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Visiting Dinosaur National Monument

RGB Adventures visited Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah and Colorado border.  This was one of my favorite monuments I have visited so far in the last six months.  We spent three days in the park and we still did not have a chance to explore the northernmost areas of the park and missed the Gates of Lourdes…something for next time.  Perhaps because of Covid19, it was the least amount of people we have come into contact with in the national parks and monuments.  It was wonderful to have so many hikes and opportunities to visit petroglyphs by ourselves.  I highly recommend getting the first 9am appointment at the quarry and doing hikes by 7am.  Most people are not out and about yet and the sun isn’t beating down on you.  Also, the rangers still are excited to answer questions!  The temperatures are more in the 70s instead of the 90s. 

This blog and video are dedicated to the members of the National Girls Collaborative Project.  When I worked for Microsoft, I had the opportunity to join the champions board and volunteer for the organization for the last 10 years.  As many who know me are aware, I am passionate about encouraging women to undertake careers in engineering and STEM and that is what NGCP is all about with an amazing leader and great friend Karen Peterson!  I hope this blog excites girls to consider careers in the environmental sciences!

We started off by entering at the Jensen, Utah gate and went to our campsite at Green River Campground.  There were several first come first serve sites there so we did not have to make a reservation.   The next day, we got up early in the morning to hike through several petroglyph sites, enjoyed the amazing rock formations at the Sound of Silence 3.2 mile hike and instead of taking the tram we did the 1.2 mile one way discovery fossil hike to the quarry exhibit.  You must go online and make a reservation for the quarry due to COVID19, its only $1 a person. 

At the quarry there are park rangers and scientists who are geologists, archeologists, anthropologists and paleontologists studying these dinosaur bones.  Their research into ancient life helps us better understand earth and human life.  They have helped us better understand how different organisms interacted with each other and the environment and how its changed over time.  They are helping us understand the effects of climate change and how plants and animals are evolving. They also help us better understand why certain life goes extinct while others keep surviving.  If learning about these areas are exciting to you then you may want to pursue a career in Geology, Archeology, Paleontology or Environmental Science.

I had a chance to meet, talk and interview a park ranger who is a geologist and archeologist.  She told me that today the quarry is home to over 1,500 dinosaur bones and they encourage you in some places to touch the 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils in the exhibit quarry.  It was exciting to hear her stories about the history of the park and the quarry.  The quarry contained eleven different species of dinosaurs such as allosaurusdiplodocus, and stegosaurus.  Check out the online multi- media exhibit of the quarry. When you see the quarry you wonder did paleontologists really discover the bones as they are presented, or did someone artfully place them here for effect?   Is this real or just a replica of what was in the past when they first dug up these bones? The answer is that paleontologists discovered the bones just where you see them today!  It’s incredible that everything in the quarry is real. The bones are just as nature arranged them more than 150 million years ago, deposited by an ancient stream.

The river coursed through a lowland area and dried up. Dinosaurs gathered around shrinking pools of water in the river bed and eventually died in place, to be entombed by sand and gravel when the river flowed once again. With more time, the river amassed large quantities of bones (like a huge graveyard, behind a dam). Layers of mud and sand began covering the bones, eventually hardening into rock. Here they remained, waiting for the next cataclysmic event and the explorers who eventually discovered them.

About sixty-five million years ago, that event began to occur. Forces beneath the earth’s crust began to exert themselves, forcing the crust upward, causing it to buckle and the riverbed containing the bones to tilt upward. Now near the surface, it was inevitable that erosion would eventually expose the bones and that one day someone would find them.  In 1909, Earl Douglas found the first bones of dinosaurs here as he was searching for fossils for the Carnegie Museum when he discovered a formation layered with prehistoric plant and animal fossils. A quarry was established and in 1915 Dinosaur National Monument was created to protect 80 acres in the quarry area as people were pilfering dinosaur bones. Today, the monument includes over 210,000 acres across two states. After this amazing experience, we returned to the visitor center via the discovery trail and by 10am it was already 90 degrees! 

