Friday, October 3, 2008

Dinosaur National Monument

After leaving Salt Lake City on Tuesday, September 9, we went to Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the border of northeast Utah and northwest Colorado. We didn’t really know much about it, but national monuments are generally cool and it was on our way.

We arrived around dinnertime and settled into the Green River Campground, on the Utah side of the park, for the evening. The campground itself was unremarkable, but its occupants were noteworthy. First, we met a snake that had to be at least five feet long and hung out around our campsite for a half hour or more. We later learned from a ranger that it was “George” the bull snake – he’s a well-known fixture of the campground. He’s not venomous, though his sheer size was a bit disconcerting.

The next campground-dweller that we met was more disconcerting than George. He was an older, kind of creepy guy, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to ask if we’d ever pitched our tent in the rain before (why, yes, thanks…) and then gave us some unhelpful and unsolicited advice about tents and rain. We met his mother the next morning; she was equally strange and unfortunately interested in talking at length.

Our first sightseeing stop of the morning was the Sound of Silence hiking trail, which wound through a desert landscape.

Very quickly, the trail became dominated by bright red rocks.

This little guy poked his head up at us along the way.

There were occasional broad vistas, which were reminiscent of parts of Capitol Reef National Park.

The hike was listed in the park information as a strenuous hike, but it was only three miles long and after all of our recent hiking, we breezed through it easily. Next, we stopped by the visitors center for some info. There a ranger recommended a hike where we could see some dinosaur bones. This was exciting because we’d thought all the fossils in the monument were housed in the main visitors center, which we’d learned the day before was closed due to structural damage.

After a short hike, we came upon the first obvious fossil embedded in the rock wall.

There were several other large fossils as well as some smaller fossils.

It was very cool to see the dinosaur bones up close, though quite surprising that they weren’t protected in any way.

Along the way, we got a view of the Dinosaur Quarry Visitors Center which houses most of the park’s bone collection.

There were large, colorful rocks along this hike as well.

Continuing along, there was a rock with several petroglyphs, the first of many we’d see.

After the dinosaur bone hike, our next stop was the “Swelter Shelter”. This was a small dwelling that was named by researchers who excavated it in the heat of the summer. There were a number of petroglyphs and pictographs on the walls, drawn about 1000 years ago by the Fremont people. We thought some of them looked like little aliens.

Continuing along the scenic drive, we went through Split Mountain and down to the Green River. The colors of the mountain behind the river were brilliant even in the midday sun.

By now, afternoon clouds were rolling in, but we continued along our tour undeterred.

Near the end of the road, two more short hikes led to more petroglyphs and pictographs. The first group of petroglyphs was on a rock right beside the road.

Many of them were in surprisingly good condition, like this bighorn sheep.

Walking just a little further revealed a bunch more petroglyphs.

The second hike was famous for the clearly visible lizards carved in the dark “desert varnish” of the rock.

This area also had a flute player and another interesting face-like shape.

At the end of the road was the Josie Morris cabin area (oddly named, since our brochure indicates that Josie’s last name was really Bassett). Josie lived there without modern amenities until her death in the 1960s at age 90.

Josie used the nearby slot canyons as animal pens, fencing just the opening.

By this point, a storm was threatening, so we only walked briefly into the canyon.

Back at our campsite, the storm had definitely rolled in.

We sat in the car and watched an impressive lightning display all around before we were treated to a huge rainbow.

The light was amazing and we spent quite awhile taking photos.

Then we realized a second rainbow had appeared.

The lightning and rainbow were quite a show, but the sky wasn’t done changing, as it moved through a range of deep reds and purples in the setting sun.

After an amazing hour or so watching the sky, the rest of the night was uneventful except for the fact that we managed to kill our car battery blogging. We had the laptop connected to the car through an inverter and the radio on listening to a baseball game. Eventually, the inverter started beeping, signaling a low battery. We shut the computer down but didn’t immediately turn off the radio. Soon, the radio turned itself off, at which point we realized the battery was dead. Oops. Luckily, we carry jumper cables and the next morning found a nice lady to give us a boost.

After we got our car going in the morning, we started driving toward Rocky Mountain National Park. Our plan was to camp in the park that night, but the weather deteriorated quickly and it was soon pouring rain and freezing. Heading into the park in that weather didn’t seem like much fun, so we spent a lot of the day hanging out in Steamboat Springs, reading and catching up on blogging about the John Muir Trail. We spent a soggy night camped in Steamboat (the tent is fine in the rain if it’s left up, but everything gets wet quickly when you are putting it up and taking it down repeatedly in the rain, like we had the past couple days), and in the morning we continued to the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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