And just like that, we are in Dinosaur National Monument. Well, not exactly. It took four days of 250-plus miles of driving on Highway 80 through three states to get here. We didn’t really want to drive 80 at all, but having to be in Fort Collins by September 7th for the opening of the Center Forward show at the Center For Fine Art Photography, meant we needed to get a move on. I can confirm that 80 sucks. You know your drive is boring when the most exciting part of the day is stopping by the Bonneville Salt Flats and taking pictures of the elevated structures.
The other thing I can confirm is that once you leave San Francisco, it is FRICKIN’ HOT! I don’t think we’ve seen less than 90˙ since we crossed the Bay Bridge. Some of the higher elevations were a bit cooler as we passed through, but it was good modivation to keep going every time we stopped for a break.
We wanted to be able to spend a few days here in Dinosaur before moving on to Colorado because we won’t be coming back this way soon and we haven’t been here since probably 1982. It hasn’t changed much – the bones are all still here. But one thing that has changed is the Quarry visitor center. It’s been moving and slowly crumbling pretty much since it was originally built in the 50’s. Something about Bentonite not being a good base to put a building on. They’ve rebuilt it to withstand the slideyness of the ground and it remains a pretty wonderful place to view the amazing dino fossils. At the entrance, the old dinosaur was still there from our first visit in 82. Back then it was green, today it is more of a “Desert Storm” kind of scheme. Of course, experts don’t really know how the were colored – the could have all been covered in feathers for all they really know. But they now feel that dinosaurs were probably colored to fit in with the landscape. Either that or they just had some extra paint.
The countryside here is beautiful and that is what really attracted us. We arrived on Thursday the 30th and will spend the Labor Day weekend here. Not many people so far in the campground – many sites are closed due to the huge and rotting cottonwoods too nearby. We have a terrific site very near the river, that provides a soothing sound to sleep by all night long. The ranger tells us most of the locals head up to the mountains. Probably a smarter idea because it is FRICKIN’ HOT here. Thursday was mid-90’s. Last night we had a few thunderstorms move through with some really pleasant rainfall. It really helped cool things off and today’s cloud cover has helped even more in keeping the temps to the mid 80 range. The clouds have also helped make the photo ops more interesting. Friday we just toured the Quarry and took the short walk back to the visitor center.
We also did a short drive tour on the Cub Creek Road. There are a number of petroglyph sites, some great views and at the end of the road, a historical homestead where Josie Morris, after being married and divorced five times, lived and worked alone until the age of 92 – a tough old gal.
At one point along the road, I found and interesting overlook on the Green River. The way the river was coming around the bend, several eddies were formed and I thought it might make an interesting long exposure shot. I came back after sunset to the spot and made several images. The exposures were between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. It did create an interesting image, but I was hoping the moonlight would add some extra detail. Because of the cloud cover, no moon was visible.
Saturday will be a little more ambitious with a 3 mile hike on the Sounds of Silence trail. More thunder showers arrived just after sunset and again cooled the evening. We feel pretty fortunate for having this rainfall. I don’t think they’ve had any for many weeks. Campfires, in fact, had been banned up until Thursday.
We got up early on Saturday for our first hike. It was still coolish and most of the cloudiness had passed by. The Sounds of Silence trail lived up to it’s name. The whole park is very quiet and is also said to be one of the darkest in the country. The first half of the hike was pretty boring however. It actually started off well with a short trek overland with some potential nice views all around. But soon it moved into a dry wash with high walls, and later into an area of mud hills that, while nice, was like hiking in a narrow corridor. About halfway through, the trail finally moved to higher ground and we were rewarded with some of the terrific views we had hoped for. We were temped to add the extra mile extension to the Green River, but it was getting hot again so we just bagged it for the day.
As the rest of the day progressed, much more severe thunderstorms began moving through the area. It is really weird how totally calm it can be one moment, then in an instant a huge gust of wind will blow through. It was one of those gusts that caught my poor awning (and me) by surprise. One single gust hit it and ripped the fabric about six inches right where it connects to the end. I didn’t even have time to run out and retract it (another no fun process in the wind). It’s still quite functional, but now I have to figure out how to repair it.
