Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail


of an Exhibition

by Megan Keller

Published on July 04, 2011, Modified on July 05, 2011

  • Description:

    Although not really a museum, I recently was able to experience the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail just outside of Moab, Utah on public lands operated by the Bureau of Land Management. This interpretive trail of about a half-mile round trip features interpretive panels which point out elements of the landscape as well as dinosaur fossils.

    As museum professions, we preserve objects for the public. At times, we also preserve these same objects from the public. The individuals who long to touch artifacts with their oily hands and those who would even try to take souvenirs or, even worse, sell objects on eBay. Being so used to the elements which protect and preserve artifacts, especially an item like a dinosaur fossil, it is an unusual experience to view objects alone in their natural environment.

    The trail is fairly obscure in terms of popularity. I only learned of the trail through Internet searches and the directions include turning just after a specific mile marker on the freeway. I believe you can also learn of the trail through visiting the Bureau of Land Management office. Only once you turn off the main highway do you see a sign for the Dino Trail. After 2 miles on a dirt road you come to the trail. Based on the sign-in sheet provided at the site, there were two visitors yesterday and I was the only visitor so far for that day. This is in June during the tourist season which fills nearby Arches National Park.

    The trail points out the highlights of the area including several dinosaur fossils still encased matrix. The introduction panel states, “There are no guards or fences here. You, the visitor are the protector of this valuable resource. Remember – leave only footprints – take only photographs.” On many of the panels next to the fossils themselves, the visitor is reminded to stay on the trail or that they are the stewards of the site. In one instance, the lack of an object is brought to the viewer’s attention as an example of previous looting.

    This interpretive trail is taking a big chance in illuminating the locations of the valuable non-renewable resources of dinosaur fossils in such a remote location. In pointing out the locations, the fossils become even more susceptible to looting or damage. With no supervision whatsoever and only a few visitors during the busy tourist season, the visitor becomes responsible for the safety and well being of the fossils.

    The trail is, in my opinion, a complete success. Although I do not know the year in which the interpretive trail was created, it does appear to be several years old. In this time, all the fossils are still in their original locations and seem to be in excellent condition. I did not see any tagging or misuse of the trail. The fossils would still remain encased in rock without the trail. The interpretive trail points out these items and makes them accessible to a larger audience. I know I would never have been able to make out the dinosaur bones without the didactic interpretive signs. I am sure other visitors feel the same way.

    Many trails like this may exist throughout the United States, and I just do not know about them. I am in no way a paleontologist, but was just excited about the risk this exhibit took which seems to be a success. Although I have never been to Dinosaur National Monument, I imagine it to be similar to this, but on a larger scale with more supervision. Until Jurassic Park becomes a reality, trails like this are the only way to see dinosaurs in the “wild”.

Latest Comments (1)

Thanks for sharing this!

by Alysia Caryl - September 02, 2011

What a great example!

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