Utah's Dino Destinations
Few places in the world offer as many opportunities to see dinosaurs as Utah.
The state is home to at least 33 different dinosaur species, with more species being discovered on a regular basis at active dig sites. In recent weeks alone, scientists announced the discovery of a 30-foot-tall dinosaur with a snout full of teeth in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Museums from Ogden to St. George and from Vernal to Blanding offer all sorts of interesting ways to bone up on dinosaurs, including a chance to see actual tracks and fossilized dinosaur skin - and robotic dinosaurs that move and talk. Here's some leading places throughout Utah to discover dinosaurs:
St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm
The draw of this modern glass-and-steel structure, the newest major dinosaur attraction in the state, is well-preserved footprints, skin impressions, swim tracks, a rare sitting impression of a large meat-eater and many fossilized remains of fish and plants.
More than 2,000 tracks are remains from early-Jurassic-era dinosaurs that walked the shoreline of an ancient waterway known as Lake Dixie, which covered the area about 195 million years ago.
Retired St. George optometrist Sheldon Johnson discovered the tracks in 2000 while working on his small farm. He and his wife, LaVerna, donated the land to the city of St. George, an act that has earned the couple praise from scientists all over the world who continue to make valuable discoveries near the site and in the surrounding area.
A combination of fossil finds, for example, recently lead center paleontologists to theorize that some of the dinosaurs that lived near Lake Dixie may have fished for their food, according to Anneli Segura, coordinator at the 15,000-square-foot museum.
With financial help from Congress, the city-operated site looks far different today from the barely protected area cobbled together after Johnson uncovered the rare tracks.
"The new building [to display] the old tracks opened in April of 2005," said Segura, sitting in the office of the impressive building. "This is the real Jurassic Park and it's not just for kids but is for everyone. We have adult classes, six weeks of summer classes, a paleontology club and offer free lecture series on geology or paleontology."
Volunteers like Lee Townsend take visitors on a tour of the many types of fossils and dinosaur tracks preserved under the warehouse-like building. Another volunteer, Elisabeth Nipperus, has been trained to work on specimens found in the area. On a recent day, she was working on cleaning a fish fossil.
Curator R.C. Milner's collection of fossil fish from around the world will be on display this fall and winter at the site.
"Over nearly 36 years of being an avid fossil collector, I have managed to put together a large collection of at least 250 species of fossil fish," said Milner.
The exhibit, called "Fossil Fishes of the World," runs through Jan. 31.
The site is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Regular fees are $3 for adults and $2 for children 4-11.
For information and directions, call 435-574-3466 or log on to http://www.sgcity.org/dinotrax/.
According to the Utah Geologic Survey, there are two other dinosaur track sites, on Bureau of Land Management property, in the St. George area. The Warner Valley Dinosaur Tracksite, southwest of St. George, leads to tracks and a short trail as well as the historic site of Fort Pearce. The Washington City Tracksite is exposed in the wash below the city's pink water tank. For directions to both sites, contact the BLM's Dixie Resource Area at 435-673-4654.
Brigham Young University Earth Science Museum
Originally founded in 1976 and housed under the bleachers at what is now LaVell Edwards Stadium, the museum now is at 1683 N. Canyon Road in Provo. Admission is free and the facility is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and with hours changing on Saturdays. Call for hours. Visitors to the museum view the preparation of dinosaur fossils, touch fossils and learn about paleontology. For information, call 801-422-3680 or log on to cpms.byu.edu/ESM/information.html.
Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
If you want to see this outdoor museum on Bureau of Land Management property in Emery County this year, you had better hurry. It closes for the season Oct. 28 and will reopen sometime in March. In the fall, it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The quarry is on a dirt road 30 miles south of Price. Facilities at this national natural landmark include a visitor center with a juvenile allosaurus mount, an 8-foot camarasaurus lentus leg replica and cases with bones and teeth. There is a walk to two metal buildings that protect a working dinosaur quarry. For information, visit www.blm .gov/utah/price/quarry.htm or call 435-636-3600.
College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum
This venerable Price facility has undergone major modernization in recent years. Its paleontology side features a Hall of Dinosaurs, with a nice collection of carnivores, including a tyrannosaurus and Utahraptor. The museum, which also features an excellent archaeology wing, is at 155 E. Main St. in Price. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sundays during the winter months, from Oct. 1 to March 31. From April 1 to Sept. 30, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. Admission fees are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 65 and older and $2 for children 2-12. For information, log on to museum.ceu.edu or call 435-613-5060 or 800-817-9949.
