We hadn’t originally planned to stop at Dinosaur National Monument but our friend Jason in Rexburg said he’d heard it was pretty awesome. Since we were sort of in the area, seemed a shame not to go. The plan was to drive to Vernal, Utah, spend the night at a campground and then go to DNM the next day.
Almost from the minute we entered Utah, the landscape got gnarlier. Leaving Manila, UT, we climbed an 8% grade up to the top of an 8,079 foot pass where we had a beautiful view out over the lower end of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
We had a momentary scare after we stopped and took these photos at what seemed like the summit. It was almost the summit but not quite. After snapping some pix, we started Flipper back up and headed out. Of course, the grade being so steep and us starting from a standstill, we were hard-pressed to get out of 1st gear for the remainder of the climb. We’d just gotten on the road and started to pick up a tiny bit of speed when the engine bogged down and died. I pulled over to the shoulder as well as I could and turned on the flashers. I tried restarting the engine and it fired right up. Gave it a few revs and took off, hoping for the best. And everything was fine after that. You may remember back in Joshua Tree NP last year, we had a similar problem after working the engine hard and then turning it off for a few minutes. I suspect that the fuel line must run close to some hot part of the engine. While operating, fuel pumps through fast enough so there’s no problem. But, once stopped, a section of line must be warm enough to allow the fuel in that section to vaporize, creating a bubble. Once the engine is restarted and the bubble reaches the carburetor, the engine is starved for fuel and dies. Since the engine wasn’t all that warm this time, we must have only had the one bubble instead of multiple ones like we had at Joshua Tree. Anyway, that’s my theory.
We went over another couple of passes and then started the long downhill run to Vernal. At the top of the grade they have signs saying that it’s an 8% grade and that there are 11 switchbacks on the way down. Each switchback updates the information with signs saying things like “9 more”. It was a 2nd and 3rd gear drive down and I was happy that there was a semi in front of us going really slow. That way, it was his fault that traffic was backed up instead of mine.
When we got into Vernal, we found the National Parks Office and inquired about campgrounds. He said most of theirs were north of Vernal and asked where we were going. When we told him, he said that DNM was only about 15 miles away so we decided to go there for the night.
The entry fee of either $10 or $15, I can’t remember which, was waived because of my senior status. We stopped into the visitor center briefly and then headed to the Green River Campground about 5 miles from the visitor center. There weren’t very many campsites taken and we got a good one near the bathrooms but sort of isolated as well. Well, as isolated as you get in campgrounds these days. We decided to just kick back the rest of the afternoon and do our exploring tomorrow.
The view from our campsite as the sun was setting:
It was cool Thursday night but not nearly as cool as it had been further north. I think the outside thermometer read somewhere around 40 degrees when I got up at 6:30. The propane furnace warmed the camper up nicely and we enjoyed our typical leisurely morning and then headed out for the day. We decided to drive further down the road in the opposite direction of the visitor’s center because there were 2 very short hikes we wanted to check out while we were still at this end of the park.
The first was the homestead cabin of Josie Bassett Morris. If I remember right, Josie moved here and built her cabin in 1914. And then spent the next 50 years living there. She had some horses and a few head of cattle which she penned up in the box canyon adjacent to where she built her place. Pretty tough lady. We both wanted to read more about her but the Gift Shop was out of the only two books they had on her. Guess I’ll have to turn to the internet.
Josie’s cabin is being restored by a group of volunteers. They’re doing a nice job as it looks like it’s just a well-preserved, but naturally-aged cabin. It’s cool that you can go inside as well.
We decided we could live quite nicely in something this size. I paced it off and came up with the main cabin being about 20′ x 18′ (460 sf) and the little piece on the end is maybe 10′ x 8′ (80 sf) for a total of 540 sf. Right about in the middle of the range we plan to build one of these days. After exploring the cabin, we walked a ways up the box canyon.
On our way out, we noticed her old chicken coop:
After our visit to Josie’s place, our next stop was where there were supposed to be some ancient petroglyphs carved into the hillside by Native Americans called the Fremont People. These people were related to the Ute tribes. The petroglyph stop was a short but steep walk up the side of a hill right alongside the road.
The most prominent carving, a lizard, can be seen from the road.
The petroglyphs are estimated to be around 1000 years old.
And there’s Flipper, way down below:
Lulu was always looking to see if she could find some more:
Once we’d had our fill of petroglyphs, we headed back to the visitor center where the Quarry Exhibit Hall is located. The quarry is the site of a major dinosaur fossil find that was first discovered in 1909. Apparently this is a spot where, over the millennia, a huge number of dinosaur bones were washed down a long-since-extinct waterway creating a sort of logjam of bones. Several full skeletons were removed and are now housed at the Smithsonian Institution. At one point, they decided to stop digging in this site and preserve the quarry for succeeding generations to enjoy. They built a shelter over the exposed portion of the hill which, although it does a great job of preserving the fossils and allows visitors to view them in comfort, no matter the weather, also lends an air of inauthenticity to the whole thing. It looks like something that could have been built to mimic an actual quarry. It’s not, or so they tell me, but it just kind of feels that way.
When I allowed my skepticism to relax, it was all pretty darn impressive. These were actual fossilized bones of creatures that had roamed this are of what would become North America somewhere around 150 million years ago.
Lulu didn’t want to be in all these pictures but I needed her there for a sense of scale. Here she is touching an actual fossilized dinosaur bone. They let you do that down on the ground floor.
I think this was an allosaurus skull. This is a replica but the original was unearthed intact. This is pretty much unheard of as the skulls tended to be fairly fragile.
After hanging out in the quarry awhile, we took the hiking trail that was going to take us by some other fossils. Unfortunately, fossils of old clams and such look pretty much like any old hole in a rock and so, weren’t really photo-worthy. We did see a couple of large bones, though. They painted white arrows to help us see what we probably would have missed otherwise. This looks like a spine.
And this looks like maybe a femur:
We finished the hike and headed back to camp where we had a very relaxing afternoon. Lulu made cookies and bread while I read my Kindle and enjoyed a campfire. Although far from full, the campground was noticeably fuller tonight, which makes sense since it’s Friday.
Next stop: Somewhere between here and Moab.
Fontanelle Reservoir to Dinosaur National Monument: 214 miles
Driving around within DNM: 22 miles
Total to-date: 3,031 miles.