DINOSAUR, COLO. The end of the trail.
Three miles ago I passed the "Entering Colorful Colorado" sign, leaving the Great Basin state of Utah behind.
And it seems appropriate that my West Meets East journey across the Beehive State should end at a place called Dinosaur, even if it is beyond the border, since so much of the ground I've crossed over the past week is consumed by their remains.
Dinosaurs flourished in the Utah landscape 300 million years ago and continue to flourish now, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that they're all dead.
Their influence is everywhere. They're in our gas tanks. They're in our coal mines and power plants. They're in our tourist trade, as evidenced by the museums and quarries scattered all along what is officially known as the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway.
The highway, so designated by the Utah Legislature in 1998 and certified as a National Scenic Byway by the federal government in 2002, stretches from Blanding on the south to the spot I just passed at the Utah-Colorado line. At that point it becomes the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic & Historic Byway and continues on a circular route through Colorado until it connects back up with southwestern Utah.
If the dinosaurs ever returned, they'd be amazed a highway named after them! Two highways!
It was along the Dinosaur Diamond corridor that dinosaurs gave their lives to the oil and coal industry by having the good sense to die in river and lake mud that over time would get squished by heavy layers of rock that would be heated by the Earth.
Baked on high for 300 million-plus years, the remains became coal, oil and natural gas deposits.
The cars we drive are literally fueled by dinosaur gas. So are the homes we heat and the lights we burn.
They explain all this in so many words at the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal and again at the visitors center at the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument outside of town.
The fossils that are ubiquitous in the monument provide a clear lens into the deep dark past when Utah didn't have any mountains or, for that matter, people. The plants and animals that expired primarily during the Carboniferous and Permian eras have left distinct impressions of their environment. It's still a mystery why they completely died out, but it's no mystery that they existed.
Nowhere on the planet is the dinosaur way of life better preserved or protected than at the Dinosaur National Monument that straddles the Utah-Colorado border.
And nowhere is the dinosaur more celebrated than in the surrounding countryside. In Vernal, the dinosaur is king. Huge re-creations dot the landscape of the Natural History fieldhouse, not far from Dino, the huge pink dinosaur that welcomes you to town.
Thirty-six miles from Dino, I pedaled into the high plains town of Dinosaur, Colo., pop. 319, which was called Artesia until 1966 when someone suggested renaming it in honor of the nearby proximity of the world's greatest dinosaur museum.
The street names reflect just how warmly the idea was embraced. There's Brontosaurus Boulevard, Stegosaurus Freeway, Triceratops Terrace, Brachiosaurus Bypass and Diplodocus Drive.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.