This past Labor Day we explored Dinosaur National Monument and Flaming Gorge. This area is located in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. We left on Friday night after work and drove as far as Park City, Utah, spending the night in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It is a 24 hour store, so you can use the restroom if needed during the night.
SATURDAY we continued towards Vernal, which is the last “big” town, so stock-up on any forgotten items. Depending which campground you are at, it is 30 minutes or 1 1/2 hours back to Vernal We had a reservation at the Green River campground, which is on the west side of the park. Since we have an America the Beautiful pass, it did not cost anything to get into the monument, otherwise it is $20.00. Also, stop along the road and pay the $1 for the Tour of the Tilted Rock pamphlet. It gives you very good information about the area and the viewpoints are numbered with signage.
We got to our campsite at noon, quickly set up, ate lunch, and then headed over to the Dinosaur quarry. There is a visitor center that will tell you information about the geology of the area, and then catch one of the trams that takes you to the quarry. No private cars are allowed on the quarry road. The quarry has over 1500 fossils embedded in the rock. It is covered by a building to protect it. There are rangers on hand to answer questions. Some bones are scattered, but others, you can see the full creature. You can even touch several of the bones. How cool is that!!!
While we were in there, a cloud bursts went through the area. We got a bit wet taking the tram back down, and found a “mini” flash flood in the gully near the visitor center. Little did we know that we would have intense storms ALL night. After the visitor center we headed to Split Mountain campground. This is a unique place, as water will usually go around a mountain, but the river carved its way right down the center of this one. The campground is located at the end of the canyon on the Green River. It is where most river float trips end, so the parking area was quite crowded with vans and rafting trailers. We headed back to our campsite. We have a propane stove/oven combo, which opens up a bunch of possibilities for cooking. Our menu was meat loaf, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and toasted bread. After dinner, we walked down to the ranger talk. It was on the history of paleontology, with the ranger being a recent geology graduate. The storms then began to roll in, with lots of cloud to ground lightning and torrential down pours.
We had put the walls on our canopy so we stayed fairly dry. We played games, watched the lightening show, and popped some Jiffy Pop popcorn. No matter how old you are this is always exciting to see if it is going to work.We had thunder and lightning all night. We were a bit worried as our son Jade was sleeping in a tent while we had the really comfortable bed in the camper shell, but sleep got the best of us.
SUNDAY The morning was beautiful, but the damage of last night’s storm became evident. Jade’s tent had water in it. So we pulled everything out, got the water out, and started the process of drying everything in the sun. Everyone else in the campground was doing the same thing and the Green River had turned a bright reddish-brown, meaning that up river there had been some flooding. We set about to cook breakfast. We had brought along some potatoes, so boiled and then shredded them to cook fresh hash browns. We scrambled eggs, with onions, green peppers, and mushrooms for Breakfast burritos. The food is half the experience when you are camping.
As we got everything cleaned up, we had a pesky Chipmunk trying his best to scrounge for crumbs. We headed east, up the Cub Creek road, where there are stops to look at petroglyphs. Next it was the Josie Morris cabin. She was a lady who lived in the area until the 1960’s, leaving only when she broke her hip at the age of 89. Her homestead is very well-preserved and gives a good example of how hard a life a rancher had. There are several trails that lead to the box canyons, she used as corrals.
To get the east side of the park, you have to exit the park and travel on US 40 to the Main visitor center or…….. you can take the Blue Mountain road. This is a very rugged road, only for 4×4 high clearance vehicles. It climbs 3000 feet up, there are very few switchbacks and it is very rough so take your time. It is our suggestion to go up the west side from near Josie’s cabin and come out on the east side on the Harper’s Corner Road. The east side of the monument is all about incredible scenery.
The Harper’s Corner road drives along the brink of the mountain. The wind was blowing very hard as we drove and we were glad we were not in a tall motor home or pulling a trailer as there were several places, where you could be caught by the wind. The best overlook, without having to hike, was the Echo Park overlook, which gave us a great view of Steamboat Rock at the far end of the canyon on the Green River. If you don’t mind a bit of a hike, the Canyon Overlook was impressive.
We decided to drive the Echo Park road. Another rain storm had just blown through and the sign said road not driveable when wet, but we decided to try. It is about 3000 feet down to the river over a 13 mile drive. The first part is numerous switchbacks, that were extremely slick from the rain, but we went slow and safely conquered our first obstacle. You then drive out on a plateau, at the end is Sand Canyon. The 1000 foot white canyon walls, streaked with black from water, are impressive. We marveled that the Chew family who had a ranch at the end of the canyon, had to travel this road before it was “improved”. We stopped at the ranch site to take some pictures of the old buildings.
Past the Chew ranch there are some more petroglyphs and also Whispering Cave. It is a small arch in an impressive wall. Once inside it is very small but then you look up. At one time the cave was obviously taller. A slab broke loose slid down and is now wedged. As you look at it, there is nothing holding the slab on either side, and you get the feeling that at any minute it is going to give way. Cindy didn’t stay long inside.
We continued to Echo Park campground. This is a first come, first serve campground. We would have loved to stay a night here, as it is nestled up against a 1000 foot sheer wall. At 4 in the afternoon, the campground was in complete shade. There are cougars in the area, so all food needs to be stored in the cougar boxes near each camp site. We walked down to the river, and talked to a group who were on a multi-day rafting trip. The area where we were standing was supposed to be underwater as part of the proposed Echo Park Dam project, but a bitter 5 year fight in the 1950s ended that proposal and the dam was built up-stream at Flaming Gorge. It is a beautiful place and we are glad it was preserved.
We headed back towards Green River campground. Made a short stop in Dinosaur, Colorado. Just had to stop and take a picture.
Back at our camp site, we fried up hamburgers, and enjoyed a modified fry pan peach
cobbler. Jade decided he didn’t want to get wet again so we slept in the back seat on the pick-up, guaranteeing that we would have no more rain!!
MONDAY We loaded up and headed back to Vernal. We turned north on Hwy 191. There are some pretty impressive switchbacks to get up and out of the valley. Check out the mining operations as you drive by. We followed 191 to Flaming Gorge Dam. The dam is very similar to Boulder/Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, but much smaller. If you go into the visitor center, you can sign up for a FREE 1 hour tour of the dam. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and open to questions. Take quarters with you, as there are fish food dispensers at the bottom of the dam to feed the HUGE trout. There is a security check point with a metal detector and a few medical restrictions. The dam was dedicated by Lady Bird Johnson in 1964, instead of her husband President Lyndon Johnson, due to assassination concerns and the area being so open and hard to patrol.
You can then get back to I-80 by continuing on 191 across the dam or taking state Hwy 44. We took a side trip back to Idaho Falls up Star Valley. In Afton, Wyoming stop and take a picture of the world’s largest Elk Antler Arch.
It was a quick 3 day trip, filled to the brim with new and exciting places, but well worth the effort.
TRIP BY THE NUMBERS: $314.00 – Gas was our biggest expense at $188.00, food was 72.00, and the campground was 36.00, 10.00 to wash the truck, and we had 8.00 in souvenirs. We did eat out twice, and refilled our pops several times, if you eliminate those items, it would save you $38.00. However, and this is a secret….we stopped at Fort Hall Casino on our way out of Idaho and Jim won $60.00, so that is why we ate out and bought pop.