We didn’t adequately stock up on groceries before leaving Avon, Colorado for Rocky Mountain National Park. Naively assuming that we would be able to adequately stock up on groceries en-route, Anna brushed off my pre-departure logistical warnings. Her lovely world of Farmers’ Markets on every corner and a Whole Foods’esque grocery store in every town crashed down around her in Grand Lake, Colorado. Craving fresh vegetables, our in-town search resulted in the discovery of a lone, brown head of iceberg lettuce residing haphazardly beside the fishing lures and camping toilet paper. We let the store keep it and held out for Steamboat Springs, Colorado which was on our route to Dinosaur National Monument.
A few days later, excited by the prospect of fresh veggies for dinner that night, Anna joyously skipped in to the Steamboat Springs City Market. She wasn’t thinking much beyond fresh produce because we stopped earlier in the day at an amazing word-of-mouth butcher shop in Kremmling, Colorado. Next time you’re driving though Kremmling, give the folks at Middle Park Meat Company a try, they’re very friendly and have a great selection. We picked up some amazing pork, veal brats, and steaks.
After a beautiful drive across Colorado on Route 40, we arrived at Dinosaur National Monument in the late afternoon with very few expectations. I had made the reservations months before without a lot of research because it sounded cool and thought that Owen would probably like it. Well, it was cool and Owen did like it…in fact, we all did!
We were immediately impressed and surprised by Dinosaur. The National Monument is spread over 210,000 acres along the Colorado and Utah border. Located on the southeast flank of the Uinta Mountains, a subrange of the Rockies and the highest east-west mountain range in the contiguous U.S., it is incredibly beautiful and diverse. It is the geography of this region that makes Dinosaur so special.
The park encompasses the mountains, canyons, and benches that surround the junction of the Yampa and Green Rivers. Shaped 70-40 million years ago by the combined action of the uplift of the Rocky Mountains and the downcutting of the Green and Yampa Rivers, over 23 different geologic layers spanning over 2 billion years can be found in Dinosaur National Monument. Dinosaur National Monument isn’t a treasure just to the average sight-seeing, fulltime RV family, but also to serious paleontologists and geologists.
We limited our stay to the south and southwest areas of the park as we were camping at the Green River Campground. We spent one day exploring the sites near the Quarry Visitor Center; another day in Vernal, Utah; and a third day auto-touring the southern half of the park.
What is more fun to a 6-year old boy than dinosaur fossils? The Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur is awesome. The park service runs a shuttle back and forth up the mountain to the Quarry Exhibit Hall where they have a wonderful exhibit built around an old fossil dig. They conduct a ranger-led Junior Ranger discussion at the Exhibit Hall and kids and adults alike have the opportunity to actually touch a REAL 149-million year old dinosaur fossil…Owen loved it. There are also several easy hikes in the area that we would have loved to do, but because of the heat we had Dash with us and couldn’t (dogs are NOT allowed on the trails). The NPS has made an allowance for people traveling with pets and allows you to drive up to the Exhibit Hall from the Visitor Center if you have a pet (vice taking the mandatory shuttle). Pets are allowed outside the Exhibit Hall, but not inside.
More Dinosaurs. We spent part of another day visiting Vernal, Utah. The main attraction for Anna was the local farmers market and craft fair, but Owen and I toured the Utah Field House of Natural History. The Utah State Park system runs this museum, which is equal parts kitschy, entertaining, and educational. Again, Owen loved it.
A Long, Hot, and Dusty Drive. To really see the geography views of the park, you can take one of the many rafting trips on the rivers (a non-starter for us because of Dash) or you can auto-tour. We decided to pack lunches and extra water, take Dash with us, and hit the road for an old fashioned auto-tour. At the end of the day, we had driven slightly more than 130-miles in a loop around the southern tier of the park.
Our drive encompassed Harpers Corner Road, the Echo Park 4×4 road, and the Yampa Bench 4×4 road. While not technical, the 4×4 roads were a great way to see the inside of the park, although I think Anna would say they were in unequal measures boring, breathtaking, and terrifying at an approximately 90:9:1 ratio. The GMC did fine, but I screwed up and forgot to close the side vents on the truck cap which resulted in copious amounts of red dust joining us on the journey to Michigan. Highlights of our drive included the abandoned Chew Ranch homestead, the Pool Creek Petroglyphs, Echo Park canyon, and several stunning overlooks of the Yampa River. A non-trailer camping trip down to Echo Park is definitely a future must-do. An additional highlight was an emergency potty break for Owen that was witnessed by several surly-looking free-range cattle—we are saving that story for his wedding. Owen especially enjoyed investigating the old turn of the century homestead at Chew Ranch.
The days were HOT and dry, meaning that Dash always traveled with us when we went exploring. As mentioned above, this limited our opportunity for adventure, but that’s the price of fulltiming with a pet. Because of the heat, Anna kept cooking to a minimum and we were happy to eat lightly. The nights were cool and comfortable so sleeping was never a problem. Green River Campground was a fantastic little campground with plenty of space between sites, enough shade to keep the trailer cool and enough sun to keep the batteries charged.
Overall, Dinosaur National Monument and Utah was an unexpected surprise and a great start to the Big Big Trip. We are definitely ready to return for more exploring and look forward to seeing the northern half of the park.