Dinos and Dunes in the Colorado Desert - June 6, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips


Dinos and Dunes in the Colorado Desert

Venture with us into the Colorado desert to unearth the mysteries of the enormous beasts that once roamed this very same ground. On this six-day road-trip adventure, we’ll dig into the prehistoric past of this wild and rugged terrain, traversing canyons, mountains, deserts, and dunes as we go.

From the T. Rex pajamas of our childhood to the pack-hunting brilliance of the Jurassic Park raptors, dinosaurs hold a special place in the human imagination. But many of us don’t realize that they roamed right here in America’s backyard. The stately Stegosaurus, gentle Apatosaurus and mighty T. Rex all rumbled through the rugged Colorado landscape, and we’ll explore the mountains and plains, shaped over billions of years by cataclysmic geological activity, that were once their terrain.

This trip is best for people who are...

  • Craving a uniquely Colorado adventure—high-altitude landscapes, storied towns once run by gunslingers of the Wild West, and, of course, dinosaurs.
  • Ready to walk or hike 3 to 5 miles a day, and to crawl and dig their way into the past while getting sweaty and dirty in the great outdoors.
  • Up for some long drives through stunning mountain landscapes, with plenty of stops along the way.
  • Eager to make the most of each day. These dinosaurs have had the luxury of lying unperturbed in the same place for millions of years, but we’re covering a lot of ground so we won’t be so idle.

 Over the course of this trip, we’ll dig for prehistoric fossils and analyze the footprints of school-bus-sized dinosaurs under the vast Colorado sky, accompanied by the author of not one, but two dinosaur encyclopedias. We’ll also climb to the tops of the tallest dunes in North America, soak in naturally heated mineral pools, and explore a town known for UFO sightings.


  • Digging up dinos: Unearth the fossilized bones of Allosaurus (a T. Rex-like carnivore) and Apatosaurus (among the largest animals to ever walk the Earth) on a one-day dinosaur dig at Mygatt-Moore Quarry.
  • Remote hot springs: Feel your stress evaporate while relaxing in one of Colorado’s most remote natural hot springs, with views of 14,000-foot peaks beneath a planetarium-worthy night sky.
  • Giant sand dunes: Enjoy the otherworldly splendor of the tallest sand dunes in North America, perhaps even trying your hand—er, feet—at sandboarding.
  • Dinosaur experts: Discover the prehistoric wonder of the American West, guided by a true dinosaur connoisseur!


Dustin Growick is the author of two dinosaur encyclopedias, the host of the YouTube channel The Dinosaur Show, and Museum Hack’s Team Lead for Science. Dustin has worked in science education at the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Hall of Science, and as a classroom teacher. Now, with colleagues around the world, Dustin specializes in creating unique, engaging, and educational experiences for people like you.

