Vernal, unlike most Utah towns, was not settled by Mormons. Brigham Young sent a scouting party to Uintah Basin in 1861 and received word back the area was good for nothing but nomad purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and "to hold the world together." That same year, President Abraham Lincoln set the area aside as the Uintah Indian Reservation, with Captain Pardon Dodds appointed Indian agent. Dodds later built the first cabin by a white man in the Uinta Basin about 1868. Settlers began to filter in after that and build cabins in various spots on or near Ashley Creek. In 1879 many came close to perishing in the famous "Hard Winter" of that year.
Vernal is in the Uintah Basin, bordered on the north by the Uinta Mountains, one of the relatively few mountain ranges which lie in an east–west rather than the usual north to south direction. The Book Cliffs lie to the south, and Blue Mountain to the east, while Vernal itself lies in Ashley Valley, named in honor of William H. Ashley, an early fur trader who entered this area in 1825 by floating down the Green River in a bull boat made of animal hides.
Vernal is located at 40°27′17″N 109°32′08″W on the northern edge of the Colorado Plateau and south of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area on the Utah-Wyoming state line. The city is in a high desert area of the Great Basin Desert.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.6 square miles (11.9 km²), all land.
Vernal has a cold semi-arid climate (Köppen: BSk ) with low humidity. The average annual temperature is 45 °F (7.2 °C) with a mean high of 61 °F (16.1 °C) and a mean low of 29 °F (-1.6 °C).
As of the census of 2000, there were 7,714 people, 2,709 households, and 1,977 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,683.4 people per square mile (650.3/km²). There were 2,957 housing units at an average density of 645.3 per square mile (249.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.52% White, 0.18% African American, 2.31% Native American, 0.34% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.18% from other races, and 1.43% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.45% of the population. There were 2,709 households out of which 41.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.8% were married couples living together, 12.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.0% were non-families. 22.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.77 and the average family size was 3.28.
In the city, the population was spread out with 32.3% under the age of 18, 13.0% from 18 to 24, 24.8% from 25 to 44, 17.6% from 45 to 64, and 12.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females there were 96.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,357, and the median income for a family was $34,453. Males had a median income of $32,137 versus $20,938 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,497. About 14.7% of families and 14.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.6% of those under age 18 and 8.7% of those age 65 or over.
Vernal's economy is based on extracting natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, phosphate, and uintaite (more commonly known as Gilsonite). This has led to the establishment of branch offices of companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger.
Tourism also plays a role in Vernal's economy due to the town's roots in the Old West and being a large site of ancient dinosaur fossils. Vernal and the surrounding area are popular among outdoor enthusiasts as they are situated near plentiful spots for fishing, fly fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities.
Vernal's schools include Ashley Valley Education Center, Terra Academy, Uintah High, Vernal Junior High, Vernal Middle, Ashley Elementary, Discovery Elementary, and a branch of Utah State University. In 2007, Uintah School District built new buildings for two elementary schools, Maeser and Naples Elementary, in the nearby communities to accommodate increased enrollment and eliminate unsafe older buildings. Other area schools include Davis Elementary, Lapoint Elementary, Eagle View Elementary and Uintah Basin Christian Academy (pre-K–8). The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Rocky Mountain Branch. In 2015, the Terra Academy opened up as a K–12 charter school.Highway
Vernal is along an east–west federal highway, U.S. Route 40.Airport
The city's Vernal-Uintah County Airport has scheduled nonstop air service to Salt Lake City (SLC) operated by Boutique Air with Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft. Passenger service is subsidized by the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
The Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo is an annual rodeo held in Vernal in July. It is the most famous event held in Vernal and has been running for years.
Games, Anime, and More (G.A.M.) is a biannual fan convention. It is a multi-genre convention having video games, card games, cartoons, costumes, tournaments, tabletop gaming, and similar activities. The G.A.M. Convention is held during March and August in Uintah County, Utah. In 2015 it was the first anime convention held in Vernal as well as the first gaming convention held there, making it the first convention of its type in Vernal. In 2016 it was held in Naples, Utah for the first time, making G.A.M. the first convention of its type in the city of Naples.
The Home, Garden & Outdoor Sports Show is an annual event presented by the radio stations KLCY and KVEL. It features lots of gardening, home improvement, and outdoor equipment and information. It is held on the first Friday and Saturday of April.
The Gun & Knife Show happens the first Saturday and Sunday of March.
The Outlaw Trail Festival of the Arts, which features a juried art contest & show, has been running in Vernal for the last 26 years. It runs for several weeks every June.
The Uintah County Fair occurs Thursday through Saturday each year in the second week of June.
The Outlaw Trail Theater presents stage plays during the summer in June and July.
The Dinoland Car Show happens annually in July.
The Ashley Valley Farmers' Market occurs from July through September.
The radio station KNEU presents Alive After 5 events in the summer.
A number of 5K runs and other outdoor walking events occur throughout the year.
July plays host to the annual craft fair on the Uintah County building's front lawn.
Vernal features yearly parades for certain holidays such as Independence Day on July 4th and Pioneer Day on July 24th.
There is an Easter Egg hunt at the Utah Field House of Natural History each year on the Saturday before Easter.
Lookout Point rests on the western edge overlooking Ashley Valley, the valley in which Vernal is situated.
The Vernal branch of Zion's Bank was mailed through USPS one brick at a time.
Dinah the Pink Dinosaur, the welcome sign on the east side of town
The Bank of Vernal (a.k.a. the 'Parcel Post' Bank) Building (3 West Main Street) is a registered historical building in the Uintah County Landmark Register. Also known as "the Bank that was sent by Mail", the Bank of Vernal was constructed in 1916-1917 by William H. Coltharp, a Vernal businessman and entrepreneur. Coltharp took advantage of inexpensive Parcel Post rates to ship some 80,000 masonry bricks in fifty-pound (22.6 kg) packages via the U.S. Post Office the 180 miles (290 km) from Salt Lake City to Vernal. The Parcel Post brick shipments were transported from Salt Lake to Mack, Colorado by Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, then proceeded to Watson via the narrow gauge Uintah Railway, finally Vernal by wagon freight through steep roads. The full trip was over 420 miles (675.9 km) long. After completing delivery of the bricks, the U.S. Post Office hastily changed its regulations, establishing a limit of 200 pounds (91 kg) per day per sender. The United States Postmaster General Albert Sidney Burleson explicitly stated in a letter that "it is not the intent of the United States Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail" Today the building is used as a branch office of Zions Bank.
The Quarry Visitor Center in Dinosaur National Monument, and the Vernal Utah Temple are other historic Vernal buildings. The Vernal Temple is a small LDS temple in the old Vernal Tabernacle. It was built as the result of a local movement to save the old tabernacle when it was scheduled for demolition.Earl W. Bascom — Inventor, Hall of Fame rodeo cowboy, actor, international artist and sculptor
Clair Burgener — U.S. Representative from California, 1973-1983
Lane Frost — Rodeo star, attended junior high school in Vernal
E. Gordon Gee — Academic, has held more university presidencies (5) than any other American
Douglas Kent Hall — writer and photographer, Academy Award winner
Dennis Preece — Hall of Fame wrestling coach at local high school in Vernal
James Woods — Film and television actor