Colorado Scenic Byway: Dinosaur Diamond

Northwestern Colorado's Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic byway takes drivers through landscapes that once shook under the footfalls of titans. 

Soaring red-sandstone spires rise from the canyon floor
Dramatic red-rock formations in the canyon of Colorado National Monument
A white truck pulls an RV on the road at the entrance to the monument
The entrance to Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado
White and red pictographs of the Freemont Indian culture appear to be drawings of humans on the cliff wall
Canyon Pintado petroglyphs near Rangely, CO

Dinosaurs were prolific in this area and have since left their mark on the land in the form of fossils and footprints. Long after these massive animals disappeared from the area, the Fremont Indians settled its arid landscape.

In Grand Junction, the Colorado River flows through town before crossing the border into Utah. This section of the mighty Colorado is actually slow flowing, providing a great opportunity for spring and summer float trips. Part of Colorado's Wine Country, the town is also part of a heavily agrarian region where fruit growers and winemakers produce some of the finest Colorado products. As you would expect, the landscape surrounding the area provides exhilarating views. 

• Grand Junction abuts one of the state's most colorful canyons, known as Colorado National Monument. A short detour from the byway leads you along Rim Rock Drive, a 22-mile route skirting the precipice of Colorado National Monument's deep, red and ochre sandstone gorge. Rock formations abound in this element-chiseled natural sculpture.

• As a gateway town into the state, the border town of Fruita boasts an official Colorado Welcome Center, stocked with informational brochures and a knowledgeable volunteer staff. While at the welcome center, grab a free Official State Map and Official State Vacation Guide — each has information about what to see and do in Colorado. When not gathering information on the area, take a bike ride through the terrain. Fruita is a favorite of mountain-biking adventurers — try the Bookcliffs near town for a rugged two-wheel ride. If you have dinosaur enthusiasts in your family, Fruita also hosts the Dinosaur Journey Museum, which showcases various fossils and provides in-depth information on each. 

• Traveling north, the Dinosaur Diamond byway dips between the steep walls of a scrub-brush valley. Follow the route through this gorge-studded area and, at times, you'll find yourself in the depths of a wide valley; at others, you'll be traversing along the tops of the canyons. Just south of Rangely, Canyon Pintado will present itself.

For more than 11,000 years, people have called Canyon Pintado home. The Fremont Indians were long-time residents. Through petroglyphs and pictographs, the Fremont people created numerous images of their world. No one has been able to positively identify the significance of the paintings, but educated conjectures revolve around religious and everyday themes. There are 18 information panels spread out over 12 sites within the canyon that serve to help visitors understand the artwork they see. Kokopelli, the hunched flute player, is a commonly seen figure throughout Fremont rock art and reappears along Canyon Pintado's walls.

• Because of its oil derricks bobbing up and down like drinking birds, the town of Rangely is something of an anomaly for visitors to Colorado. For a look at the inner-workings of these tireless workhorses of an oil field, there is an informational kiosk and demonstrative derrick on display along the byway. This oil-rich area is arid, with warm sun shining most of the year, but if you're looking for a little water fun, the nearby Kenney Reservoir is a popular distraction for boaters and anglers of all levels.

Before one of the United State's largest oil fields was discovered here, Rangley was a Ute trading post and, later, ranchers' territory. You can look further into the past on a self-guided, eight-site petroglyph tour near town, where you can view prehistoric rock art from the Ute and Fremont Culture tribes. Maps and information are available at the Rangely Outdoor Museum, just east of town.

• With a name like Dinosaur, you know you're in for something good. This small town's friendly citizens are used to catering to road-trippers. After all, countless people are drawn to the area's numerous fossil excavation sites. A number of streets have dinosaur sculptures dotting their blocks, and local eateries have playfully named their menu items to reflect the town's dino-connection. Thanks to its location as a waypoint into the state, Dinosaur has an official Colorado Welcome Center, stocked with free coffee, friendly faces and information about nearly everything Colorado-related.

• The region’s dinosaur connection comes to a head at Dinosaur National Monument, just north of Dinosaur, where nearly every type of dinosaur fossil is on display at the visitor center. The monument is huge — showcasing fossils, dig sites and the geology found throughout the area. And while the fossils themselves are the big draw, don't let the name of the park dissuade you from some of the other must-do activities in the area. Near the visitor center is a self-guided driving tour called Tour of Tilted Rocks. This short drive gives you an introduction to the park's natural beauty, including geology, wildlife and ancient petroglyphs. Flowing through the center of the monument are the Green and Yampa rivers, where you can hire a private company to take you on a float trip down the relatively mild rapids.

Distance: 486 miles

Suggested Time: Allow 2 to 3 daysColorado is home to 26 Scenic and Historic Byways, 13 of which are also federally designated America's Byways. Read about all 26 in our Quick Guide to Colorado's Scenic & Historic Byways; check out our Colorado byways microsite with videos, trip tips and more; or view our virtual Colorado Byways Guide.

Find out more about dinosaur museums and sites across Colorado >>

Photos: Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Dinosaur National Monument, Canyon Pintado petroglyphs.