Early September, 2012 – Dinosaur National Monument is a big park that sprawls between NE Utah and NW Colorado. Many visitors buzz through this park, seeing only the bone display at the quarry.
However, the scenery, homesteads and petroglyphs elsewhere in the park kept us hanging around for quite a few days.
We rode our bikes on the ~12 mile road that heads into the western heart of the park. This is a fantastic road for cycling.
Only a handful of cars passed us in four hours of pedaling and stopping for photos, and the sweeping turns, rolling hills and stunning vistas were a total thrill.
There are lots of petroglyphs along this road. Most are a bit faint, and you have to do the billy goat thing to get up close to a few of them, but they are intriguing, with odd designs of people wearing strange things on their heads.
Someone had hung a slew of animal skulls in a tree that we passed. It was a little weird and gave the area an air of mystery.
The clearest petroglyphs we found on this road were on a sheer wall filled with lizards (photo above). They march upwards from the bottom of the wall towards the top. One six foot long lizard heads off to the right. A perfect photo op would have been if a real lizard had snuck across the petroglyphs for us, but we didn’t get that lucky!!
At the far end of this road, after it turned to dirt, we came across the Josie Morris Cabin. This tiny four room cabin was home to a very plucky single woman for fifty years. Married five times and divorced four, a rarity in her time, she bought this small ranch when she was a single mom nearing 40 in the early 1900’s. She lived here first with her son and then alone until her death at 90 in 1964.
The building is wee, and walking around the property to her chicken coop and pasture, it was hard to imagine what life had been like out here, miles from nowhere. But she was a tough old biddy. She brewed apricot brandy during Prohibition and got arrested twice for cattle rustling when she was in her 60’s.
One morning we came into the park from another angle, taking the road to McKee Springs. Here, in a wide valley, we found the finest petroglyphs we have ever seen anywhere.
Like all petroglyphs in this part of the country, they date back about 1,000 years to the Fremont culture, but lord knows what they say. All the figures wore headdresses or spiky things in their hair (antlers? feathers? antennae?). Some had elaborate decorative things around their necks, wore earrings, or dressed up their hair on the sides of their heads.
These petroglyphs are all lined up along the sheer faces of a cliff at eye level, and a path leads from one set to the next. It is like walking through a museum, but there are no curator’s notes explaining what you are looking at. That is left up to the imagination!!
At the far end of this road there is a tiny campground on the Green River at Rainbow Park. Not a soul was around. We thought about bringing the rig down here, but we wanted to get to the other side of the park, and for that we had to go into Colorado and come in from the southern end along Harpers Corner Road.
The highlight of this road was the 13 mile drive down the steep dirt switchbacks into Echo Canyon (4×4 required). At the top the views stretched on forever, and as we dropped lower and lower into the canyon, the cliffs soared upwards on either side of us.
Partway into the canyon we stopped at another early 20th century homestead, this one built by the Chew family.
Unlike Josie’s solitary life, the Chews brought 6 of their 12 children to live here, starting with a dugout in 1910 and moving into a cozy one room cabin in 1911. How a family of that size could squeeze into one small room during the long dark winters baffled us.
But this gorgeous, harsh land has sheltered people in tiny places for eons. The Whispering Caves a little further on had a low entrance but high ceilings inside, and a steady cool breeze blew from between the towering cliff walls.
Steamboat Rock is the centerpiece of Echo Canyon, and we hiked around the valley get a look at it from many angles. The Yampa and Green Rivers swish around its base, and folks were swimming and kayaking around it.
Instead of swimming, we got our exercise hiking Harper’s Corner Trail, a fantastic out-and-back trail that goes along a ridge overlooking canyons on either side. From this high vantage point it was easy to see how the rivers had carved out their route between the craggy, horizontally striped cliffs.
On the other side of the trail the Green River made its curvy way towards us. We watched a group of river rafters floating down stream, a thousand feet below us.
The night skies in this park are among the darkest in the country, and when we ventured out of the trailer one night, the Milky Way was a thick white band, like a wide belt, that crossed the entire sky.
Mark had been reading up on various photography techniques, and this was a great place to try a star trails photo. Pointing the camera at the North Star on his tripod, he left the camera shutter open for an hour to catch the movement of the stars in the sky.
Well, he meant to do it for an hour. He came into the trailer to warm up, laid down on the sofa, and promptly fell asleep. When he woke up, an hour and a half had passed! Oh well — it just made the star trails a little longer!!
We were both very well rested by the time we pulled ourselves away from Dinosaur National Monument, and we were ready for a little in-town activity in nearby Fruita, Colorado.