The Dinosaur Museum
This movie-oriented private museum at the southern end of Blanding is a well-kept secret. It offers fascinating exhibits on dinosaur skin, state-of-the-art graphics and dinosaur eggs from around the world. Its curators are world-renowned for their work with feathered dinosaurs. And the history of dinosaurs and movies, including numerous classic-movie posters, makes this a fun stop. The museum has a limited season, closing today until April 15. For information, call 435-678-3454 or log on to http://www.dinosaur-museum.org.
Dinosaur National Monument
This area east of Vernal on the Utah-Colorado border once ranked among Utah's top dinosaur attractions. Built in 1957, the Quarry Visitor Center was world-famous because it was located over an active quarry. Alas, the visitor center's foundation walls began to move, forcing its closure in July 2006 over safety concerns. The National Park Service is seeking funding and making plans to reopen the facility, probably in the fairly distant future. Visitors can still see fossils by taking a half-mile walk from the temporary visitors center near Jensen. That center also offers a multimedia program on the closed quarry. For details, log on to http://www.nps.gov.
George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park
This Ogden park features an outside garden of lifelike dinosaurs that roar, something that delights and scares children. More than 100 sculptures fill the park, including triceratops, Utahraptor and a 45-foot-long, 20-foot-high tyrannosaurus. There's also a museum, a geode mine, a working dinosaur laboratory, a snack bar, special educational shows and more. George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park is at 1544 E. Park Blvd. Off-season hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the park is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sundays, when hours are noon to 6 p.m. For information or directions, call 801-673-3466 or visit the park Web site at http://www.dinosaurpark.org.
Moab-area track sites
There are three excellent places to see dinosaur tracks in the Moab area. Perhaps the best is the Bureau of Land Management's Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail, which includes an excellent self-guided walking tour book. Contact the Moab Field Office of the BLM at 435-259-6111.
Museum of the San Rafael
Located at 96 N. 100 East in Castle Dale, this small but modern museum holds a collection of mounted animals, American Indian artifacts and a dinosaur hall named after the late William Lee Stokes, a distinguished University of Utah geology professor who was responsible for many dinosaur discoveries in Utah. According to the museum's Web site, the hall includes skeletons of allosaurus, chasmosaurus and albertosaurus as well as a skull of tyrannosaurus rex, and giant footprints, claws, teeth and bones collected in Emery County. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.castlecountry. com and click on "What to do."
North American Museum of Ancient Life
This complex, including the XanGo Mammoth Screen Theater, is part of the Thanksgiving Point complex in Lehi and is one of the more state-of-the-art facilities of its kind in the world. Tours include three major halls, starting with an introduction of the world of paleontology. There are enormous brachiosaurus and supersaurus displays, many hands-on activities and ongoing fossil exhibits. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Entry fees are $14 for adults and $11 for children ages 3-12 and seniors. The fees cover museum entrance and a movie. Without the movie, entry fees are $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for kids and seniors.
Red Fleet Reservoir State Park Dinosaur Tracks
The easiest way to reach about 200 tracks along the shoreline of this reservoir 10 miles north of Vernal off U.S. Highway 191 is by taking a boat or personal watercraft the short distance across the reservoir from the boat ramp to some exposed red sandstone. The tracks can also be reached by a two-mile round trip hike. For information, contact Red Fleet Reservoir State Park at 435-789-4432.
Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum
Dinosaur enthusiasts who haven't been to this center, which replaced the old museum in the heart of Vernal, are missing a treat. Located at 496 E. Main St. and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the museum is a state-of-the-art, 22,000-square-foot structure designed to interpret dinosaur digs within an 80-mile radius of Vernal. The interior includes a giant diplodocus skeleton that is 90 feet long, a dig site simulation, a children's lab, a Jurassic Gallery, an Eocene Gallery, a short film and changing exhibits. The exhibits show off the museum's collection and interpret the science of paleontology, and children will especially enjoy visiting the outdoor dinosaur garden, which is filled with a number of models placed in natural settings around the circular building. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children. Kids 5 and under are free. For more information, visit stateparks. utah.gov/parks/field-house/.
Utah Museum of Natural History
Located at 1390 E. Presidents Circle on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, this venerable museum includes many halls and a large collection of dinosaur fossils. Its Paleontology Hall, particularly popular with children, contains some large specimens, including a stegosaurus, two allosauruses and a camptosaurus. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults, $3.50 for children 3-12 and senior citizens. Call 801-581-6927 or visit http://www.umnh.utah.edu.