Day 203 – Flaming Gorge Getaway, Thursday, July 7, 2011
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.
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 her
remote 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!
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.