Dinosaur National Monument (Utah/Colorado)
Flaming Gorge Recreational Area (Utah)
Campground: Rangely Camper Park. $20, 30 amp elect. Water (not at site) and dump station and restrooms available. Nice big cottonwood trees for shade. This is a small park and most of the sites are very small. Barely large enough to fit one car. I was lucky and got here early in the morning and got one of the few sites suitable for a 35 ft camper. No Tv or radio signal. No wi-fi.
Campground: Lucerne Valley (Flaming Gorge NRA) campground. $15 per night senior rate. 50 Amp Elect. Next to the Lucerne Marina. New campsites, fully paved. Restrooms, water and dump station available. Good DTV signal, Verizon signal.
Distance traveled: 90 miles.
It was time to move on, with average temps in the Grand Junction area hovering around 100 degrees. I took hwy 139 north which is really a poorly paved two lane road especially over the first 20 miles or so. You guessed it, no shoulders. I must be getting used to driving on these narrower roads because it didn’t bother me in the least. Leaving the fertile Grand Valley behind with it’s many farms, orchards and wineries behind, I started my ascent up and over Douglas Pass at 8,268 ft. It may not be the highest pass I’ve gone over, but it sure had the tightest and windiest road I’ve ever been on while pulling a camper. I really felt as if I was channeling “The Long Long Trailer”. I could have sworn I could see the back end of my camper around those sharp and steep turns. I guess the awesome views of the valleys surrounded by those mountain ranges and then actually driving into the mountains really took my mind off of the road itself.
Hwy 139 parallels the boarder of Colorado and Utah and is part of the Dinosaur diamond Trail. My goal is to make it to the Dinosaur National Monument. A friend, Dave, had been a volunteer Ranger here a year or so back. The place had been closed for a couple of years for renovations, after all it is millions of years old you know.
Rangely is a small western town that got it’s start around 1947 making it a fairly new town in Colorado. Roads did not get paved for another 10 years. Even today due to it’s remote location it only has a population of 2,500 at most. One of the largest oil fields in Colorado sits nearby. The first deep well was dug in 1930 at a depth of 6,335 feet. It was capped until needed later on. Due to it’s remote location is wasn’t activated until WWII. By 1949 there were 478 working wells in the area. Remember that date, it’s an important one. Though I’m sure I’ll learn much more on the oil and gas industry while in the area, I’m really most interested in exploring the Freemont Indian pictographs and petroglyphs in the area and of course the Dinosaur National Monument.
Now you know I have to feel comfortable being in an area with Douglas on almost everything. Douglas Creek, Douglas Pass, a Douglas here a Douglas there… I planned on staying at most a day or two, but I seem to be smitten with the area. Is it the remoteness factor? The puffy white clouds against a light blue sky? The awesome shade trees that make it possible to sit outdoors during the middle of the day. Or maybe it’s having lunch right across the street at Giovanni’s Italian Grill and having the best Stromboli I’ve ever had. Giovanni’s won the Business of the Year award in 2011 and I can see why.
So you say, what about that 1949 date and all those references to Douglas. Well, I was born in 1949 and I’ll be spending my Birthday here in Rangely. Yes I admit it, I was born July 10, 1949. And feel barely 49 years old.
