As I arrived in Vernal, Utah, it was unmistakable that this was a town devoted to dinosaurs. Dinah, the beloved bubble-gum pink mascot of Vernal, stands on the eastern edge of town, her eyes scanning US 40, watching for tourists to arrive. Dinah has stood here for about a decade. Before that, she held a sign for the Dine A Ville Motel, which used to be just down the street, in downtown Vernal.[tmt_info =””]Vernal offers enough dino-excitement to satisfy any kid, or adult. The biggest draw is Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border. Closer to town, there’s the Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, which includes life-sized replicas of dinosaurs. Vernal also makes up the northern point on the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, a scenic byway that connects Vernal, Price, Moab, and Fruita and Delta Colorado.[/tmt_info]
My day began at another historic motel in Vernal: the Sage. Actually, my day began around 3 a.m., thanks to the people smoking and drinking outside their rooms. Thank goodness my door had a good deadbolt. Oh wait, it was broken. On the plus side, the Sage was one of the less expensive motels in town, and the air conditioner successfully drowned out the partiers, allowing me to get back to sleep.
When my day finally began, I took a quick walk around downtown Vernal, to get a feel for the place. The Sage Motel’s sign probably used to have a more classic neon look, but it’s lost some of its glimmer.
Fortunately, the Vernal Theater’s signage is still impressive. The Vernal Theater has been showing films since 1946, and remains open (as of 2010). It underwent renovation in 1984, but the marquee stayed the same.
Just down the street from the theater, Cobble Rock Park provides some green space, surrounded by the old walls of the Cobble Rock Gas Station. Back in 1930, the station offered the only women’s restroom for 250 miles, between Craig, Colorado and Heber, Utah.
On the other side of Vernal Avenue, the Zions Bank building has quite a history. It was built in 1916, and at that time was known as the Bank of Vernal. Its exterior walls are made of 5,000 bricks, and each one arrived by mail from Salt Lake City. The 50-pound bricks cost 7 cents each to mail, and the shipment took four days, by way of two different railroads, a horse-drawn wagon, and a ferry. Shipping the bricks as freight would have cost twice as much.
As I walked around downtown Vernal, I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my day. My original plan was to drive through Nine Mile Canyon, then find my way to Skyline Drive, which runs down the spine of the state, through the Manti-LaSal National Forest. Earlier in the trip, though, I discovered that Skyline Drive was still covered in snow.
I decided to end up in Salt Lake City for the night. The weather was rainy, cloudy, and somewhat cold, so I figured it didn’t matter which way I traveled to get there, the day was going to be a washout. Eventually I settled on a route that would head northward into the Flaming Gorge area, then into Wyoming, and over to Evanston. From there, I would head south, back into Utah, over the Mirror Lake Byway, and eventually into Salt Lake City. This day would have to be a scouting mission — I might not take any good pictures, but at least I’d learn the lay of the land for my next visit.