Our itinerary for Day Three continued from the Red Rocks Amphitheatre to nearby Dinosaur Ridge, less than a mile down the road as the crow flies. We’ve seen dinosaur fossils before at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, as well as the Natural History Museums in Manhattan, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Truth be known, simple fossil exhibits aren’t as exotic to me now as they were in my youth. The displays at Dinosaur Ridge offer a different take on the subject — their fossils and samples are outdoors and still embedded in solid rock, exposed ever so slightly for visitors to see them in their natural habitat instead of being reassembled on a dais or sealed inside a glass cabinet.
When I first learned of the Dinosaur Ridge premise, I imagined entire walls filled with a panoply of complete, recognizable skeletons. That’s not quite the reality. The entrance and welcome center set the stage just like any standard museum, with the prerequisite dinosaur statues and shelves of dinosaur toys. For an added flourish, off to one side is a stegosaurus pride parade.
The natural exhibits comprise the wall along a curvy, uphill mile of Alameda Parkway heading west from the visitor center. No cars are allowed up the ridge except the official Dinosaur Ridge shuttles. The shuttle ride is free, as is their tour guide who elaborates on any points of interest and keeps you focused on the marvels you’d hoped to witness. If you’d prefer to chart your own destiny, pedestrians and bicyclists are permitted to traverse the ridge as they see fit. Our family policy is we prefer to set our own pace and avoid trapping ourselves in other tourists’ schedules or paces. In some situations this can be advantageous if you know what you’re doing and have all the same exhibit access that the tour groups do.
In this situation, it meant a stubborn one-mile walk uphill, which mostly looked like this. Open highway plains to the left of us, rough terrain to the right.
Every several hundred feet, we’d arrive at something of note. This collection of preserved footprints wins Best of Show, Dinosaur Ridge Exhibit category.
If your child thinks ancient plants are as cool as dinosaurs, this selection of imprints may make an interesting poster.
Most of the long walk was decorated with naught save rocks, stones, pebbles, boulders, and suffering grass. In a few spots, helpful signs invited more specific attention to traces that are scientifically noteworthy, easily overlooked, and nearly invisible to the untrained eye.
Closer inspection could reveal greater detail, or stump the more impatient onlookers.
Thinking about chiseling your own souvenirs out of the walls? Think again! Guests are strongly encouraged to tattletale on other guests. Big Paleontology is Watching You. Amateur geology is ungood. We have always been at war with Eastdakota.
If you survive your one-mile uphill calisthenics, congratulations! Your reward is a breathtaking sight of other Rocky Mountains in your area. If you’re a seasoned hiker (which describes none of us), this was a cakewalk. If you’re my wife and you’re still acclimatizing to the thinner air at this elevation, a nearby bench offers a broad landscape view and a moment to reflect on your husband’s boneheaded decision to skip the shuttle.
The return trip downhill was thankfully easier and faster. The rematerializing storm clouds that dogged our heels certainly encouraged a brisker pace and inspired us to catch our second wind. By the time we reconvened at the car, the threat of downpour subsided and it was still only 11:30 a.m. MDT. Our long day in the Rockies was far from over. As you can imagine, walking requirements were negotiated down to a bare minimum at subsequent stops.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]