The storms mostly moved through by sunset and we were rewarded with a spectacular double rainbow. We were very lucky we had only minor storms come through. Watching the news in the evening, most all of the state of Utah experienced much more severe storms with hail, mudslides, flash floods and tornadoes.
On Sunday, our last full day in Dinosaur, we drove the 32 mile Harpers Corner road. This road runs along a high ridge in the central part of the park and is reached by having to drive out of the park 25 miles down highway 40, then back into the park. We left at mid-morning. I read that photography is best for the deep canyons along the way once the sun gets high enough to penetrate and before the late afternoon shadows begin to stretch across.
At the visitor center for this section, we asked about road conditions. There is a 13 mile spur dirt road that descends into the canyon and ends at Steamboat Rock – a giant sandstone formation that to me, looks more like a shark fin. Due to all the evening rains we’ve been having, I thought it a good idea to check it out first. Bentonite is notorious for being very slippery when wet. Even totally tricked out jeeps meet their match in this stuff. The ranger said the road was fine though. We went to use the nearby restrooms and noticed a swallow darting in and out of the overhang just outside the restrooms. A pair had constructed a mud nest up high against the roof were they were spending their day feeding their three your chicks. Back and forth they popped in and out and every time the three chick saw them approaching, their three mouths opened. If there was music, it would seem they were singing along with it. It was much fun watching. I also noticed another nest nearby. It was the parents nest. Constructed atop a light fixture, it had more of a tower look and used straw as well as mud. I had no idea swallows made two kinds of nests.
After that distraction, we hit the road, stopping every so often for the overlooks across the Yampa Plateau. Weather has been cooperating so well during our stay. Today was hot down at river level, but up at 8000 feet along the ridge, much more comfortable.
We eventually reached the Echo Park road turnoff and began the decent to the canyon floor. The road was actually better than a lot of paved roads I’ve been on, so it was easy driving. We stopped at several locations to explore and eventually made it to Echo Park itself. Steamboat Rock is a pretty impressive chunk of sandstone. Along with the Green River running by, it made for a nice picnic spot. We lunched along with a group of rafters enjoying a nice multi-day float. Mary asked one girl where they planned to camp that evening. Her reply was that all she knew was that there were lots of skunks there, and that they were so tame, they acted like kitty cats! She wasn’t so sure how she would react if one started to rub up against her leg. With all the really young kids they had with them, I’m sure it will be a lively evening.
We finished lunch and headed up out of the canyon and eventually made it all the way out to the Echo Park overlook 2000′ above the place we had lunch. There is a nice 2 mile round trip trail out there that runs along the neck of the ridge and affords many wonderful views. By this time it was past 4 PM and the light was getting really nice. We spent an hour on the trail before heading back. Just before hiking, I came across the little guy below. Actually he was really big and was not moving. Any snake that is not a rattler, to me, becomes a garter snake. So this garter snake was just sitting there with his nose to the ground. I thought he might be dead, but then I saw that he did move, if only minimally. Weird.
Mary wanted to drive back through the park for some reason. Usually she lets me do the driving whenever there is a high probability of deer in the road – she just doesn’t pick them up quickly. She did fine with all the deer we saw. Not so well with the one we didn’t. To be fair, it actually hit US. All I saw was a flash of deer head as it ran into the driver side door. This was a Kamikaze deer! It was just a glancing blow, but hard enough to shear off the rearview mirror, put some slight wavy dents and couple of scratches into the two door panels, before trotting off into the brush. I’m not sure who got the worst of the encounter, but the deer seemed to be OK. It will probably feel it in the morning though. Actually, if Mary had seen it earlier and slowed down, we probably would have had a head on with it because it would have been able to get just a little further across the road. We were only doing about 40 in a 45 zone, but it just shows how easy it is to hit these buggers. Needless to say, I will be doing a lot more driving in the days to come. Now to get the dam mirror fixed. Later, I mentioned that perhaps we should get some little deer decals to put on the car door. This was her 2nd deer hit after all. Mary did not see the humor…