Vernal was not settled by Mormon pioneers. In fact, Brigham Young sent a party out to explore the area, but the returning report suggested that it was good for an Indian hunting ground and not much else. Eventually, as with all places in Utah, Mormon settlers moved into the area. By 1907, there was a Uintah Stake in the area, and enough members to justify the building of a tabernacle in Vernal. The tabernacle was the hub of church activity in the area for many years, but eventually was replaced by more modern buildings and fell into disrepair. By 1984 the building was shut down completely for safety reasons.
But the people of Vernal didn't want to let go of their beautiful landmark building. A "Save the Tabernacle" committee was created, a preservation study was prepared, and a proposal for a temple was submitted to the First Presidency. After years of hard work, the plan was approved and plans for the temple were announced in 1994. When the temple was finished, it was the first temple created in a building that already existed. Over the two-week open house, over 120,000 people visited the temple. Contrast that with the entire population of Uintah County, which is about 35,000. The restored building and surrounding grounds make a beautiful and historical area for the saints in northeastern Utah, southwestern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado to visit.
Though the population of the area is small, there are many natural wonders to see nearby, including one of the best dinosaur quarries in the world in Dinosaur National Monument. The National Monument houses not only many dinosaur fossils, but other interesting natural and historical wonders, including Josie's Cabin, the home of wild west woman Josie Bassett Morris. If you head the other direction out of Vernal, you can visit McConkie Ranch, site of some very impressive ancient petroglyphs. If you are sick of driving, then the best spot for dinosaur fun in town is Utah Field House of Natural History State Park. And of course, the biggest natural attraction in the area is the beautiful Flaming Gorge, which is a must-see if you are in Eastern Utah.
If you do head up to Flaming Gorge, be sure to enjoy the Flaming Gorge Restaurant while you are there. For noshing closer to Vernal, there are a few good options outside of fast food, including chinese food at Canton City or mexican food at Tacos El Gordo. For a real local experience, stop at Betty's Cafe and mingle with the locals. Or you can always eat at Utah's favorite, Cafe Rio.