Work on the badly-needed new visitor center and quarry exhibit hall at Dinosaur National Monument is getting underway, and that has prompted some changes for visitors to the park. Here's what you need to know before you visit the area.
For a number of years, one of the popular destinations in the park was the Quarry Visitor Center, where visitors could see scientists at work on an estimated 1,500 dinosaur bones exposed in a cliff face. Serious structural problems with that building resulted in its closure in 2006, and work is about to begin on a new facility, which is expected to open in the fall of 2011.
During the construction, a good place to see dinosaur bones in situ is along the half-mile Fossil Discovery Trail, but you'll need to plan ahead. Access to the trail requires driving through the construction zone, so for safety reasons, the park is providing a free shuttle from a temporary visitor center to and from the trailhead. The temporary visitor center is located just outside the park in Jensen, Utah. Access to the Fossil Discovery Trail by means other than the shuttle will not permitted.
The free shuttle will be available during the morning hours four days a week (Thursday-Sunday) in the spring and fall beginning April 10. From May 12 through September 6, the shuttle will be available daily during the morning hours. You'll find a detailed schedule for the shuttle on the park website.
Until the new visitor center is completed, the Utah section of the park is operating from a temporary facility, located on State Route 149 at 2430 S 9500 E, Jensen, Utah. The staff advises, "Look for the big green dinosaur in front of the building." This is the part of the park to visit if you want to see fossils.
It's also useful to know the park has a second visitor center, located across the state line in Dinosaur, Colorado. The Canyon Visitor Center "is the main entrance to the canyon area, the scenic vistas, Echo Park, and the Yampa Bench Road. There are no fossils in the canyon area of the park."
If you're not already well-acquainted with the area, you'll find several useful maps of the park and surrounding area at this link.
Although some modern travelers view navigation by any means other than GPS or on-line maps a throwback to an era not too far removed from the time dinosaurs still roamed the earth, the park staff notes, "Many internet-based mapping services do not have correct locations for Dinosaur National Monument’s visitor centers." The park website has detailed directions to both visitor centers.
There's lots to do in this park in addition to viewing fossils, including hiking, camping, scenic drives and river trips. Dinosaur National Monument features some of the darkest night skies in the country, so it's a prime spot for star gazing. You'll find plenty of information to help you plan a visit on the park website.