Friday, June 20, 2014

US Hwy 191: Dinosaur Land — Part 1

Don't let the tacky dinosaur statue on the road leading into Vernal, UT, give you the wrong impression. It's actually a charming little town that's pleasant to be in for a couple of days.

Vernal is the largest town in the Uintah Basin of northeast Utah. Unlike many small towns I've been through on my road trips, it has a tidy, lively main street that's well appointed with greenery, flags, furnishings and a few thoughtful, tasteful memorials.

With a population of about 10,000 it merits a number of chain restaurants and box stores — including, of course, a Walmart — but it doesn't have that semi-urban spread that's often so sterile and depressing.

Vernal doesn't have much in the way of ethnic diversity, actually none that I could see. What it does have is plenty of kids, an average of 4.5 per family by my informal census. (Note: There may be a local reason for this statistic.)

Calling the area "Dinosaur Land" is a nice piece of marketing, but it fails to give credit to the area's other, equally significant attractions. The Uintah Basin is a truly remarkable -- even astonishing -- geological site, but it's hard to get people pumped up about rocks. Similarly, this is a very significant anthropological, historical and cultural area, but those topics just don't have the sizzle of dinosaurs.

Accordingly, the town's major attraction -- the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum -- is known far and wide simply as "The Dinosaur Museum."

It's atrium is dominated by a life-size dinosaur skeleton, clearly setting the tone of the facility.

There are ample displays, both large and small, with very good explanations of every aspect of dinosaur history and research.

They range from simple, fun, "kid-oriented" attractions to much more detailed, in-depth catalogs and comparisons for thinking people.

If it's about dinosaurs, it's there.

What's also present, thankfully, is some very useful contextual information about the area's geology. The only reason that the area's dinosaur fossils are so accessible is because of its geologic history.

Through an astonishing series of coincidences and events, the entire history of earth is observable at the surface within a very small radius around Vernal. Maps of rocks may not have the same appeal for many that dinosaur bones do, but for some the bigger picture is more interesting and rewarding. (Note: I'll share a lot more about the geology in my next, "Part 2" post!)

Nevertheless, it's the dinosaurs that rule the museum, both inside and outside in the gardens.

It's fun to wander around and wonder what it might have been like a hundred million years ago.

If you're especially lucky -- like I was -- you will be treated to a loud oration by a woman telling her kids to ignore all the nonsense about millions of years, because she has read that the earth cannot be more than ten thousand years old.

There's a lot more to report from my local exploration… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

No comments: