Dinosaur National Monument, UT – More than fossilized dinosaur bones!

Dinosaur National Monument has great road cycling

Dinosaur National Monument is great for cycling.

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Road Cycling

We had fun on the bikes.

Dinosuar National Monument Lizard Petroglyphs

Lizard images crawl up the wall

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.

Dinosaur National Monument skulls in a tree

Skulls hung in a tree.

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Petroglyph

What’s that on his head??

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Josie's Cabin

Josie’s Cabin


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!!

Dinosaur National Monument Josie's Cabin

It’s a tiny, wee cabin

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.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Road

McKee Springs Road – Where the artists rocked!

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.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

McKee Springs Petroglyphs





Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

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.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

This must tell a story.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

A ghostly double? Two sets of arms? Huh??

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!!

Dinosaur National Monument Rainbow Park

Dinosaur National Monument’s Rainbow Park

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Echo Canyon Scenic Drive

The drive to Echo Canyon was beautiful

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Whispering Cave

The cliffs towered on each side of the road.

Dinosaur National Monument Chew Homestead

The Jack Chew Homestead


Partway into the canyon we stopped at another early 20th century homestead, this one built by the Chew family.

Dinosaur National Monument Whispering Cave

You gotta stoop to get into Whispering Cave.



Dinosaur National Monument Whispering Cave

This cave features vaulted ceilings!

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.

Steamboat Rock Dinosaur National Monument at Echo Canyon on Yampa River Green River

Steamboat Rock

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Harpers Corner Trail

Views of thousand foot cliffs from Harpers Corner Trail

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.

Dinosaur National Monument Green River Views

The Green River weaves its way towards us.





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.

Star Trails at Dinosaur National Monument

Star Trails

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.

Our story Dinosaurs and Much Much More was featured in RV Life Magazine in the September 2013 issue.

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Vernal, UT – Colorful Gateway to Dinosaur National Monument

Vernal Utah summer flowers

Flowers decorate the streets of Vernal, Utah.

Early September, 2012 – From the brilliant colors of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Utah we dropped south to Vernal, Utah.  The town streets were lined with colorful flowers in planters and hanging baskets, and I hung my head out the window taking photos on the fly.  What a beautifully decorated town!

From our RV window we see a dinosaur welcoming us to Vernal, Utah

A dinosaur welcomes us to Vernal!

We see a lot of small towns in our travels.   Some we like immediately while others grow on us slowly.  Vernal was one of those that made us smile right away.

The dazzling masses of flowers were so inviting.  It seemed like a happy town, and we both said in unison, “I like this place!”

Dinosaur Museum Vernal Utah

Dinosaurs were everywhere!

Some small towns have a theme, especially if it hosts a lot of tourists.  The theme might be something general and a bit vague, like “seaside beach town” or “woodsy mountain town” or “college party town.”   Sometimes you have to kind of hunt around to figure out what it is.

Dinosaur at Best Western in Vernal Utah

Come stay with us at the Best Western hotel!

But Vernal’s theme is right out there, front and center:  This is Dinosaur Town!  Dinosaurs were everywhere.  They were welcoming folks to town, hawking rooms at the Best Western, inviting kids to go swimming, and milling around outside the Dinosaur Museum.  There were so many dinosaurs in this town that we did a special bike ride up and down the streets to capture as many as we could with the camera.  What a totally fun place.

Dinosaur Museum Vernal Utah

Welcome to the Dinosaur Museum

Of course, there is a reason this is Dinosaur Town, besides the townsfolk having a fascination with them.  Vernal is the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument where paleontologist Earl Douglas found a nearly perfect Apatosaurus skeleton in 1909.  It all started when he first unearthed a string of the beast’s vertebrae buried in the dirt in a nice little row.  The skeleton now resides at Carnegie Museum (Andrew Carnegie funded the work of Douglas and later scientists who quarried bones here).

Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) at Dinosaur National Monument Utah


Apatosaurus is a long necked and long tailed plant eating dinosaur that walked on all fours, stood about 16 feet high, and was 70 feet long end to end.  If one of them tried to hide behind a typical one-story ranch style house, the head and tail would stick out either end.  Watch out for that swishing tail!

A Dinosaur in Vernal Utah invites kids to swim at a hotel pool - taking your RV there is fun too.

What a fun pal in the swimming pool…

This big guy has also been known as Brontosaurus, a name I remember from my childhood.

How did that 149 million year old skeleton happen to wind up on a hillside in the vast, empty, rocky area south of Vernal, waiting for a fossil-collecting paleontologist to find it in 1909?  It turns out it was sitting in the middle of what scientists discovered was something of a dinosaur graveyard.

Vernal Utah is a great RV destination with a fun dinosaur theme

Did you know dinosaurs liked watermelon??