The following day, July 10th, I got an early start and proceeded down hwy 64 on my way to the Dinosaur National Monument. One enters the main entrance in Utah with additional portions of the park in Colorado. This is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time. But since it was closed for a numbers of years due to the building surrounding the quarry falling into disrepair due to shifting sands beneath the foundation, with windows popping out and breaking, the building was finally condemned. A whole new structure has been built and is almost identical to the original except for having a much stronger footing and foundation. Because I got there early, I did a tour of the park first. Now since it was my Birthday, I was able to see so many things that interest me. Along the road leading through the park, I stopped at numerous Pictograph and Petroglyph sites. I’m always amazed at these sites throughout the west and how many there are. Each having it’s own distinct style yet with many similarities to other sites. One of the sites had a large image of a lizard high on a cliff wall that could be seen from way down below. Most unusual for the placement of the lizard as well as the size of it. And of course I love the figures that to me almost look like space beings and are described by the locals as carrot tops. As they have a similar look to the shape of a carrot. And of course the scenery. Blue Mountain to one side, white chalk like scraggly mountains in the opposite direction. Rounded bare hills and scrub covered lower mountains in-between. The Green River flowing through the valley making it a fertile and bountiful acreage. Definitely a banquet for the eyes. About 9 miles in, I end up on a well maintained gravel and dirt road heading deeper and deeper into a canyon where it led to Josie Bassett’s cabin and homestead. A true pioneering woman. Married 5 times and divorced 4 times by the age of 40. At which time, with no money to her name and single, she decided to homestead again. Well, I was talking to a local who grew up in the area and knew more of the story. Josie basically took/stole someone else’s claim. Mainly by obtaining the water rights to the area, thus insuring that she’d end up with the land as well. Later she would be accused of cattle rustling but was never convicted. Even with all that, Josie was well liked, the gal that told me more of Josie’s story, told of how she would walk the 9 or 10 miles out of the canyon to bring this gals grandmother apricots from her orchard. I was fortunate to get to the homestead very early and was the only one there. Enjoying the peace and quite of the secluded and remote canyon. Walking around the tilted cabin where she lived for another 50 years, enjoying the shade of the huge cottonwood trees and orchard that Josie had planted so many years ago. Listening to the gurgling of the spring. Wow, what a way to celebrate my birthday. And there was more to come as I grudgingly left such a peaceful site. It was time to get to the visitors center and take the tram up to the enclosed quarry site.
Of course this is the main reason for coming to the Dinosaur National Monument to see the quarry. Or should I say what remains of it. The Carnegie expedition removed hundred if not thousands of dinosaur bones (roughly 2/3s of the river bed) which now reside in Pittsburg, New York and the Smithsonian. It is only due to fact that the Carnegie foundation decided to spend it’s money elsewhere that the remaining wall of bones remains in it’s original location. Earl Douglass discovered the first dinosaur bones here and championed the idea of preserving the remainder of the site. And even then, at the time it became a National Monument, the director thought it was a big boondoggle to spend money to enclose the quarry so that people could come to the actual site of one of the largest dinosaur bed discoveries in the world and learn about our planets past. Well I can tell you, from my vantage point I couldn’t be more happy. To be able to be in this most remote site of the U.S. and view and learn about these giant beings. Right where they lived and died 150 million years ago. Wow, I’m a happy camper. Archeologists continue to explore and dig in the area as there is still a wealth of discoveries to be found.
The next day I traveled through Canyon Pintado which is part of the National Historic District along hwy 139. Freemont and Ute Indians lived in the area and both created much rock art along the canyon walls. Due to the age and weathering conditions, many are fading or have been damaged by vandals. I particularly like the waving hands. It’s almost as if some Freemont or Ute Indian was waving at me through the past. Kind of spooky and endearing at the same time. It just put a smile on my face looking at those waving hands. I couldn’t help myself and waved back. Kokopelli was another favorite. He was the humpbacked flute player that brought in his hump, seeds, babies and blankets and thoughts are that he was either a trader, shaman, rainmaker or even a god. Images of him can be found all the way from Mexico to parts of Colorado and Utah playing his flute and bringing fun and maybe a few pranks as well. The sites I visited are scattered along a 15 mile stretch and are fairly well marked by the National Park system. I didn’t make it to all of them, so I might have to come back again one day. It’s hard at times to imagine anyone living in this very harsh environment without today’s conveniences. High dry desert with little vegetation or wildlife, but evidence of life in the area goes back over 11,000 years. Today it’s oil, gas and coal that keeps the area alive. And of course there is the Green River running through the area bringing life sustaining water to those who live here.
My journey continues as I head west and north towards the Utah and Wyoming boarder. Flaming Gorge Country.
Distance Traveled: 121 miles
Yup, another mountain pass of 8400 feet. More dramatic views along with 8% grade coming over the mountain. I must admit this road was pretty good overall with lots of passing lanes available. I plan on taking the route again back to Vernal UT without the camper in tow. That way I can stop more often and take some great pictures to share. The views coming down into the Flaming Gorge area are just spectacular.
More photos on PICASA.
To be continued….