Southern Utah is home to some brilliant desert scenery. While certainly beautiful, it can be difficult to imagine the landscapes as anything but the sun-drenched hills and valleys, dotted with dry brush and framed by red sandstone cliffs. However, millions of years ago, this land was very different. For example, in the late cretaceous period (somewhere around 75 million years ago), half of Utah was under water, while the other half was part of the island continent of Laramidia, the western portion of what would eventually be North America.

Before that, during the early Jurassic period 200 million years ago, Southern Utah consisted of a floodplain 2, where lakes, streams, and mudflats would form and evaporate on a seasonal basis. These waterways were frequented by dinosaurs, who left behind evidence of their existence in the form of tracks made in the soft mud and river sediments. Many of these tracks were preserved after the water all dried up, and can be seen today in a number of track discovery sites around St. George, UT.

Here are two of the best places to see them for yourself:

Warner Valley Dinosaur Track Site

In 1982, a site containing dinosaur footprints was discovered by Gary Delsignore while he was exploring Warner Valley. Upon initial examination, the site was thought to have around 160 tracks. However, it was reevaluated in 2010, when paleontologists discovered the site actually contains over 400 tracks, and 23 trackways (which are a series of tracks left by the same animal) 3.

While they cannot know the exact species of dinosaur just from footprint alone, paleontologists use the sizes and shapes of the tracks to tie them to groups of dinosaurs who may have made them. The tracks at Warner Valley fall into two types called Grallator and Eubrontes, and paleontologists have theorized what specific dinosaurs may have made them.

All of this information and more can be found on panels at the site, which is accessed by a short hiking trail near Hurricane, UT. The site is free to visit, and most of the tracks are congregated in one area indicated by signs. The trail is under a half mile round-trip, very easy to navigate, and consists of a short, steep hill before reaching the site itself. It’s a great hike to bring your kids, who will love the sense of exploration and discovery as you come right up to the tracks themselves.

Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm

What better way to escape the summer heat than a dinosaur museum? The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is located in St. George, UT, and contains a multitude of well-preserved tracks and other fossils. It was discovered in 2000 when Dr. Sheldon Johnson was leveling a hill on his land, and found tracks preserved between the layers of sandstone. He and his wife worked to protect the location, and eventually donated the tracks and land to the city of St. George.

The museum was built on top of the site. While a bit on the small side, it hosts thousands of tracks and is full to the brim with fun and educational things to see and do. It includes a preparation lab where trained volunteer’s clean fossil samples, and a classroom with rotating exhibits and activities.

Viewing of the tracks themselves begins with a short video about the site and what’s to be found there. After that, visitors are free to stroll around a boardwalk built over the original track surface. There are several plaques along the path to explain what to look for and where (some of the tracks can be hard to spot without the helpful guides). Besides the footprints, there are also marks identified as tail dragging, swimming tracks, and even prints from dinosaurs sitting or lying down.

Towards the end of the boardwalk path there are many other fossil types and replicas to view and learn about, and there are some beautiful murals throughout the facility. The museum is staffed by friendly volunteers who are happy to share their knowledge about the site and the species that lived there long ago. All in all, this museum is a fun and intriguing peek into what life may have been like when dinosaurs roamed the land.

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  1. & 2. Information taken from panels at the Warner Valley Dinosaur Tracks Site

 

 

Southern Utah is known for Zion and Bryce National parks but there is so much more to do and see, especially with children. The area is filled with wonderful neighborhood parks, tons of history and historical areas, several State Parks and even ghost towns. It seems like there is a park, playground or pond in almost every area of the Southern Utah. Washington County actually wants to have a park or pond accessible to every residential area that is within walking distance and they are doing a good job of providing that. Here are just a couple of our favorite parks/playgrounds for the kids.

Downtown St. George City….

