We Have A Winner for Coolest-Named State Park

Utahraptor State Park will soon be open for hiking and dinosaur fans.

There might be dinosaurs under here. | Alberto Zanoni/EyeEm/Getty Images
There might be dinosaurs under here. | Alberto Zanoni/EyeEm/Getty Images

The Utahraptor is just under seven feet tall, but stretches lengthwise up to 25 feet, weighing anywhere from 660 to 2,200 pounds. He’s got stubby arms, a fringing of feathers, and sickle claws 24 centimeters long—all the better to slash at prey. 

He’s bigger than a Velociraptor, but they’re related. In the early 90s when paleontologists discovered Utahraptors in a bonebed north of Moab, they thought about naming the species “spielbergi,” after Steven Spielberg—an attempt to flatter the Jurassic Park director into giving them funding. But ultimately the paleontologists went with the imposing Utahraptor (or “Utah thief”) ostrommaysi. And stretch lived up to his name, stealing the hearts of Utah’s citizens to the point where he replaced the Allosaurus as the state's official dinosaur. 

And as of mid-March, our Early Cretaceous dinosaur friend has been honored with 6,500 acres of land: a new Utahraptor State Park, 15 miles north of Moab near Arches. Park funding will go to preservation, protection from fossil-vandals, and cleanup for a neglected area which in recent years has been a site of camping traffic and litter. It will also maintain 150 miles of trail systems for off-roading, mountain biking, and hiking, and construct 80 campsites with power and water, plus new day-use facilities.

A Utahraptor
A model of a feathered Utahraptor. He was actually kind of cute. | Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

The first evidence of the Utahraptor was found in 1975 in Dalton Wells Quarry by superstar paleontologist Jim Jensen (nickname: “Dinosaur Jim”). But in 2001 scientists hit the raptor jackpot, when an eagle-eyed graduate student spotted a bone sticking out of the rock layers around Moab. 

The site held the remains of not just one Utahraptor, but a pack of dozens, ranging from yearlings to fully mature adults (and one very unlucky plant-eater, probably their prey). They were submerged in deathly quicksand mid-hunt, which is apparently something that occurs outside of Indiana Jones films. Frozen in place, the sand became sandstone, fossilizing them all into one large dinosaur-filled megablock that is now slowly being chipped away for exploration.

Pretend you're Indiana Jones examining the Wall of Bones at Dinosaur National Monument. | Mike Lyvers/Moment/Getty Images

It’s an astounding find, but not totally unusual in these parts. Utahraptor State Park sits on the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, a 512-mile scenic loop through Colorado and Utah that takes you past dinosaur-related attractions like museums with reconstructed specimens, and Dinosaur National Monument, a significant prehistoric site exhibiting a wall with over 1,500 embedded dinosaur fossils.

The $37 million set aside in the bill will also go towards the creation of a second new state park, Lost Creek State Park, formerly Lost Creek Reservoir, popular for boating and fishing. The two parks will be the 45th and 46th in the state, with a proposed $25 entry fee, $40 for camping. It is expected that the new facilities and infrastructure will be in place mid-to-late next year.

And as for Steven Spielberg, he could have been the first director to have a whole state park named after him. Too bad: It would have been great publicity for that new Jurassic World VelociCoaster ride opening in June.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. Mark her words: she will have a dinosaur named after her.