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The Dinosaur Quarry NPS logo

sketch of pick and hammer

AS YOU APPROACH Dinosaur National Monument from Jensen, Utah, you see the mass of Split Mountain and the deep, short canyons that scar its south slope near the Green River's gorge. As you cross the National Monument boundary the grand view is lost and you begin to notice details. The masses of gray shale that seem to be carelessly piled against the tilted sandstone layers are bare of vegetation. The ground between the hills and the Green River is covered with sagebrush and greasewood, while along the river itself are a few large cottonwood trees and many bushes. A sharp turn brings a change of scene as your car enters a portal in the wall you have been following. The pronounced tilt of the rocks becomes more obvious.


A final steep climb and the visitor center is at hand. This building encloses a significant part of the Dinosaur Quarry, perhaps the greatest deposit of fossil dinosaur bones known today. From this quarry have come many of the dinosaur skeletons that are seen today in our great museums. After parking, a short walk to the overlook on the southeast reveals a splendid view of Split Mountain. Between that broad arch of eroded sandstone and the quarry lie steeply tilted sedimentary rocks of various compositions and hues. Buff and gray sandstones that weather into soft shapes are separated by reddish-brown shale. Directly to the east is a section of varicolored shale whose pastel pinks, reds, greens, grays, and whites justify the name of "rainbow beds" that was given them by geologists. In the upper part of this section are hard sandstone and limestone layers that resist the erosive action of wind and water. They stand higher than the softer shales and form hogbacks that rim Split Mountain.

One of these layers can be traced across the ravine immediately east of the parking area into the sandstone ledge that forms the north wall of the visitor center. This is the famous Dinosaur Ledge.

The Quarry

The Dinosaur Ledge is famous because here the world's greatest store of fossil bones of these long extinct reptiles has been uncovered. Two groups, or orders, of dinosaurs have been discovered, with a number of different types or kinds somewhat related to each other within these orders. From the fossil bones, scientists can tell that these creatures varied greatly in size and habits of living.

Some were the size of chickens, others as big as horses, and others of such gigantic size that no land animal alive today can compare with them. Some were flesh-eaters as indicated by the size and shape of their teeth and their long sharp claws. Others were plant-eaters and again it is the structure of their teeth and feet that tell us this. The flesh-eaters were two-footed and walked on their hind legs, balancing themselves with heavy long tails. Their short front legs were used as clawed-arms for tearing at the flesh of other dinosaurs. Many plant-eaters, on the contrary, were large, heavy, four-footed beasts, often with long necks and tails. Many of the dinosaurs were land dwellers and many others lived in the great marshes and swamps of the long Mesozoic (middle life) Era of the earth's history.


Though the subclass of reptiles we call dinosaurs lived all through the Mesozoic Era, those whose fossil bones have been uncovered in this Dinosaur Quarry are embedded in a stratum of rock called the Morrison formation. This rock stratum dates from the Jurassic Period in the middle of the Mesozoic Era.

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Last Modified: Mon, Jan 17 2005 10:00:00 am PDT

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