Dixie Rock at Pioneer Park

Every visit to Southern Utah should include a visit to Pioneer Park (a.k.a. Dixie Rock). This is actually a city park that encompasses 52 acres of incredible hiking, rock climbing, slot canyons and caves. There area areas to have an afternoon picnic, BBQ or just to take a well-deserved rest scattered throughout the park. From the top of the Dixie Rock you can see the entire St. George valley, White Dome, Zion National Park and Arizona. While you are there don’t forget to hike up to Scouts Cave and try to go through the “slot canyon”. Both very popular places in the park.

Red Hills Desert Garden

Right next to the Dixie Rock is one of the newest parks in Southern Utah is Red Hills Desert Garden. This is the first desert conservation garden the state of Utah. The park includes a man-made stream with water pumped directly from the Virgin River with 6 native fish species as well as over 170 species of drought tolerant plants. There is a replica of a slot canyon that towers well over 7 feet in the air. While walking around in the slot canyon you will find a fantastic area where there are acrylic windows placed in the faux rock. These windows allow you to get a peak at the aquatic life living in the river. Parts of the river are made to be crossed because you will find huge rock stepping stones to navigate over to get to the other side. There is plenty of seating scattered throughout the park as well.

Town Square and Carousel

Just south of the Dixie Rock is the Town Square with a splash pad, lazy river, a vintage carousel and the Children’s Museum. This is a truly wonderful town square and park. The main attraction is the lazy river and the splash pad. The man-made river meanders through out the greater portion of the park. There is a rock waterfall on the north end of the river that flows into very shallow water where the kids can bet their feet wet but still be safe. There are also large sitting rocks in the middle of the river to relax on. You can’t miss the splash pad for great summer fun. This is the largest splash pad in Southern Utah and is usually filled with kids cooling off. To the west side of the park is the Vintage Carousel where people of all ages can go for a spin on their favorite horse or in a carriage seat. There is ample seating, shade and picnic areas, bathrooms and huge grass areas throughout the Town Square as well.

The Children’s Museum

Just next door to the town square is the Children’s Museum. The museum is fairly new and a favorite in the community. It is free for all children to enter and explore. The museum encompasses 3 floors and 10,000 square feet. Your children will be able to explore everything from prehistoric animals, milking “cows”, pretending to be a knight in a castle, a mechanic working on cars and so much more. They have a sports room, science, music, art and theater exhibits as well as an airport where every child can be the pilot! The Children’s Museum also has special exhibits throughout the year and is a favorite place for most of the local children to be free and creative.

Thunder Junction Park

The newest park on the south west side of St. George is Thunder Junction. Thunder Junction is the only all abilities park created for children in Southern Utah. Thunder Junction features a volcano pavilion for parties, lunch, etc. If you use the BBQ grill, then the volcano actually starts smoking to simulate an eruption! This prehistoric themed city park has everything from splash pads to water features to a vast amount of playground equipment. Everything in the park has been made so that a handicapped child can still have just as much fun as anyone else. There are handicapped accessible ziplines, swings, water features as well as a train ride that circles the park and crosses the park to give everyone a fun scenic tour of the park. There is a massive dinosaur with a double slide built in the tail and a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull that sprays water out of its mouth. Thunder Junction is truly a unique park for everyone of all ages.

Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum

The Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum occupies more than 35,000 sq. feet where visitors can see over 300 different species of animals found throughout the world all displayed in their natural habitat. Different parts of the world make up the displays. There is the mountains of Asia, the plains of Africa and the forests of North America. One of the main highlight of the museum is the 2-story mountain. The mountain has waterfalls and speakers that give the sounds of the animals and even a periodic thunder and lightening storm can be heard. You will see preserved animals such as mountain lions, elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep, buffalo, crocodiles, giraffes and even a snarling cheetah as well as a vast variety of birds. There are also 100’s of insects and a wonderful butterfly collection. There is also a large kid’s room that has a full-size tree house, reading nooks, climbing area, a camping play area and a large variety of animal pelts, fur and horns that the children can touch and explore. Just outside of the museum is one of the best information and gift shops in the area.

The National parks are a must see but don’t forget about visiting the local parks as well.