There are monsters in the wall of bones. In the dried out sandstone desert of northeastern Utah they rise to the surface of the earth like blood flushing skin. I trail my hand against the embossed remains of enormous teeth, articulated tailbones and talons that could crush a skull like grapes. But these skeletons are not the product of nightmares; these old bones once walked the earth. “Don’t worry,” a nearby Ranger says, as if reading my thoughts. “He’s too big for your closet and he definitely won’t fit under your bed.”
The next day we drove an hour west to Red Fleet State Park where, 200 hundred million years previously, dinosaurs came to drink and left more than 300 footprints embedded in the petrified dunes. We could see the pin mark of their claws curling around the earth, the gait of their walk, the enormous press of 50 tonnes sinking into the mud. The kids loved the thrill of discovery, measuring their hands and feet against every print, but we were dumbfounded by the passage of time itself. Each foot mark seemed to somehow hold the resonance of that deep longevity – as if by touching it, our fingers could grasp a concept our minds would never understand.
At Dead Horse State Park, named after the Mustangers who would corral wild equines against the cliff, we imagined the echo of giant Camarasaurus feet ricocheting around the red pinnacles of the valley floor. In Canyonlands National Park, we picnicked with the ghosts of pterodactyls swooping through the sunset – the Green River swirling slowly through the burgundy barren, as thunderstorms rained rainbows above the distant mesas. And then a perfect family moment: hiking with the sunrise through Arches National Park, pink light shining through the rock windows like the iris of an Allosaurus. Monsters they may be, but phantoms is perhaps a better word: echoes of a lost time, reminders of our own fleeting passage and the impermanence of the ground beneath our feet. Dinosaurs make kids of us all.
These extracts were first published in an original article for The Times – Searching For Monsters on Utah’s Dinosaur Road (13/6/15)