Carol writes: For the past 6 weeks in Gunnison, Ouray and Olathe, many of our days had been consumed with road trips and hikes in those alluring Colorado mountains that had been a part of our life for so long. We thought the next two weeks in Vernal, Utah, would force us into a slowdown… that is, until we checked into the local KOA
and discovered that this part of northeastern Utah had more to explore than we had time for in the two weeks we had budgeted!
Vernal, Utah, has boasted that its main street is one of the most beautiful in all of small-town America. Indeed, Vernal elicited a “wow” from us as we pulled into town. As their claim to fame, the city fathers seemed to have decided to spend a fair number of dollars of their annual budget on decorating their city with giant pots of petunias—mammoth pendulous hanging baskets on street lamps and jumbo containers evenly spaced between light posts.
A lot of what we saw in Vernal had a dinosaur connection, an obvious reference to its close proximity to Dinosaur National Monument, one of our nation’s more spectacular monuments. Even the local dinosaurs participated in Vernal’s petunia extravaganza.
The monument was so large and had such a variety of sights to see that we ended up visiting four times during our stay in Vernal. It was our feeling that Dinosaur National Monument should eventually achieve national park status.
Our first visit to Dinosaur National Monument was to the Fossil Bone Quarry
where a vast wall display
showed a large dinosaur boneyard from the Morrison time period that was discovered by Earl Douglass in 1909.
So far this quarry has yielded the remains of over 500 dinosaurs and other mammals.
The hiking trails near the quarry framed up grand iconic Utah scenery,
along with plentiful sightings of tiny reminders of the giant creatures that once called this area home.
Some of the monument’s other charms were the nicely preserved historic homesites of some of the region’s early settlers, like the cabin
of pioneer Josie Morris, who lived here alone for many decades until her death at the age of 90.
At the end of Island Park Road in another part of the monument, we walked around the remains of the Ruple Ranch
on the banks of the Green River, one of two world renowned rafting rivers (the other being the Yampa River) that run straight through the heart of the monument.
In keeping with the dinosaur theme of the Vernal area, we couldn’t resist a hike along a trail of sand and slickrock
to 200-million-year-old dinosaur tracks at Red Fleet State Park. Fortunately, at this time of year the water level of Red Fleet Reservoir was low enough
for us to spot outstanding examples of fossilized tracks made by the three-toed, two-crested lizard known as Dilophosauras, featured in the movie Jurassic Park.
At first we couldn’t discern any tracks. Then gradually, our eyes became accustomed to what subtleties to look for in the shoreline bedrock.
Utah is world famous for its rock arches. Arches National Park has some of the most famous examples of these seemingly impossible natural marvels. Just outside of Vernal on the people’s land was the local arch of fame—Moonshine Arch.
It wasn’t a taxing climb and Moonshine Arch didn't disappoint! At 40 feet in height and 85 feet long, I’d say Vernal’s Moonshine Arch was right up there with some of the best in Arches.
The other fascinating feature of this part of Utah was the bountiful examples of petroglyphs etched into canyon walls.
From approximately 1 AD to 1200 AD, this region of northeastern Utah was inhabited by a nomadic civilization known as the Uinta Fremont People. Why this culture died out or left their home of over 1000 years around 1200 AD is unknown, but this was a common storyline in other contemporaneous cultures throughout the southwest. Climate change was probably one key factor.
We saw some tantalizing petroglyphs in several canyons in Dinosaur National Monument. Those that were best preserved were carved into the so-called “desert varnish” (tarnished sunbaked areas) on the canyon wall, with a slight protective overhang.
Many of the familiar themes we had seen in other rock art were present:
...ceremoniously clad warriors complete with headdresses,
...and lots of mountain sheep as seen in this marvelous Great Hunt panel in Nine-Mile Canyon.
The hunters with bow and arrow on this Great Hunt panel clearly demonstrated one of their hunting methods.
The Big Buffalo scene in Nine-Mile Canyon was proof that buffalo either existed and were hunted in this area… or the artist was familiar with a buffalo hunt from somewhere else.
The McConkie Ranch, located on private land in Dry Fork Canyon, has boasted that they have some of the best and most accessible Native American art to be found anywhere. At first blush, we were skeptical about the authenticity of these ornate and incredibly detailed figures, some even stained in certain areas.
However, an excellent study of Fremont Culture petroglyphs by Byron Loosle and Kelda Wilson convinced us that the head ornaments and earrings atop a triangular body form with elaborate necklaces and a narrowed waist was Classic Vernal Style.
As our stay in the Vernal area was drawing to a close, we selected a day when the weather seemed optimum to embark on our most ambitious hike in Dinosaur National Monument—the hike to the Green River along Jones Hole Creek.
The hike was advertised as an easy 8-mile hike roundtrip. That would present no difficulty for Al, but for me the distance would be a challenge, especially having to hike with only one pole and wearing a thumb brace due to a flareup of arthritis at the base of my left thumb!
The hike started at the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery, which provides trout for streams, lakes, and reservoirs in three states.
We were on the lookout for some bighorn sheep that we were told were plentiful in the canyon. Supposedly these animals weren’t a bit shy around people and would allow humans to come quite close. We were blessed with a flawless blue Utah sky above towering 1000-foot canyon walls.
While walking in the footpath of the ancients who had come before us, we came to a small protected section of the canyon wall where the Fremont Culture had painted pictographs a thousand years ago. There were animals and human forms with elaborate headdresses, all still visible in a vibrant shade of umber made from natural pigments.
When we reached the Green River, the serene beauty of the canyon walls meeting the green water of the river was breathtaking.
We briefly talked to a foursome of rafters who were just starting their 4-day adventure down the Green River.
It took no imagination at all to figure out how the Green River acquired its name.
And yes, as we had been told, there wasn’t a flicker of worry as we got quite near for the close-up.
Our last visit to Dinosaur National Monument was through the Colorado entrance. Our goal was to hike a mile to the end of the Harpers Corner Trail
for views of the Green and Yampa Rivers far below in the canyon. What magnificent views awaited us at trail’s end where below us the rock layers of geologic time above the Green River were twisted and uplifted along the Mitten Park Fault.
- Dinosaur bones…
- Fossilized dinosaur tracks…
- Petroglyphs etched by ancient inhabitants…
- Geologic history written in the layers of Utah’s cliffs and canyons…
Time to fold up camp and head up to Flaming Gorge for our slice of a total eclipse of the sun. Our Utah experience, along with Nature's upcoming awe-inspiring show in the heavens, is all worthy subject matter for many hours of thoughtful reflection.
“You should sit in meditation 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Chandra Yoga International website