Back in dinosaur days, all those millions of years ago, North America and Eurasia were just beginning to go their separate ways, and the climate was dry in this part of the world.  Rivers and flood planes wound through the area.  Dinosaurs ate the vegetation at the river’s edge, and as the water flooded and receded, they died in the muddy riverbed and were quickly embalmed in sediment.  Over time, at a molecular level, the sediment replaced the organic parts of the carcasses, and the bones became petrified, or crystallized, into rock.

RV Blog - dinosaurs in Vernal Utah

Dinosaurs mill around all over town.

Dinosaur in Vernal Utah

In this area a lot of dinosaurs met that fate, and consequently the “Dinosaur Quarry” is a deep and wide field of bones from the Jurassic Period.

The find that Earl Douglas made fired up the imagination of the early 20th century folk.  These were the days before the children’s book “Danny and the Dinosaur,” the Flintstones’ “Dino,” and lovable, purple Barny.

Vernal Utah dinosaur bares its teeth to RV travelers

This one has teeth!!

The newspaper accounts of the time had to follow the word “Dinosaur” with the explanation, “a pre-historic animal-reptile,” since not everyone knew what a dinosaur was.

Shuttle bus rides to Dinosaur National Monument make it feel like a Disney Theme Park

Is this a Disney Theme Park?

Douglas’ dream was to allow the public to see what the hillside looked like when the topsoil was removed — since it is a veritable pile of massive bones — and he envisioned a viewing area built over the quarry that would protect it from the elements and offer shade to visitors. The National Park Service obliged a few decades later.

Wall of bones on display at Dinosaur National Monument

A wall of bones is sheltered by a unique building.

At the visitors center we hopped into one of the open air shuttles that the NPS provides visitors to get to the quarry site. We felt a little like we were at a Disney theme park when we jumped in. It is a short, steep ride to the unique quarry building.

In our RV travels we found a Dinosaur graveyard at Dinosaur National Monument

This was a dinosaur graveyard.

The original building was considered a masterpiece of design, set off with a graceful butterfly roof. But the geology of the area wasn’t fully understood at the time, and natural forces began to wreak havoc with the structure. The National Park Service renovated the building in the early 2000’s and now it will presumably last a long time.

When we walked in the door, we found ourselves staring at a wall of dinosaur bones.

A reconstructed dinosaur skeleton at Dinosaur National Monument

It is hard to fathom how big these guys were and how long ago they lived.

History came alive as we walked along this slab of earth where Earl Douglas and so many subsequent paleontologists have painstakingly studied these layers of bones.

Vertebrae, skulls, leg bones and other intriguing things are all lying there, still encased in the rocky soil.

The National Park Service encourages visitors to touch the dinosaur bones

Mark checks out an enormous bone.

Visitors are encouraged to touch the bones, and putting a hand on an immense bone is quite a thrill.  However, we both still found it very hard to fathom the vast span of time that the dinosaurs existed (nearly 90 million years), and the antiquity of that era (they went extinct about 65 million years ago).  Usually our visits to “ancient sites” take us to places where humans lived just a thousand or so years ago.

A skull on display at Dinosaur National Monument

That is one big head!!

Wildflowers outside Dinosaur National Monument

To our surprise, we found out Dinosaur National Monument is loaded with treasures from those more recent times too.

So we stayed for several days, seeking out some of the best petroglyphs we have seen anywhere, hiking and driving through some spectacular scenery, and wandering through two homesteads from the early 1900’s.


Click here for our next post about PETROGLYPHS and CYCLING at Dinosaur NM.

Our story Dinosaurs and Much Much More was featured in the September 2013 issue of RV Life Magazine.

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Flaming Gorge Utah – Fiery canyons, a cool river, and nearly tame bighorn sheep

Flaming Gorge Utah Rainbow over our RV

A rainbow frames the buggy

Early September, 2012 – Leaving the northern half of Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, we settled down near the heart of the gorge in Utah where it is a part of the National Park Service.

Flaming Gorge Utah RV Views

Mark gets a front row seat to the view.

The storms continued to march across the sky every afternoon, and one day, just as the sun was setting, the sky went black and a brilliant rainbow formed right over the buggy.

Flaming Gorge Utah Greendale Overlook

Kids monkey around for the camera

The overlooks and walking paths near the Visitors Center offer the most impressive views of the gorge, and we wandered out to the edge of the cliffs repeatedly to see the breathtaking scene from every possible vantage point.

Flaming Gorge Utah Canyon Rim Hike

The Canyon Rim hike goes through the woods too.

Brilliant mornings complemented the brooding afternoons.  As we paused one afternoon to enjoy the views from one overlook, a crowd of young families showed up.

Flaming Gorge is a perfect area for families, as there are all kinds of things to do, from hiking to biking to camping to visiting with herds of grass-eating animals to taking a tour of the dam.  This group of families was having a ball.  Half the parents were out on mountain bikes somewhere while the other half chilled at the overlook.  The kids romped all over the place in very high spirits, despite the gathering afternoon storm.

