinosaur species are represented in the quarry, but visitors may be surprised to find that a few of their most beloved film star dinosaurs are not on the rock wall, namely Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops, of “Jurassic Park.” That is because Hollywood didn’t get their dates exactly right. Those dinosaurs came long after the Jurassic period.
“We today are closer to the T. Rex than the other dinosaurs in the quarry,” Johnson explained.
Nevertheless, the species represented in the quarry do not cease to amaze visitors. For example, Allosaurus is a species that predates the T. Rex but closely resembles the massive predator. It, too, stood on two feet and had small three-fingered forelimbs. Its head was also massive, reaching lengths of 12 meters in some cases. Trails around the quarry lead visitors to other nearby fossil beds.
But the park has much more to offer than its extensive collection of ancient fossils and rock formations.
“What surprises people is the amount of human history here,” Popelka said.
Throughout the monument, petroglyphs can be seen which were created by the Fremont culture nearly 1,000 years ago. Homestead cabins are also scattered throughout the area, most notably Josie Morris’s cabin in which she lived for 50 years beginning in 1913.
“It’s a good reminder that people have been here long time,” Popelka said.
On the Colorado side of the monument, the Green and Yampa rivers provide many recreational opportunities. Rafting on these two rivers has become such a popular activity, the demand for permits allowing rafters on the sections of the rivers has far outpaced the supply. Even without a permit, there are still many sights for visitors to seek, including the confluence of the two rivers near Steamboat Rock in Echo Park. Areas along the rivers have also become prime camping locations. The Gates of Lodore near the Green River and Deerlodge Park along the Yampa River offer campsites with scenic views into valleys of the two rivers.
Events celebrating the centennial began at the end of April during National Park Week. Since then, each month has offered activities, which highlight certain parts of the monument. Popelka and others at the monument have teamed up with local communities to create these activities.
“We sent out stuff to community members asking how they want to celebrate and what they want to contribute,” Popelka said.
May was Wildlife Month, during which the many plant and animal species of the monument were highlighted. Coordinators paired with the Yampa River Festival in Steamboat to raise awareness of the endangered fish species in the local rivers.
June celebrated the monument’s rivers and its recreational opportunities. Using notes from the journals of Major John Wesley Powell, who explored the Green River in 1869 and named many of the features now famous today, park rangers arranged hikes that took visitors to many of the features Powell named.
July is History and Heritage Month, and the main attractions have been open houses in Josie Morris’s cabin. The monument also created a float for Vernal’s Fourth of July parade. The float, which features dedications to Powell, Morris and Douglass, will also be on display at Rangely’s Memorial Day parade.
August’s theme, titled Wonderful Sight Day and Night, highlights the astronomical attractions in the monument. From Aug. 12 to 16, visitors can use telescopes to view the night sky. A special telescope is also available to allow visitors to see closer views of the sun. The nightly viewings are set to be a special sight because of their alignment with the Perseid meteor shower and a new moon. Popelka said that this simultaneous occurrence will allow more meteors to be seen from earth.
“If you need an excuse to get out and look up, this is it,” Popelka said.
Diane Iverson, one of Douglass’s granddaughters, will also be at the monument to read parts of her grandfather’s journal as part of a celebration of his discovery of the monument’s fossils. The events will be running from Aug. 22 to 25.
September is Art and Inspiration Month, and coordinators will be highlighting the various pieces of art that have been inspired by the monument. The Utah Opera will be at the monument to give a special performance, though the date has yet to be determined.
The centennial events round off in October. There will be a dinosaur-themed birthday party Oct. 3 that is friendly for all ages, especially kids. Fun games and a large dinosaur cake will be available from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Quarry Exhibit Hall. The next day, the official anniversary of the monument, will feature a hike-and-drive along Harper’s Corner and more cake to conclude the main celebrations. The entire weekend will also be an employee reunion for all of the people who have worked in the park since its establishment.
Moffat County has also gotten involved with the celebrations. The Moffat County Tourism Department created the 100 Year Journey, a list of attractions available in the various communities in between Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. Audio tours have also been made available along Harper’s Corner road. Melody Villard, director of the Moffat County Tourism Association, said that she hopes their efforts increase tourism in the Colorado section of the monument.
“A lot of people are surprised that the monument isn’t just in Utah,” she said. “We are working to make it more visitor-friendly.”
So far the collective effort of Northwestern Colorado communities has brought a lot of success. Johnson reported a 13-percent increase in visitation this year, and Popelka said that the events have continued to run smoothly.
“The additional special events are meeting the goals of bringing new people in and letting people know that there are more than dinosaurs in the park,” Popelka said.
Both agreed that celebrating Dinosaur National Monument is important for current and future generations.
“We’re looking to kickstart the second century of stewardship,” Popelka said.
The need for good stewards is important if the monument is to maintain its unmatched beauty.
“We want someone’s family 100 years from now to have the same experiences as today and in the past,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Popelka said that national parks are not just scenic areas— they are areas that define the culture of America.
“They are places that protect and emphasize our shared history and heritage both nationally and culturally,” Johnson said of national parks.
Coordinators are still taking recommendations for events that fit under the coming months’ categories. To view a complete list of events, go to http://www.nps.gov/dino/index.htm.
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