Day 203 – Flaming Gorge Getaway

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Day 203 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways in the USA

Dinosaur National Monument

I finally tore myself away from Steamboat on Wednesday and traveled to Dinosaur National Monument where I found a campsite near the Green River and tried staying cool in the shade for the afternoon and evening.

Today was simply crazy! I don’t even know where to begin. For what felt like a blistering hot morning (though I suspect it wasn’t even 80 degrees) and an afternoon full of thunder showers, I have to say, my day was nothing short of excellent.

I began the morning in Dinosaur National Monument, a park that spans across the Utah/Colorado border.  I took a variety of short hikes beginning with a short uphill climb to Cub Creek Petroglyphs where I found some of the largest rock carvings I have seen on my adventures.  The carvings included triangles, swirls, and faces in addition to large lizard like animals and a figure that looked like a flute player.  The well defined petroglyphs seemed to have weathered the harsh, desert conditions.

Josie Bassett Homestead

After admiring the cliff wall, a squirrel perched on a nearby boulder, and countless lizards that scurried across my path, I stopped at the Josie Bassett homestead.  Josie Bassett Morris grew up in Brown’s Park with her family who hosted many guests including outlaws like Butch Cassidy.  Josie, a pioneer, was also a progressive woman. She married five times, divorced four husbands and widowed one at a time when divorce was unheard of.

When lands near Vernal opened up for homesteading around 1913, forty year old Josie found land she wanted at Cub Creek.  She built a cabin, raised livestock, poached deer, bootlegged whisky and planted crops on her land where she lived for the next fifty years without plumbing, electricity or a telephone.  In order to run herremote ranch more efficiently, she switched from wearing skirts to wearing pants and cut her hair short to keep from getting tangled in brush.

After falling and breaking her hip at the age of 89, she was moved from her cabin and died a few months later.  From the cabin, I took a short trail past a small, mosquito infested pond and through a valley of tall grasses and wildflowers to a box canyon where Josie penned her animals.  On my way, a bunny stood perfectly still in my path until I was only a few feet away from it!

Fossil Discovery Trailhead

Before I left Dinosaur National Monument, I took the shuttle to the Fossil Discovery Trailhead where I visited three areas of fossils within ¾ of a mile of each other; Mowry Shale, Morrison Formation, Stump Formation.

Once an inland sea, the Mowry Shale was deposited 100 million years ago.  It is thought that volcanic ash in the water killed the fish and strong currents tore the bodies apart leaving fossilized fish scales.

The Morrison Formation, approximately 150 million years old, is peppered with dinosaur fossils. Vertebrae, femurs, and other fragments of bones from ten different species of dinosaurs can be found in this formation.  In addition, clam fossils and impressions of tortoise shells can also be found in the rock, once a creek bed and now uplifted and eroded into tilted layers.

The Stump Formation is estimated to be 163 million years old and shows evidence that it was once part of an ocean as it displays fossils of clams, snails, ammonites, and belemnites.

I’m certain Petey was happy for me to finish my lesson in fossils and join him in VANilla to continue north toward Red Canyon.  VANilla charged up Hwy 191 which cuts through Ashley National Forest.  The road rises and falls with the surrounding landscape marked with interpretive signs pointing out areas of fossilized sand dunes, petrified forests, and formations where crocodile teeth and dinosaur bones can be found.  After passing through a variety of rocky
formations, the roads climbs the hillsides through pines and aspens and into open meadows.

As I was singing to Lyle Lovett’s “Give Back My Heart”, about 75 yards ahead on the right hand side of the road, a mountain lion trotted down a small mound and across the road.  Stunned, I braked as smoothly as possible and reached for my camera as I came to stop in the middle of the two lane highway where I had hardly seen any traffic despite it seeming like a main road.  By the time I had raised my camera to my face, the cat had disappeared into the brush on the opposite side of the road.

Just after the small mound, I turned onto a dirt road cut through the meadow. Oh how I hoped it would reappear! It was right in front of my eyes, yet I couldn’t spot it, and logic prevailed…I DID NOT get out of VANilla to look for it.  I’m sick I missed the shot, but it was truly amazing to watch it saunter past me in broad daylight. It gave the illusion like it was moving slowly, yet it was hidden by the time I did a double take, reached for my camera, and traveled fifty yards.  SO COOL…and such a highlight of my day!  The rest of the day could have been a complete disaster, and I would have still claimed it was AWESOME!

