From Fossils to Conservation

Dinosaur National Monument

One of the most unique National Parks or Monuments in Utah, Dinosaur National Monument, is home to an enormous fossil quarry. It was also the center of an environmental controversy over reclamation and dam construction in the 1950s.

Dinosaur National Monument consists of over 210 acres of mostly uninhabited land owned by the federal government, 91% of which is managed as Recommended Wilderness. Dinosaur National Monument is unlike the other National Parks Service land in Utah. It is home to almost 26 full dinosaur skeletons from over 10 different species. These fossils were discovered in 1909 by Professor Earl Douglass from Carnegie Museum, who was responsible for excavating the fossils in the quarry. Given that these fossils are 150 million years old, the area was declared a National Monument in 1915 in order to protect the fossils and keep the quarry intact. In 1938, the land of the national monument was expanded to protect the canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers. The National Monument land is not only home to these dinosaurs, but it was home to prehistoric people and archaeological sites as well.

Fremont Indians inhabited the area for hundreds of years (approximately 200-1300 AD). They have left their mark on the territory, similar to the dinosaurs. There is an abundance of petroglyphs and pictographs within the monument boundaries. Many of these ancient drawings are of animals and other things the Fremont Indians would have interacted with. It is unclear as to why exactly these people left their mark in this way, but they have stood the test of time to show us of their existence in eastern Utah. Other tribes have also inhabited the area since this time, including the Ute and Shoshone tribes. Prior to 20th excavation, the area was also traversed by the DomĂ­nguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776.

In the early 1950s the Bureau of Reclamation proposed the building of a dam on Echo Park, which is located on the Green River in the National Monument. Many conservationists fought against this proposal because land owned by the National Park Service was not allocated for development. Fortunately for the National Monument, the Council of Conservationists were able to shut down the proposal after six years and dozens of publications. Dams were then built in Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge to avoid being on any National Park Service land, particularly Dinosaur National Monument. Today the National Monument stands as a reminder of extinct prehistoric creatures, ancient civilizations, and environmental conservation.


Dinosaur National Monument East Entrance
Dinosaur National Monument East Entrance Dinosaur National Monument was established in 1915. This is the east entrance of the National Monument from August 2016. Visitors pass by this sign when coming north from Jensen on highway 149. This is the nearest entrance to the Quarry and Quarry Visitors Center that were reopened to the public in 2011. Source: Nicole Anderson Creator: Courtesy of Nicole Anderson Date: August, 2016
View from Sound of Silence Trail
View from Sound of Silence Trail This is taken on the Sound of Silence Trail. The trail is located just north of the visitors center and quarry. The photograph is from August 2016. It showcases the desert landscape of the National Monument. Source: Nicole Anderson Creator: Nicole Anderson Date: August, 2016
Geologists in the Quarry
Geologists in the Quarry This is the quarry wall in the National Monument. It was first discovered by Earl Douglass in 1909. There were almost 26 full skeletons and over 300 individual bones found in this quarry. The Quarry building was constructed in the 1950s after Mission 66 provided more funding for the National Monument. Source: Creator: National Parks Service Date: 2014


11625 East 1500 South, Jensen, UT 84035


Nicole Anderson, Brigham Young University, “From Fossils to Conservation,” Intermountain Histories, accessed February 24, 2024,