Day 1
Fossils and Footprints
  • Our journey begins with a behind-the-scenes fossil tour of the dinosaur collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You’ll meet your expert guide, get to know your group, and see some dinosaur fossils up close.
  • After exploring the museum, we’re heading west with a stop at Dinosaur Ridge, where the world’s first known Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus fossils were discovered, and which has over 300 dinosaur tracks—including ones made by a mother and her child.
  • After exploring the ridge, we’ll continue our drive through the Rocky Mountains, stopping for an early dinner in Glenwood Springs, where Wild West gunfighter Doc Holliday died and is buried, and where Ted Bundy once escaped from jail.
  • We’ll check in to our hotel in Fruita and head to bed early for a good night’s sleep.
Photo Courtesy of Mygatt-Moore Quarry
Day 2
Paleontology at the Quarry
  • We’ll get up early and head out to the Mygatt-Moore Quarry for a one-day fossil dig with the Museum of Western Colorado—a real introduction to paleontology fieldwork.
  • After digging to unearth the beasts of the past, we’ll freshen up at our hotel before meeting for a pub-style dinner and a Rocky Mountain microbrew or two at a local brewery.
Photo Courtesy of Rachel Preston Prinz
Day 3
Such Great Heights
  • After a leisurely breakfast,we’ll drive southeast to Black Canyon National Park for a picnic on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. At more than 2,000 feet of elevation, it’s Colorado’s tallest cliff.
  • Next, we’ll continue on to the mystical little town of Crestone, Colorado. Nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Crestone is home to more than two dozen ashrams, monasteries, temples, retreat centers, stupas, labyrinths, and other sacred landmarks, making it something of a mecca, drawing seekers of enlightenment from around the globe. We’ll make a stop at the UFO watchtower, a festive outdoor gathering place for extraterrestrial enthusiasts, and climb to the top of the Crestone Ziggurat, an ancient type of Assyrian temple. This is one of Crestone’s two dozen spiritual sites, from a mixture of traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Native American spiritual traditions, and a variety of New Age beliefs.
  • After we’re done adventuring, we’ll enjoy dinner at the Crestone Brewing Co. before making a half-hour drive to our accommodations at the Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa. You can choose to stay in the desert lodge, with its Aspen-wood furniture and outdoor decks, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a heated canvas yurt, some of which are carefully oriented to encourage lucid dreaming.
  • Recharge after a long day in the Joyful Journey’s naturally heated mineral pools.
Photo Courtesy of great Sand Dunes National Park
Day 4
Shifting Sands
  • Take a relaxing morning dip in the Joyful Journey hot springs before our day of adventure at Great Sand Dunes National Park. We’ll admire these massive shifting structures, learn about their formation and how they’re constantly changed by the wind, and marvel at the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance.
  • For an adrenaline rush, you can go sandboarding or sand sledding, barrelling down the 750-foot dunes. (Don’t worry about falling—the sand is pretty forgiving.)
  • We’ll dust ourselves off, pile into the van, and head to Square Peg Brewerks in Alamosa for dinner and some Colorado microbrews. We’ll then head back to our accommodations to soak and stargaze. Our more free-spirited travelers can venture up the road to the Valley View Hot Springs for a dip in their natural rock ponds, where there’s no artificial light to disturb our view of the stars. The springs attract skinny dippers, so if the mood strikes, you can throw caution and your clothes to the wind.
Day 5
Robot Dinos
  • On our final full day, we’ll depart Joyful Journey and make our way to the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience to hang out with some animatronic dinosaurs. (There are full-scale dinosaur fossil casts, too, but they’re less lively.)
  • After that, it’s on to Denver for a farewell dinner and a final night at Denver’s Dinosaur Hotel, an otherwise unremarkable hotel that has been decked out in dino decor. You’ll be greeted at the front door by a fiberglass stegosaurus named Stanley and can enjoy a nightcap in Paleo Joe’s Bar.
Ayleen Gaspar
Day 6
  • Hug your dinosaur friends goodbye, and move boldly into The Anthropocene. We’ll be digging through the memories we’ve made until our next adventure!  
The Fine Print


  • Five nights of lodging in double-accommodation rooms, heated yurts, or private desert lodge rooms.
  • Three breakfasts, daily picnic lunches (don’t worry, we’ll have lots of yummy options), and daily dinners.
  • A guide with deep dinosaur knowledge, and access to local experts.
  • Private transport throughout the trip, in a 12-passenger van.
  • A brand-new headlamp for our after-dark excursions.
  • Entrance to all national parks, museums, and activities.
  • A full-day fossil dig at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry.
  • Recommended reading materials, packing list, and pre-trip information packet.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura dinosaur enthusiasts, excited to learn more about the storied history of Colorado’s western slope.


This tour will be moderately physically demanding. Participants should be able to hike between 3-5 miles per day at high elevation. There will not be significant uphill hikes, except for people wishing to climb the sand dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park. We will also be outside in the sun for our full-day dinosaur dig. Sunscreen and water will be provided, but we recommend breathable clothing that covers your skin, along with a wide-brimmed hat.

Most of the places visited on this itinerary are above 7,000 feet, which can make physical work feel more demanding. Altitude affects some more than others. Especially if you are sensitive to altitude, we encourage you to arrive a day or two early to acclimate.


We’ll be staying at several different hotels and resorts on our journey and there are a variety of rooming configurations available. Single travelers should be prepared to share a room with travelers of the same gender, depending on the composition of the group. A limited single supplement of $180 is available for single travelers who prefer a single room for our nights in Fruita and at the Dinosaur Hotel in South Denver. While at the Joyful Journey Resort, travelers will have the option of staying in heated yurts or in double-occupancy hotel rooms. Most travelers will need to share accommodations at the Joyful Journey. 


This itinerary is subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather and other local conditions.


Our trip begins with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 6. DMNS is located a 35-minute drive from Denver International Airport (DIA). We recommend you arrive in Denver on the evening of Wednesday, June 5 or by 7 a.m. on Thursday, June 6. Our trip concludes on the morning of Tuesday, June 11 back in Denver. Hotel checkout is at 11 a.m, though we’re happy to help extend your stay if you would like to enjoy Colorado on your own. 


A $500 deposit is required to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The trip will cost $2,330 (the $500 deposit plus $1,830 final payment) and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, group transport, and meals and activities listed below.  The final payment of $1,830 will be due by April 17, 2019. All reservations will be final after these dates and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions.


  • If arriving by air, flights to and from Denver International Airport (DIA), and transportation to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including most alcoholic beverages.
  • Sand sled rental.
  • If applicable, applying for a U.S. visa.

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