Cross-Country Trip V, Day 12: Utah ~ Dinosaur National Monument

Jenn with dinosaurThe main feature of Dinosaur National Monument is a large quarry that has been excavated by archaeologists and now displays an impressive find of intact dinosaur skeletons found there.

Unfortunately, we were not able to see them.

The visitor center and the overlook to the dinosaur exhibit have been closed for renovation for months, and are scheduled to open in October. In the meantime, visitors aren’t able to see the dinosaur skeletons, and there is a temporary visitor center at the entrance to the park.

The ranger and the volunteers at the visitor center were very helpful, at least. They gave us great information about our campground, other activities to do in the park, and the ranger talk that currently substitutes for the usual fossil viewing.

A shuttle bus takes visitors to the trailhead for the “Discovery Trail“, which is a quick half-mile trail up to a rock face in which several dinosaur fossils are visible. During the renovation, a ranger gives a talk and a mini-tour of the fossils approximately every half hour. They only do this in the morning, though, until 1:15 pm. In the visitor center, they explained that the rangers giving the talk would complain of cruel and unusual punishment if they were required to be out in the desert heat through the afternoon. We were sympathetic to that.

FossilWe joined the ranger talk about 5-10 minutes into the “tour”, just as the ranger was pointing out some of the larger fossils embedded in the rock. We were able to see a femur, humerus, and some other pieces from what may have been one dinosaur. We also saw smaller pieces of various other dinosaurs. It was fairly interesting.

There was also a little side trail, which we walked up after the tour was over. There were some pretty cool quartz rocks on the side of the trail. While looking at some of the fossils and other features along this side trail, we made friends with a family who was also there. We ended up leap-frogging them down the trail, which was actually great, because the dad repeatedly asked the little girl to show us some of the things she had found.

Campground at Green RiverWe took the shuttle bus back to the temporary visitor center, got into our car, and drove to the campground. We found a nice shady spot not too far from the banks of the Green River, and had some lunch. We were visited by a very inquisitive chipmunk (which I couldn’t resist calling Alvin), but we chased him off before he grabbed our food.

There is a driving tour in this section of Dinosaur National Monument called “The Tour of the Tilted Rocks“. At the urging of the volunteer in the visitor center, we bought at 50-cent trail guide, which offered explanations for 15 marked spots around the park. We spent about an hour and a half driving around and looking at these various spots.

Petroglyphs in Dinosaur National MonumentSome were more interesting than others. Two spots featured petroglyphs from 1,000 years ago, carved into the “desert varnish” on some of the rock walls. They were quite good, especially a very large, well-defined lizard that could be seen from 100 yards away.

Josie Bassett Morris cabinPerhaps the coolest spot on the tour is the last “stop”. It is the homestead of Josie Morris, a woman who chose to build herself a ranch here in 1914, following her divorce. (Obviously this was before the land became part of the National Park Service.) The lived here until 1964, just before she died at age 90. She was a pretty amazing woman, living a 19th century lifestyle – by herself – so late into the 20th century. The cabin was fairly well intact (though empty), as was her lovely backyard.

After the driving tour, we returned to our campsite and chilled for a while until it got closer to sunset and the temperature started to cool down. We spent a little bit of time in the river, which was cold and swiftly flowing, but a refreshing contrast to the dry hot air.

We decided to hike the “Desert Voices” trail, the trailhead for which was at the boat ramp into the Green River. The guide billed the hike as a 2-mile hike, while the trailhead sign claimed that the hike was 1.5 miles. We later determined that the hike was probably 2.5 miles (which is a significant difference, when you’re ending the hike after sunset).

Deer skullWe had a little misadventure right at the beginning, though, which also added to our mile total. At the beginning of the trailhead, there are a few different little trails going in various direction. We got to a fork, which I thought might be the beginning of the loop. I said, “Left or right?” and Dave said, “Right.” So we headed up the trail to the right, which very quickly turned into a little rock climbing adventure. We got some beautiful views of Split Mountain and the Green River. We also saw a well-preserved deer carcass, complete with (separated) head. About 100 feet up, though, we started to doubt that this was the trail. The trail ahead was starting to look like switchbacks to nowhere. We decided we had better climb back down and return to where we had made the fateful “left or right” decision. Fortunately we were only off-track for about 15 minutes.

Once we took the left fork, we found the first interpretive signs for the trail, and learned that the loop didn’t fork until about a quarter mile into the hike. Hmm. Signs are helpful.

Setting Sun Shining Through the GrassThe hike was quite nice. The interpretive signs – some of which were specifically designed for children – were highly philosophical, featuring thought-provoking quotes by Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau. It invited thoughts about the importance of the desert, the value of silence, the relative value to society of preserving wilderness. They were pretty interesting.

The hike itself was lovely as well. It went along a wash at the bottom of a canyon for a while, then climbed along the side of some hills for a while, before turning back along the top of the butte and then back down.

Yampa Plateau at sunsetIn the meantime, the sun was setting and the sky was beautiful. About two-thirds of the way into the hike, the sun was basically gone, but the moon was big and bright and beautiful. There was just enough light to keep following the trail, and read those last few interpretive signs, as we finished and got back to our car.

Between our recent hike at Great Sand Dunes and this one, we decided that night hikes are pretty cool.

We went back to the campground and make burritos for dinner. The campground had filled up with campers, but they were reasonably quiet. We were particularly impressed by a large group across the way. When we saw that there were 10-12 tents set up, we lamented that it would probably be a long rowdy night. Instead, they were probably the quietest neighbors we’d had in several nights.

We watched the stars for a little while, noting a few shooting stars, and then headed into the tent for bed.

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