For some fantastic scenery and dramatic driving, head for this Colorado and Utah loop, which has been designated as the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway. The 512-mile drive takes you through Grand Junction, Fruita, Moab, and Arches National Park. Along the route, you can to learn a lot about dinosaurs, see dinosaur bones, follow dinosaur tracks, and visit museums dedicated to dinosaur study.
Begin and end your drive in Grand Junction, Colorado, where you can see Grand Mesa, the largest flat top mountain in the world, and enjoy exploring downtown’s Historic Main Street, decorated with many sculptures. Look for the Avalon Theater with a sculpture of Dalton Trumbo writing in his bathtub (he was not the only Hollywood figure who found inspiration in the tub, choreographer Busby Berkeley did, as well). Have a meal at Bin 707 Foodbar, or Il Bistro Italiano.
Follow Route 6 to Fruita, where the Dinosaur Journey Museum offers real fossils, a simulated earthquake, and some robotic reconstructions. There’s a viewing area to watch working paleontologists. The Colorado Welcome Center has a great staff and lots of helpful information for your drive. Follow Rim Rock Drive to the top of the Colorado National Monument, elevation 8,000 feet. Try Hot Tomato or Camilla’s Kaffe for dining.
Continue on to Loma, and then take Route 139 toward Rangley. On the way you will go through Douglas Pass at 8265 feet. The views of valleys and peaks includes vistas of the northeast face of the LaSal Mountains, with twelve peaks towering more than 12,000 feet.
Rangley is home to the small but impressive Rangley Automotive Museum; the museum is the creation of owner Bud Striegel, who might be there to welcome you and conduct the tour, himself. While in Rangley, follow the self-drive tour of Canyon Pintado to see the wonderful rock art sites.
Follow Route 64 to the town of Dinosaur, where you will find one of the gateways to the Dinosaur National Monument. The Colorado portion of Dinosaur National monument features beautiful mountains, canyons and the Yampa and Green Rivers, but there aren’t any dinosaur exhibits in this part of the monument. To see dinosaur bones you need to enter on the Utah side.
Head west on Route 40. At Musket Shot Springs Scenic Overlook, there is a nice wooden pergola style shelter with a dozen different interpretive signs about the views and the local flora and fauna. At Jenson, Utah, Dinosaur Quarry is just that, a wonderful fossil filled extravaganza. You can also see some great petroglyphs.
At Vernal, you are welcomed into town by a big pink dinosaur. It is a photo op, for sure. Her name is Dina as in Dina Saur; we wonder if she can croon “Buttons and Bows”? See the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park, with great dinosaur dioramas and reconstructions. You can have your photo taken with any number of these prehistoric creatures. Vernal is also famous for its bank, the red bricks were mailed to town by the builders, carried there by inexpensive parcel post rates from the United States Postal Service, in 1916-1917. It is said this nearly bankrupted the USPS and caused a change in the weight per day that can be sent through the mail. For a meal, visit Antica Forma for pizza, and Betty’s for breakfast.
Follow 191 to Fort Duchesne, named for the US Army fort that stood here from 1886 to 1912. Have a hot or iced coffee at the Kahpeeh Kah-ahn Ute Coffee House. Nearby is the Ute Bottle Hollow Reservation.
Roosevelt was originally called “Dry Gulch City”, but was renamed in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. Marion’s Variety Fountain Lunch, with its nostalgic décor, is great for milkshakes, malts, and food, try the homemade chocolate cake or the strawberry banana milkshake. Don’t miss the green Sinclair dinosaur as you drive through Myton – another photo op. Near Duchesne, Starvation State Park offers Starvation Reservoir and boating and fishing.
Route 191 is known as the Indian Canyon Scenic Byway, as it leads from Duchesne to Helper. The road follows alongside Indian Creek. You get to see the arid region’s cottonwoods and sagebrush, and the towering Douglas firs of Ashley National Forest. The highest elevation is 9,100 feet at Indian Creek Pass. Then, the byway descends through the Roan and Book Cliff Formations, before you come to the open vistas beside Willow Creek, until you turn on to US Highway 6 toward Helper.
In Helper, see the Western Mining and Railroad Museum, filled with great artifacts from bygone days. Follow Route 6 to Price, where The College of Eastern Utah (CEU) Prehistoric Museum has dinosaur skeletons, fossils and artifacts.
For an amazing drive, see Nine Mile Canyon, which is paved throughout, and well worth visiting. It is between Price and Wellington. There is a petroglyph on almost every rock wall, hunters, horses and other animals. Go carefully, because of the big oil trucks, and the large dips in the road. The road is fine for cars, SUVs and vans but it is not recommended for RVs or trailers.
West of Wellington, the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry contains the densest concentration of Jurassic dinosaur fossils ever found. The quarry is in the San Rafael Swell. Since the 1920s, paleontologists have unearthed more than 12,000 fossil bones, and recorded more than 70 dinosaurs that lived and died there 145 million years ago.
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Woodside is a ghost town, with its most famous landmark being a 1950s era gas station. The Woodside Geyser which once drew tourists, no longer gushes. The town is for sale, for $3,900,000. Green River offers the Goblin Valley State Park with its fantastic army of hoodoos, the rock formations have a lot of personality. Green River also serves as your jumping off point if you want to visit the splendors of Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park. There are lodging and dining options in Green River.
Dip down to Moab and back via 191 and 128, in order to see Copper Ridge Dinosaur Trackways, which is down a rough dirt road. The persevered dinosaur footprints will stir the imagination. Get directions beforehand and go carefully.
Arches National Park has an outstanding visitors center to welcome you and prepare you for your visit. As you drive the park, you will see dramatic narrow passes and broad vistas amid the arid setting and red rocks. The route through the park is designed in such a way that those who explore the park from their car, only, have a marvelous scene continually unfolding before and around them. To the imaginative observer, the various rock formations take on sculptural identities. Stop at the various observation points to enjoy the faces and figures in stone, as well as the grandeur of the desert landscape. Park Avenue, Courthouse Towers, The Tower of Babel, The Great Wall, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Panorama Point, Skyline Arch, Devil’s Garden, and other dramatic landmarks are easily seen from the comfort of one’s vehicle, or just a few steps outside of it. Those who are able will want to hike to features such as Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, Surprise Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Pine Tree Arch.
Moab is a long and low town surrounded by the red rocks and nestled alongside the Colorado River. Visit the galleries and specialty shops. Have a meal at Eklecticafe, Desert Bistro, or Love Muffin Café, and a treat at Sweet Cravings. Nearby, Dead Horse Point State Park offers a dramatic 180-degree view of the bend in the Colorado River. For a side trip, about 27 miles south of Moab on US 191, you will come to Wilson Arch as it towers above the highway. There are pull-offs on both sides of the road to see the arch.
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Continue back toward I-70 via Route 128, which parallels the Colorado River providing dramatic scenery its entire length. Along the way, visit the Museum of Film and Western Heritage, preserving movie history in the Moab area going back to director John Ford’s filming of Stagecoach in 1939. Cisco is a ghost town but you will want to pause at Matrimony Springs not only to see the springs themselves but also the pterodactyl dinosaur tracks, footprints in the rock to the right of the gushing water. Follow I-70 eastward back to Grand Junction to complete your Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway loop.