We returned to our campsite only to be overrun with aggressive ground squirrels and chipmunks.  This is what happens when bad humans habitually feed the wildlife.  Bad humans!  So we headed to the River Access about a mile past the campground, to escape the little marauders.  It was relaxing to enjoy the Green River and admire the rock formations.  Let me tell you a little science behind all these different looking rock formations you will see in my video and below.

The geology and rock formations are amazing.  The following information comes from the National park Service.  Dinosaur National Monument receives less than 12 inches of precipitation a year, vegetation is thin and the rock layers and the geologic features are clearly visible.  Dinosaur is located on the southeast flank of the Uinta Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains and the highest mountain range in the contiguous United States that runs east to west. The landscape at Dinosaur was shaped by the development of these mountain ranges during the Laramide Orogeny, 70-40 million years ago.  Twenty-three rock layers are exposed at the monument. These rock layers are remnants of extinct ecosystems spanning 1.2 billion years, from ancient seas, to plains where dinosaurs roamed, to Sahara-like deserts that were home to tiny, early mammals. When the Rocky Mountains began to rise, this area went along for the ride.

At Dinosaur, the mountain-building did not simply push up the rock layers from below, but also squeezed them from the sides, warping and lifting them, sometimes cracking and shifting them along fault lines.

Throughout the monument, much of the spectacular scenery–the faults, folded and uplifted rock layers, and river canyons more than a thousand feet deep–reflect the tremendous geological forces that shaped this area.  You can see this at Split Mountain, the Sound of Silence hike (there is a virtual tour on my video of this hike) and the amazing canyon views on the Harpers Canyon Road in the Canyon entrance by Dinosaur, CO.  The Green and Yampa rivers are central to the extensive geologic history on display at the monument. Over millions of years, the waters of the Green and Yampa have cut deep canyons, exposing rock layers that were uplifted during the Laramide Orogeny.

The next morning before we left the monument, we road our e-bikes to visit two more petroglyph sites past the Green River Campground, hike Box Canyon and visit Josie Morris’s cabin (she was one of the first woman homesteaders in the area-you have to read about her amazing story).  Most petroglyphs in the monument came from the Fremont Indians, who lived in the canyons in and around Dinosaur National Monument 800 – 1,200 years ago. They were the forerunners of tribes such as the Ute and Shoshone, who still inhabit communities in the area today. 

Homesteading was a man’s world back in the 1900’s.  It was interesting to read about Josie defying the woman’s role as people knew it back then and paving the way for woman to own property. With no money to buy property, in 1913 Josie decided to homestead in Cub Creek in what is now the Dinosaur National Monument. Here she built her own cabin and lived for over 50 years in it mostly by herself. For a time, Josie shared her home with her son Crawford and his wife; grandchildren spent summers working and playing alongside Josie.

Raised on the frontier, Josie lived into the modern era of electronics. For friends and acquaintances in the 1950s, Josie was a link to a world past. During Prohibition in the 1920s and into the 1930s, Josie brewed apricot brandy and chokecherry wine. After a lifetime of dressing in skirts, she switched to wearing pants in her later years. She was tried and acquitted twice for cattle rustling when she was in her 60s. At the age of 71, in an ambitious move to revive a profitable cattle business, she deeded her land away and lost all but the five acres where her cabin still stands.

After our bike ride and hikes we headed out of the park and down highway 40 to the Dinosaur, CO Canyon Visitor Center entrance to see the canyon, change of vegetation and scenery.  It’s about 10 degrees cooler here because of the higher elevation.   We ended our visit by driving down Harpers Corner Road to see the Red Rock Canyon and Round Top Mountain and Island Park Overlook we were able to look down to the area we camped and explored which was an interesting perspective.  I recommend people of all ages to venture to this monument.  If you can’t make it, then you can watch our virtual tour.

Here are our top 5 things to do in the park:

  1. Do the tour of the quarry and if able the discovery fossil hike
  2. Hike the Sound of Silence during sunrise
  3. Camp at Green River Campground
  4. Check out the three Petroglyphs sites/hikes
  5. Cool off in the Green River at the River Access about 1 mile past the campground

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