Make no bones make about it, this small Northern Utah town is unique. Located east of the Wasatch and south of the Uinta Mountains, the surrounding Colorado Plateau stretches for miles and is a gold mine for paleontologists.
Perhaps Vernal has never been on your radar. Granted there are more flashy destinations, but this corner of the state is definitely worth the drive. Delve into Utah’s natural history and discover Dinosaur Country. On the doorstep of Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal is a good base for exploring the area before camping weather arrives.
The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum quite possibly has the longest name of any state park in the US. Opened in 2004, the exhibits help visitors get the lay of the land. Murals, fossils, movies, and a dig site, put a real time spin on what went on in the Uintah Basin 200 million years ago. After wandering past dioramas, life scaled models of ancient beasts await you in the garden.
The whole town of Vernal is dino-mad. Children and adults will enjoy playing ‘spot the dinosaur’ while driving through town. Green and pink replicas wave, encouraging travelers to eat, sleep, swim, fill up the car, spend the night and get an oil change.
The War Memorial at the County Court House has monuments to World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. A US Army helicopter, sporting a shark toothed smile, stands guard. On the same block is the brand new Uintah County library. The glass and steel structure is a great place for free Wi-Fi if needed.
Perhaps the most interesting building in town is the historic Bank of Vernal, now a branch of Zions Bank. Nicknamed the ‘Parcel Post’ building, it was erected in 1917 from bricks that were mailed to Vernal from Salt Lake City. After the final shipment was made, the US Postal Service changed its regulations, limiting the weight a sender could mail each day.
Skirting the Uinta Range and heading north, a scenic drive takes you to Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Fed by the Green River, this 91-mile-long lake provides a reprieve from the surrounding geologic wonders. Heading east brings you to Dinosaur National Monument, filled with fossils, even an amateur admirer of dinosaurs will be thrilled to the hunt, searching for hints of bone buried in cliff. Petroglyphs and homesteads are reminders of human habitation in the recent past. Here the Green River cascades through numerous rapids making it a river runners' dream.
A weekend in small town Vernal may encourage you to return for further exploration. Hiking, camping, fishing, and fossil hunting will keep the whole family busy for days.
Photos in this post by Kirk Marshall