RV boondocking view of Flaming Gorge Utah meadow at sunrise

Meadow at sunrise.

They posed for their moms to take a photo, and they were all so cute I had to get one too.  Just minutes after that the skies opened up and we had a downpour that pelted everyone and everything and soaked us all to the bone.  The kids laughed it off, but we felt badly for the late returning dads who had to hurry in the driving rain to get all the mountain bikes back on their bike racks before they drove off in a blur of spray.

RVers coming to Flaming Gorge will find stunning views and camping

Breathtaking views at every turn.

Between storms we were gifted with glorious sunshine.  We hiked the Canyon Rim between the visitors center and the Canyon Rim Campground, taking two photos for every five steps.  What a place!  Rock outcroppings hang out over the edges of the cliffs all along the rim, making for dramatic views (and a little bit of stomach churning if you stand on the edge and look straight down).  Campers can set up in sites with marvelous views.

RV boondocking offers amazing views of Flaming Gorge

Now it’s my turn to perch on a cliff.

The big horn sheep are very much at home in this terrain, though, and a large herd was mingling with the campers in the Canyon Rim Campground.

Another woman watching them through the viewfinder of her camera (just like we were) told us they had been wandering between the campsites  all four days she had been there.

Bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge's Canyon Rim Campground, an RVers delight

A herd of bighorn sheep hung out at the campground. Rangers track their movement by radio.

As we chatted, the group of sheep stood and stared at us, barely moving.  They formed something of a protective circle, facing outwards.  They stood there so long the young ones got bored, as we did, and eventually two of them laid down behind the shield of their parents’ legs.

Big horn sheep at the Flaming Gorge Canyon Rim Campground

We watched each other carefully.

These guys were very accustomed to humans, and they let us get close enough to see that the largest one had been outfitted with a radio collar.  A large antenna stuck out from the radio on his neck like a third antler behind his head.  Rangers told us they track the herd very closely.

Flaming Gorge Dam

Flaming Gorge Dam

Flaming Gorge used to be a free-flowing river, and one afternoon we took a tour of the Flaming Gorge Dam.  Built in the late 1950’s, it was one of the West’s many water reclamation projects of the mid-1900’s that tamed the west’s wild rivers and provided electrical power to nearby communities.

Flaming Gorge Dam turbine

An original turbine was replaced recently and is now on display.

The most amazing thing about these dams, I find, is that in order to build them the rivers had to be re-routed temporarily.  At Flaming Gorge, as at all the other major western dams, a huge tunnel was dug into the cliff so the water would bypass the dam construction area.  The concrete is so thick in Flaming Gorge dam that it will take 100 years to cure fully at its center.

Turkey vultures dry their wings on the scaffolding outside the Flaming Gorge dam.

When the sun came out, the whole flock dried off its wings.

That means the concrete at the core is only half cured now, and it puts the cure date sometime just before 2060!

A turkey vulture at Flaming Gorge Dam

Seeing an original turbine that had recently been replaced was interesting, but what really caught our attention was the huge flock of turkey vultures sitting on the scaffolding outside the dam.

Sweeping views from the Flaming Gorge Visitors Center in Utah

Flaming Gorge was an awe-inspiring place to visit.

When we started the tour raindrops were falling, and these guys were hunkered down waiting for the typical afternoon deluge.  But when we emerged from the bowels of the dam’s massive structure an hour later at the end of the tour, we discovered the sun had come out and all the turkey vultures were now sitting with wings outstretched, drying off their feathers!

Flaming Gorge is a magical place, and we dallied for a while.  But eventually the lure of dinosaurs drew us away and we drove further south to Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument.

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Back side of Park City, Utah in Fall.

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Sunrise over the snowy ski runs -- in September!!

Northern Utah

Leaving northern Utah for warmer places south.

Flaming Gorge National Park & Park City, Utah

September 18-24, 2007 - We left South Dakota's Black Hills and

headed west through Wyoming and south to Utah.  We stopped at

Flaming Gorge National Park, a stunning area of red rock cliffs

overlooking the Green River.  The colors of the rocks and water were


We made our way to Park City, home of the Winter Olympics.  For

the first time we felt the weather pushing us.  When we arrived in

Park City we discovered Fall was in full swing.  The trees were

turning all kinds of gorgeous colors.

We took a drive over the mountain along the back side of Park City

and saw autumn in all her colorful glory.

The weather began to take on the chill of winter, with nights getting

into the 20's.  One morning we watched in amazement as a light rain

became a blizzard in a matter of minutes.  Suddenly the surrounding

mountains were virgin white.  The snow disappeared a few days later,

but we took the hint.  It was time to head south towards central Utah.

Here we discovered the San Rafael Swell, an area just north of

Green River on I-70.