Family Adventures: Exploring New Worlds

| May 27, 2013 | 1 Comment

Explore Old Worlds: Fossils, Large and Small

By Kristen Lummis,

HH_vc_view_smallWho doesn’t like fossils? Whether you’re a girl or boy, young or old, there is something absolutely entrancing about taking a look back in time. From giant bones to tiny shells, fossils are a window into another world. While adults may look at prehistoric fossils and contemplate their own insignificance in the ebb and flow of infinite time, kids look at fossils and just think “Hey, that’s cool!”

Fossils in National Parks and Monuments

The National Park Service does an outstanding job of preserving fossils at their parks and monuments. In addition to excellent Ranger and naturalist presentations at most parks, kids ages 5-12 can participate in each park’s super fun Junior Ranger program.

While fossils have been discovered in many parks, ranging from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest, here are two parks dedicated to prehistoric discovery.

Dinosaur National Monument 

Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Colorado-Utah state line near the town of Vernal, Utah. The centerpiece of the Monument is the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall. The hall is constructed over the quarry and visitors can see about 1,500 dinosaur bones still being excavated. These bones are approximately 149 million years old, and yes, the Park Service will even let you touch some of them.

vernal dinosaurland

Nearby, in Vernal make time to visit Dinosaurland at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park. And while dinosaurs are front and center at Dinosaur National Monument, the park is also a popular destination for river rafting, hiking and viewing Native American petroglyphs.

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

We visited Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument while driving through Southern Idaho a few years ago. We were passing through the area, and looking for somewhere to stop for a picnic. Looking at a map, we found Hagerman Fossil Beds and made a beeline for the Visitors’ Center.

Inside the small center we found the Hagerman Horse, or equus simplicidens, the official Idaho state fossil as well as many other ice age mammals.

There are no dinosaurs at Hagerman Fossil Beds. Instead, the fossil record includes over 200 species of plants and animals including saber-tooth cats, bears, sloths and camels.

The fossil beds are part of an active quarry, and, while you can’t visit them independently, seasonal ranger programs allow visitors to visit the beds and get up close to many fossils.

In addition to fossils, the Visitors’ Center also has an exhibit about the nearby Minidoka Japanese Internment Camp at Minidoka National Historic Site, which is very moving and informative for adults and older children.

Find the Ice Age in the Colorado Rockies

In October 2010, Jesse Steele was driving a bulldozer to excavate a pond near Snowmass, Colorado. When he lifted the tip of his blade and saw numerous large brown bones, he knew he’d better stop digging. Jesse had unearthed a mammoth.

With the Denver Museum of Nature and Science leading the excavation, a team of scientists eventually unearthed more than 4,800 fossils, ranging in size from tiny bits of prehistoric plants to large mammals including the American mastodon, giant bison, ground sloth, Columbian mammoth, and ancient deer, horse and camel.

Through May 27th, you can learn more about the dig and these giant Ice Age creatures at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

SNW_cover_PRESS-778x1024In Snowmass, the Ice Age Discovery Center has exhibits and information geared toward grade school kids.

And to learn more at home, check out the book Snowmastdon! Snow Day Adventure by Amiee White Beazley. This adorable picture book includes facts about Ice Age and the animals of that era in a lovely story about friendship.



Petroglyphs: The Ancient Art of Rock Carving

By Erica Lineberry,

As hard as the National Park Service works to help preserve fossils for future generations to enjoy, they do the same with other prehistoric endeavors, such as petroglyphs.  Petroglyphs are ancient images and symbols carved onto stone.  The majority of petroglyphs are dated between 10,000 and 5,000 BC, and have been found on every continent except Antarctica.  There are numerous places in North America where one can view petroglyphs, many in kid-friendly, easily accessible areas.  Here’s just a few…

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument is a day-use park that offers visitors the chance to explore hundreds of petroglyphs scattered throughout a beautiful southwest desert backdrop.  There are four main areas of the park – Rinconada, Boca Negra, and Pedras Marcadas Canyons, and the Volcanoes.  Hiking trails range from half a mile to 2.2 miles in length, and range in difficulty from easy to moderately strenuous.

San Rafael Swell, Utah

With hundreds of ancient rock art sites situated just a short walk from maintained gravel roads, this area is a perfect destination for budding petroglyph hunters and their families.  If your family finds yourself in this area, be sure to also check out Nine-Mile Canyon, which is sometimes referred to as the “world’s longest art gallery.”

