The Dinosaur National Monument doesn’t have a single dinosaur. It’s not a misnomer.
It does have a split personality. It’s divided between northwest Colorado and northeast Utah. Colorado has the most beautiful scenery, the best camping, and the finest hiking trails. Utah has some old bones.
The visitor center on the Utah side has mostly replicas of dinosaur bones that paleontologists have found there starting with Earl Douglass’s discovery in 1909. Since that time, other paleontologists have found more dinosaur fossils here than at any other site on Earth. The fossils include Allosaurus and several long-neck, long-tail sauropods.
At one time early in my life the allure of digging for bones attracted me. But digging here must have been gruesome work. Midday temperatures for much of the year reach 100 degrees. This is clearly desert. So how did dinosaurs live here? A ranger on the trail told me that 150 years ago this land was like the savannah of Kenya and Tanzania today. And that’s not all. Deciding what is a rock and what is a fossilized rock is difficult. Take, for example, this bone still embedded in the 150 year old Morrison Formation, a half-mile hike from the visitor center:
The trail took my near this petroglyph:
I saw the dinosaur bones and the petroglyph on Monday morning after camping out Sunday night in the heart of the Colorado section of the national monument. I spent the night near the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers in Echo Park, which the people who lived here called “The Center of the Universe.” The 1869 expedition led by John Wesley Powell was the first to map and name Echo Park.
But we almost lost Echo Park. A proposed dam on the Green River became a nationwide environmental controversy in the early 1950s. The Sierra Club, however helped forge a compromise that saved it.
And what unspoiled beauty they saved!
Even today few people can get to Echo Park because passenger cars can’t handle the last 13 miles of steep, rough dirt road down into the canyon. Fortunately for me, that meant no RVs sharing the campground. In fact, only three other parties in tents shared it with me on Sunday night, none of them within sight or sound of my camp.
As soon as I pitched my tent, I walked down to the Green River. I knew that the Yampa River joined the Green just a couple of miles upstream. I set off in the late evening and reached this meadow at last light:
But then I saw lightening and heard thunder approaching, so I immediately turned around. I didn’t beat the rain, but I did use my shirt to protect my camera, and made it back to my tent just in time.
Just as I got to my tent, a big gust of wind picked it up and blew it straight into my arms. If I hadn’t been there, it could have flown to the Green. As soon as the wind settled down, I grabbed a rock and this time pounded the tent pegs much deeper into the ground.
Since I had missed seeing where the two rivers met on Sunday evening, I went back up the river for a couple of miles on Monday morning as soon as it was light. This time I found it:
As I returned upriver to the place where I had spent the night, I got this view of it from the river:
This journey to the Center of the Universe was wonderful in its own right. But it also brought back delicious memories of a five-day rafting trip that I took down the Green River about 35 years ago. That trip started just a few miles downstream at Ouray, went through what John Wesley Powell appropriately named Desolation Canyon in 1869, and ended at the town of Green River. Today this section of the river remains almost completely unchanged from what the great explorer saw 140 years ago.