Fruita to Dinosaur National Monument
We begin in Fruita, exploring the dino-rich digs of the Riggs Hill Trail and getting in the mood by perusing the Dinosaur Journey Museum’s life-sized animatronic specimens and fossils. Heading north along Hwy. 139, the landscape takes on an otherworldly quality as it enters Canyon Pintado Historic District, home to hundreds of Native American archaeological sites. Here, eerie-looking petroglyphs stare at us from their stone ramparts. Our progress is slow; it seems there is always another pullout or trail to explore. By the time we reach our destination, the sun is low.
For pure prehistoric pleasure, Dinosaur National Monument, about 100 miles north of Fruita, is the highlight of the Byway. The sprawling 210,000-acre monument straddling the Colorado-Utah border is where the treasure trove of dinosaur fossils that gave the region its reputation was discovered in 1909.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist Earl Douglass sensed the magnitude of the cache, and rather than extract the fossils, he chose to preserve them in their original form, a move considered to be scientific heresy in the day. Thanks to him, the area’s ancient denizens are frozen in time; a bone yard of 1,500 protruding skulls, femurs, and other fossilized remnants are now housed inside a protective quarry building where limited hands-on encounters are encouraged. The visceral sensation of touching a 149-million-year-old Allosaurus—an earlier T-rex lookalike—sends Jeff and me into boyish rhapsodies.