Judaculla Rock, North Carolina

Here’s one for the east coasters!  Judaculla Rock, is considered a sacred site by the Cherokee Indians, whose petroglyphs were created by a slant-eyed giant of the same name, according to Cherokee legend.  What do Judaculla’s petroglyphs mean?  It seems as though everyone has a different hypothesis – everything from a map, peace treaty, battle plan, religious symbols, or some sort of Rosetta Stone has been offered up in explanation.

Looking for a simple craft idea to do with your kiddos?  Make your own petroglyphs with nothing more than a white crayon, white paper, paint, and a paintbrush!  First make a drawing with the white crayon, then paint over it with the paint (but not too thick!).  The paint won’t stick to the wax in the crayon, leaving you with your own homemade petroglyphs!  This would be a great way to document the petroglyphs that your family has seen, read about, or researched, as well as a great avenue for letting the creative juices flow!

Petroglyphs are a unique example of preserving ancient culture and civilizations.  Despite being weathered and aged for thousands of years, petroglyphs are actually quite delicate and can be damaged very easily.  For this reason, be sure that whenever you go petroglyph hunting you leave no trace and take only pictures!


Photo by Mark Stephens at

Photo by Mark Stephens at

Best places to stargaze with your kids

By Jen Charrette,

When we moved into our home in Ridgway, Colorado we were informed by our building inspector that we needed to make changes to our outdoor lighting due to dark sky building code policies. Although it was a pain, I thought it was so cool that we lived in a place that went above and beyond to preserve a dark sky for stargazing.

Introducing kids to stargazing can be a fun experience for the entire family. Whether your kids are just curious budding stargazers or on their way to being young astronomers, every kid should examine our dark skies while they are still around.

On a clear, moonless night your child has a lot to go looking for in the sky. They can try to pick out some of the 88 constellations or view the thousands of stars. Then there are the five Milky Way planets, star clusters, a spiral galaxy, the occasional comet, and even the International Space Station to keep them busy.

To get started, star maps or charts that show the location of each night sky object are available online or found in astronomy magazines and books (try your local library). We have the Starmap, $5 on iOS. The main feature of this app is its virtual sky display. This is a re-creation of the sky above you, calculated by your GPS coordinates. It shows you where the stars, moon, and planets are.

Your Backyard

If you are lucky enough to live under a dark sky (or at least not have street lights or city towers around you) you can simply head outside with your kids and enjoy the stars. No need to fly across the country to start. Just head to the backyard and start exploring.

To check out how light or dark your night sky is go to the dark sky google map.   If all you see on the map are bright lights you may need to go camping for the weekend to get an accurate picture what our sky has to offer at night.

If you do head out on a trip here are 5 great places to stargaze in in the South, West, East and North.

Borrego Springs
Southern California

While California has a lot going for it, dark skies are usually hard to find. But Borrego Springs is surrounded by a vast state park has worked hard to protect its night skies. The town is actually a designated International Dark-Sky Community.

Cedar Breaks National Monument
Southwest Utah

Actually anywhere in southwest Utah is amazing for stargazing. We recently spent three nights outside Escalante, Utah and the sky was ‘on fire.’  Cedar Breaks is actually working to reduce their light pollution and the park’s elevation of over 10,000 feet also enhances night viewing. “The higher you are, the less atmosphere you have to look through to see the stars,” says Bob Parks, executive director of the Tuscon-based International Dark-Sky Association (, which certifies recreation areas and communities that have minimized light pollution.

Big Bend National Park
Southwest Texas

Although just recently designated a Dark-Sky Park, Big Bend on the Mexican border has long benefited from its isolation. Still, park managers drastically reduced Big Bend’s energy consumption and lighting, making it even better for stargazing. “It’s probably the darkest park in the United States, the lower 48 at least,” says Park.

Cherry Springs State Park
Northwest Pennsylvania
Cherry Springs Park is one of the darkest spots east of the Mississippi River. A local astronomy club helped the state recognize the importance of minimizing light pollution, making it one of the first parks to get dark-sky recognition. For those of you in the Midwest and East this seems like a great place to view the sky close to home.

Glacier National Park
Since Glacier National Park is miles from any major town they have very dark and pristine skies. The neighboring Waterton Lakes Park in Canada, is also working to keep light pollution to a minimum.

Enjoy and remember to leave the flashlight at home for this this trip!


Category: Blog, Outdoor Kids

About the Author ()

Kristen Lummis, Alyssa Erickson, and Jessie Harrold are The Adventure Moms, blogging on family-friendly adventure here at Got questions for the Adventure Moms? Leave a comment below or contact them at their websites: Kristen Lummis,, Alyssa Erickson,, and Jessie Harrold

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