photography road trip Utah

Dead or Alive: Dinosaurs and Pronghorns on U.S. 40 northern Utah and Colorado

Vernal, Utah is dinosaur country. Many of the dinosaurs seen in museums around the world were specimens collected in the Uintah Basin. Vernal is the Utah gateway to Dinosaur National Monument.


Dinosaur on U.S. 40, the main street in Vernal, Utah.

Dinosaur fossil beds were discovered near Vernal, Utah in 1909 by Earl Douglass, a paleontologist working for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He and his team excavated thousands of dinosaur fossils in the area and shipped them out of Utah to the museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the 80-acre dinosaur quarry in Utah as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915. The park area was expanded to over 200,000 acres in 1938 with most of the current National Monument area in Colorado. Dinosaur National Monument also includes much of the Green River and Yampa River canyons. These rivers are two of the main sources of water flowing into the Colorado River in Utah.

Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum

In 1948 the Utah Field House Museum opened in Vernal, Utah as an educational and research center near the Dinosaur National Monument.


A dinosaur garden at the museum has 17 full-size sculpture replicas of dinosaurs.

This was my second trip through Vernal, Utah and I have not had the opportunity to visit either the museum or Dinosaur National Monument.

Vernal is a small town loaded with chain hotels with Marriott, Hilton, Best Western and IHG properties.

A three day rodeo festival in Vernal starts today.


Dinosaur Country

Dinosaur, Colorado

Heading east on U.S. 40, the Colorado state line is 30 miles from Vernal and the next town is Dinosaur, Colorado. There are a couple of entrances to Dinosaur National Monument from U.S. 40 in Colorado. Dinosaur, Colorado has few lodging options and is an eyesore with a junk yard filled with hundreds of trashed vehicles being the first impression of the town.

U.S 40 seemed like the loneliest highway in America as we drove through Colorado in the last hours of sunlight.

Kelley and I had spent the day looking for large mammals in the Utah wilderness. We had seen dozens of road kills but no living wildlife larger than a prairie dog. I guess that might be why a place like Dinosaur, Colorado has a vehicle junkyard.


Bone fragments underneath a posted map at a Colorado U.S. 40 rest area.

The road of U.S. 40 rolled across the high elevation Colorado grasslands and scrub landscape.


U.S. 40 northern Colorado.

Suddenly Kelley called out, ‘”Quick! Grab your camera!”

A pronghorn, often called an antelope, was standing by the road.


The fences on both sides of the highway were not much of an impediment to the pronghorn.


Pronghorn leaping over the roadside fence.

Kelley may not be into the history of the American west or dinosaurs, but when it comes to living animals, my wife who worked twenty years in animal hospitals before becoming a public school teacher, loves seeing wildlife.

She parked the car off the side of the road and we went hiking across the grass.


Pronghorn track.

The fields were teeming with pronghorns. These grassland mammals are indigenous to the central U.S. and Canada and are considered to be the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere.


Three female pronghorns with five fawns.


The pronghorn population had been reduced to about 13,000 by the 1920s due to hunting. The population is now estimated to be between 500,000 and 1,000,000 in North America. They are a game species for hunters these days and I saw a mounted pronghorn head in the Holiday Inn & Suite Craig, Colorado with an advertisement for the local taxidermist.


I prefer to keep the pronghorns I shot yesterday mounted on my blog and carrying on a free roaming life for another day, hopefully to only be digitally shot by other eco-tourists.


Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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