Road-tripping for Utah dinosaurs never disappoints
By Geoff Griffin and Kathleen Curry
Do you dig dinosaurs? If yes, you must know that the Allosaurus is Utah’s State Fossil. According to the Utah Geologic Survey, the Allosaurus “was the dominant predator of North America during the Late Jurassic. It is known from numerous skeletons, ranging from 10 to 40 feet in length, from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in east-central Utah. Mounted skeletons, cast from Cleveland-Lloyd Allosaurs, are displayed in more than three dozen museums around the world. With sharper teeth and a more graceful build, Allosaurus rivals Tyrannosaurus rex as the supreme meat-eater of the Mesozoic.”
Want to see an Allosaurus? Utah has you covered. While there’s no shortage of ways to find ancient Utah in the outdoors, there are some pretty good options indoors as well at a number of museums throughout the state. Museums and exhibits in Vernal, Lehi and Ogden showcase some of Utah’s oldest residents.
Utah Field House of Natural History State Park
For any trip to Vernal, a visit to Dinosaur National Monument is a must, but a close second for dino-lovers is the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park (496 E. Main, Vernal, 435-789-3799, StateParks.Utah.gov/parks/utah-field-house)
The field house has so many dinosaur sculptures they had to put them outside and create a “Dinosaur Garden.” There are 17 full-size replicas of creatures that could once be found wandering the Uinta Basin, including a Tyrannosaurus that stands 20-feet tall and has 6-inch teeth. Sixteen of the statues were made by noted sculptor Elbert Porter, a Utah native who was a University of Utah professor and also produced sculptures of Angel Moroni and Joseph Smith for the LDS church.
There’s also plenty to see inside the building as well, with exhibits that cover 3 billion years of history in the Uinta Basin. Besides actual examples of rocks and bones, including some you can touch, there are also artistic renderings. The museum has exhibits about Native American life in the region, including artifacts from the Fremont Indians, who lived in the area about 1,000 years ago.
Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point
The Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point (3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi, 801-768-2300, ThanksgivingPoint.org) lets guests experience ancient Utah in a variety of ways.
For those who prefer a hands-on experience, there are more than 50 interactive exhibits. Kids (and kids at heart) can play with toy dinosaurs at the Erosion Table or go to the Jr. Paleo Lab to mold and cast their own dinosaur fossil to take home.
If you want traditional 3D, there are 60 complete dinosaur skeletons that give visitors a sense of the remarkable size and range of these prehistoric creatures. The other way to do 3D at this museum is at the Mammoth Screen Theatre, where guests can get a sense of nature in all its glory by watching 3D movies about subjects like turtles and butterflies projected onto a giant screen.
Another way to experience the museum is after dark with the “Late Night With Rex” program. Children and their parents can tour the premises with their own guide and go on a paleontological adventure.
Ogden’s George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park
The place where dinosaurs seem to be “alive” is Ogden’s George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park (1544 E. Park Blvd., Ogden, 801-393-3466, DinosaurPark.org) The outdoor park is filled with more than 100 full-size sculptures that are based on actual fossilized skeletons. The combination of artistry, robotics and sound gives guests a sense of what it would have been to walk among these giants so many years ago
Besides the acres of outdoor dinosaurs, there is also an indoor museum with skeletons, fossils and interactive media to go with the exhibits. The outdoor area also includes a playground for children, including a Flintstones area where they can climb on Dino.
The museum is also a working paleontology laboratory, and, on some days, you can actually stop by and ask the paleontologist on staff a question or two about where they find all those bones.
Indoors or outdoors, real fossils or sculpted replicas, Utah has dinosaurs galore.