Red Canyon

Shortly thereafter, we reached Red Canyon, where a marmot scampered across the road.  A car was behind me, so I kept going to the Visitor Center and canyon rim.  Petey joined me for a walk along the rim which offered amazing views of the vast reservoir, surrounding red cliffs and snow capped mountain in the distance.

Not five minutes after we began our stroll, thunderstorms rolled in.  We quickly found two caches, both a physical one and a virtual one before returning to VANilla.  As soon as we took cover and turned to exit the area, the rain seemed to stop.  As luck would have it, the marmot was next to the tree to which it had dashed thirty minutes prior, so I snapped a photo, before continuing on to see a deer leap over a five foot fence.  It was just a day of wildlife!

Dowd Mountain Overlook

After visiting Red Canyon, I followed Hwy 44 to Dowd Mountain Overlook, where I took a red, dirt road through the forest about three miles before I opted to turn around.  The thunderstorms had returned.  As water funneled to both sides of the road and filled old tire tracks, I thought my day would end better if I didn’t get stuck in the woods!  I had hoped to hike the trail to Hideout Canyon, a hill-hidden nook where Butch Cassidy and other outlaws sought refuge
from pursuing posses…oh well, perhaps another time.

Ute Mountain Fire Tour

Once again, as soon as I turned around, the down pour turned to sprinkles and the road dried up as fast as it had turned into a drainage ditch.  I took advantage of the next burst of dry weather and followed the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Loop to the Ute Mountain Fire Tower, one of the first fire towers constructed in Utah.  The fire tower, situated at 8,834 feet in Ashley National Forest was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  It is the only fire tower in Utah that doubled as a fire detection tower and living quarters.  While I would have liked to continue my drive along the loop through the breathtaking forest of aspen, pines, and wildflowers, the road was closed, so I had to return to Hwy 44 which offered superb views of Flaming Gorge:  rolling green hills, flaming red cliffs, and deep blue waters.

Scenic Drive Through Logan Canyon

As I was leaving the mountains and beginning to enter the high desert, I passed by a family of big horn sheep!  Seven of them rested on a cliff side rock and
one lay in the grass fifteen feet away from the herd.  I don’t think I have ever seen that many in one spot nor have I seen them lying down. Generally they are maneuvering over steep terrain.

I finally reached Green River late in the afternoon, turned west toward Bear Lake as I passed by countless prairie dogs and descended down through Logan Canyon.  I almost stopped at Bear Lake as I will be returning to the area tomorrow, but I am so glad I didn’t as I would have missed this fantastic scenic drive along Logan River, beneath limestone cliffs and rolling green hills that looked like Ireland with pines, junipers, sagebrush, maples, and firs. I complete the same drive in reverse direction tomorrow and plan on stopping at dozens of pullouts to capture some breathtaking views on film (or I guess on an SD card)…ETB.

Other Articles About Utah You May Like

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Day 172 – Monument Valley Meander (Part 2) and Utah Byways
Day 173 – Utah Byways (Part 2)
Day 174 – Utah Byways (Part 3)
Day 175 – Utah Byways (Part 4)
Day 176 – Bryce Canyon Country
Day 177 – Bryce Canyon Country (Part 2)
Day 178 – Bryce Canyon Country (Part 3) and Zion Canyon Loop
Day 179 – Zion Canyon Loop (Part 2)
Day 180 – Zion Canyon Loop (Part 3)
Day 181 – Zion Canyon Loop and Utah Byways (Part 4)
Day 182 – Utah Byway (Part 5)
Day 183 – Utah Byways (Part 6)
Day 184 – Monument Valley Meander (Part 3) and San Juan Skyways
Utah’s Olympic Park
Hiking Deer Valley Resort
Park Silly Sunday!


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

2 thoughts on “Day 203 – Flaming Gorge Getaway

  1. Wow… beautiful pictures of the Red Canyon and the Flaming Gorge! It’s so much fun to see wildlife. Bud and I went to the Rocky Mountain National Park several years ago. We would love to go back. Especially now, when it’s 100+ degrees here in Texas. Safe travels!

  2. What a day Beth!!! Really fascinating and I LOVED the Big Horn Sheep. And the Mountain Lion… what a thrill!!

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