Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge & Vernal

November 22, 2017

One day: 3 states, 2 National Recreation Area/Monument, 1 dam, 1 temple, 500+ miles!

Life was just getting stressful this month and it felt like so many major disappointments hit in the same week. I needed to get the heck of our dodge and recharge, so on a Friday afternoon, we hit the road east! Thankfully, there was no Oregon football game that Saturday, so I didn't need to plan around when Zach would be watching the game in the middle of the day. Great timing!

One of my major 30 before 30 goals is to visit every Utah temple before my birthday, so this was a great excuse to get out and visit good ol' Vernal and see as much as we could along the way. After work on Friday, I scurried home to pack up, do some quick chores, and hit the road. It's about 3ish hours from Salt Lake to Vernal, so it was pretty late once we rolled into town.

The next morning, we hit the Vernal Temple! This temple was once a tabernacle and later converted to a temple in 1997, so the exterior is still old and historic, while the inside is bright and modern. The interior actually reminded me a bit of the Provo City Center Temple, also renovated from a tabernacle.

One of the things I love most about visiting small town temples is the people inside! Small town temples are run so different from the larger ones and the people in Vernal were so kind and excited to see us out of towners. In bigger & busier temples, I often just feel like a number, but here it felt so homey & warm.

We grabbed some lunch after the temple, changed clothes and checked out of our hotel. Since we were so close to both Colorado & Wyoming, we were going to try to hit both states before dusk (which is hard to do in November and the sun goes down so early!). Within in an hour, we were in Dinosaur, Colorado. just over the state line.

Honestly, I thought Dinosaur would be bigger! Vernal is a relatively large town with a lot of amenities and since the Dinosaur National Monument is close, I assumed the tourism industry would've built up this town too. Nope! It's VERY small with just a few houses, a store, and a visitor center. Oh, and some dino statues....

Annnnnd that's about it! We stayed long enough to snap a picture of this guy and headed back to Utah. Also, can we talk about this Colorado state sign? We were wondering where all the color was....

Directly across the street, Utah's welcome sign was a bit more exciting...

Next stop, the Dinosaur National Monument! This area actually covers Utah & Colorado with entrances and trails in both states, but the Utah entrance is the only place you can see the dinosaur fossils in person. 

If you (or someone in your family) loves dinosaurs, this is a pretty cool place! Back in 1909, hundreds of fossils were located and excavated from this site and in 1915, they created the National Monument to preserve the area and protect the fossils. Most of the fossils have been excavated and live in museums across the US, but quite a few are still located in the rock at the Fossil Bone Quarry location. 

Instead of moving the fossils or rocks and possibly damaging them, the government literally stuck a building on top of the rock containing the fossils. The giant rock wall is 4-5 stories high - this picture and video were taken from the 2nd level of the building...

I loved this because you can see the fossils EXACTLY where they've been for millions of years. It helped me feel a lot more connected to the area, imaging dinosaurs walking right where I was standing, instead of the disconnected feeling I usually have at museums. Even better, you can walk up to the wall and TOUCH the bones!

And they also have some other separate displays of bones that you can touch and interact with, as well as videos and other educational displays showing all the different bones found in the area.

Once you've had your fill of dinosaur bones, you can drive just a few hundred feet farther and see some petroglyphs, still preserved after all this time!


These were made by the Fremont people and like the dinosaur fossils, I loved being in the EXACT spot where they left these drawings. Zach & I were imagining what they would've been doing in this spot, if it was a common meeting space for their tribe, etc etc. History comes alive for me if I can be in the same place and imagine those events happening right where I'm standing. Instead of being a passive observer, I find that it prompts me to ask much more thoughtful questions.

We spent about an hour at the Dinosaur National Monument, maybe a little more. If you are SUPER into dinosaurs, you could easily spend longer. They also have a bunch of hiking trails in the area, so there is a lot to explore there! If we have kids who are super into dinos, we'll definitely be back in the future. For now, I'll just stick to awkward dino impressions...

We were getting closer and closer to dusk by the time we left, so we immediately zoomed north to the Wyoming border and Flaming Gorge! If you're in the area, why not, right? Flaming Gorge looked incredible from all of the photos I'd seen. We drove north from Vernal through Ashley National Forest, finding snow along the way! Flaming Gorge is HUGE and we had no idea where to go, so we just followed a whim and headed to the dam.

There is a parking lot right by the dam building, with a dock I'm assuming gets used a bunch in the summer. There was no one else there with us, so it was incredibly quiet and peaceful.

Of course, we had to see the actual dam, so we drove a touch farther to the other side of the water. For a giant concrete structure, it was pretty magnificent.

Drove a little farther to get high above the water, hitting perfectly at sunset - took our breath away! You can see the dam at the left edge of the picture.

Again, so serene, quiet and peaceful!

We didn't get to see the more popular side of Flaming Gorge before it got dark, but we definitely plan to go back and see it! Since we were so so so so close, we drove the 10 miles north to hit the Wyoming border! I was super excited we got there just in time before it got dark!

We drove home through Wyoming and stopped for dinner in Evanston and then we were home, just about 24 hours after we'd left the previous night. I was pleasantly surprised with how much we were able to pack into one day!

I know it probably sounds lame, but this random spontaneous trip was SO fun! It was NEVER anything I would've pre-planned, so I'm glad we just started driving and had this adventure - I would've never seen these places otherwise and we were able to learn a lot of cool stuff along the way! And even though we live together and spend a lot of time together already, going on a trip or somewhere new helps Zach & I feel closer together. We just had the best time talking and laughing in the car the whole time. 

I am also a MAJOR planner (to a fault) and often have a hard time just GOING or DOING without trying to learn everything or plan every minute out first. This trip reminded me you can just GO and DO without stressing out from planning and still have a blast! We are headed to Bryce & Capitol Reef soon and other than booking hotels, I have nothing else planned and I'm sure we'll have another fun adventure just winging it!

PS: If you're interested in coming out this way, I highly recommend it for a fun day or weekend trip! Hotels are crazy cheap in Vernal (for good quality too), so if you want to stay overnight, it's an affordable option. Vernal has a ton of shops and restaurants, so you don't have to worry about being without a store or good food to chose from. Plus, the city is COVERED in dinosaur statues, which is fun to spot if you have kids! You can hit Colorado, Wyoming, dinosaur fossils, petroglyphs, Ashley National Forest and Flaming Gorge all without too much driving (and in just one day if you want to be that quick!).

Have you been to any of these places? What did you think? Do you have a recommendation for our next spontaneous trip? Should I stop doing impressions of dinosaurs?? Let me know in the comments below! 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻

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2 thoughts

  1. First off, love your sense of adventure and all the pretty pictures! And then the fossil facts and being able to walk up and touch the bones? That is awesome!