Utah's own Jurassic Park

MOAB, Utah — The bluffs and hills of this mountain biking hub were as red as a sunburn and barren, save for a few juniper trees and clumps of rabbit brush.

As I hiked to a flat stretch of sandstone, I saw them — bigger and more clearly defined than I had expected: dinosaur tracks.

I ran my fingers along the curve of the claw and pressed my palm inside the hubcap-size impression. It was a creepy feeling occupying the same spot as an SUV-sized lizard.

When the giant meat eater, probably an allosaurus, walked across this spot about 150 million years ago, the landscape was a tropical environment on the shores of an inland sea, lush with ferns, cycads, conifers and ginkgo trees.

Here, the beast's feet sank into a sandbar. Over time, seismic forces buried, solidified and then pushed that sandbar to the surface, retaining in astonishing detail the prints of that long-extinct monster.

A happy geological fluke has made Utah one of the world's best spots to hunt for dinosaurs. Throughout the rest of the U.S., this fossil-rich layer of sedimentary rock is buried under prairies and forests. But in the badlands of Utah, the stratum rests near the surface, even along hiking trails like this one.

I consulted Utah's top paleontologists on the best way to make a four-day road trip to see the state's dinosaur exhibits. They told me the best time to visit is now, during an era of astounding discoveries. Thanks to improved technology and exploding interest in the field, paleontologists are digging up new dinosaur species around the world at a rate of 10 to 20 each year.

In September, I drove the length and breadth of Utah — 978 miles. Here are my favorite stops.

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