Dinosaur National Monument (July 26-29)

One of our favorite things about being retired is the ability to take off and go on a whim. This time we left Friday mid-afternoon with the fuzzy plan to visit the Tetons via Dinosaur National Monument. Once on the "other" side, via Trail Ridge Road, we traveled across Gore Pass just to see some new terrain. We stopped in Craig, which is as close to the remote northern section of Dinosaur NM we could stay for the night without needing a tent.

The next morning after an hour on good dirt and gravel roads we approached the Gates of Lodore with its magnificent red rock walls overlooking the Green River. A short hike took us in about one mile closer. To get any nearer would require 3 days in a raft.

Entering this remote area of Dinosaur National Monument

Panorama of the Green River with Gates of Lodore at far left

View of Gates of Lodore at viewpoint at the end of the 1 mile hike

We soon realized that going on to the Tetons was too ambitious for a long weekend and decided to focus on visiting Dinosaur National Monument. Again taking the long way through backcountry dirt and gravel roads, we drove west through Dutch John and around Flaming Gorge to arrive in Vernal, UT.

A less traveled road into Utah from Colorado

Approaching the Flaming Gorge Dam

After a late lunch at the Quarry Steakhouse and Brewery (two thumbs up for food and ambience), we still had time to visit the Dinosaur National Monument Quarry Visitor Center before they closed at 5PM.

Entering the Utah side of the Monument

The Quarry Exhibit building

Quarry Exhibit

Detail of the hundreds of fossils in the exhibit

Next we took the Tilted Rocks Auto Tour past Split Mountain and at the end of the road hiked into a huge box canyon.

Box Canyon walk

Split Mountain with Green River

Panorama from Split Mountain viewpoint

Sunday we drove the Harpers Corner Auto Tour from the Dinosaur, CO entrance, taking in scenic viewpoints all along the way. At the end of the road we hiked out a mile or so to take in a 300 degrees panorama of the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers.

Viewpoint on the Harpers Corner drive into Dinosaur NM

Echo Park road

View of the Green River from the Harper's Corner viewpoint

View towards the wild canyons where the Yampa and Green Rivers converge

It had rained overnight, so we verified with a ranger we met along the trail that driving Echo Park Road would be okay before heading down to Echo Park also called the "Center of the Universe." After the dusty rugged road down, Echo Park was a green oasis filled with more hummingbirds than people.

A stop at Whispering Cave on Echo Park Road

Inside the refreshingly cool Whispering Cave

Susan checking out the rafts on the river with Steamboat Rock in the background

Hummingbirds were feeding on Rocky Mountain Beeplant

Rocky Mountain Beeplant with Steamboat Rock

Giving me the eye

The canyons along Echo Park Road

Unusual pointillist style petroglyphs along Echo Park Road

Along Echo Park Road

The town of Vernal fills up on weekdays with oilfield workers and hotel prices skyrocket, so we were unable to extend another night without it costing more than we felt was reasonable. So we packed in as much as possible our last day in Dinosaur.

First, we drove in on Island Park Road starting on the northeast side of the Monument. We stopped to explore the impressive McKee Spring Petroglyphs, right off the road.

Panorama of the road from the McKee Springs petroglyph site
Some of the McKee Springs Petroglyphs

Mike with the 1,000 year old Fremont Indian petroglyphs at McKee Springs

We continued on down the road and enjoyed overlooks at Rainbow Park and Island Park before heading down to the Green River at Ruple Ranch.

Rafters at Rainbow Park

Green River at Rainbow Park

Island Park viewpoint; note rafts on the river

After a short revisit to the Split Mountain area, we finally headed out to the Dinosaur, CO entrance and started down Echo Park Road again sometime after 2PM.

Our last look at Split Mountain

We would connect with Yampa Bench Road to the east and eventually reconnect with Route 40 at Elk Springs after 34 more rugged miles without seeing another vehicle. We were mindful of the time of day as heavy rains and flash flooding were anticipated in the early evening. We stayed dry and safe, and it was a fantastic drive that we look forward to repeating, traveling east to west next time.

After getting back onto the pavement of Highway 40 and rolling through Maybell, we realized that during this trip we had successfully circumnavigated Dinosaur National Monument. And then some.

Castle Park panorama along Yampa Bench Road

Harding's Hole viewpoint on Yampa Bench Road

Burn area along the road with somewhat threatening clouds
(Yampa Bench Road is impassable when wet)

Looking back on Yampa Bench Road as we started up and over
Blue Mountain to exit the Monument and head home

Our next time in Dinosaur we hope to do the Jones Hole Trail, but it was closed this time due to a major rockslide. More hiking in cooler weather, rafting, and a visit to Fantasy Canyon (40 miles south of Vernal) could round out our next Dinosaur experience.

Evenings on Mt Chapin and Ute Trail (July 21-22)

Last year, after climbing Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon peaks (aka CCY), I really wanted to get Susan up there to see what she was missing. So on Sunday, we decided to hike up at least as far as Chapin and enjoy the moonrise and sunset from the trail. We had a really beautiful evening up there!

Looking north to the Chapin Creek area

An elk grazes on the tundra nearby

Looking southeast from near the summit of Chapin; Longs Peak on horizon at center right

A cooperative Yellow-bellied Marmot posed for us near the summit

Tundra wildflowers on the rocky slopes of Chapin

A pika near the trail on the way down

We had beautiful color at sunset

The next evening we decided to go out again at one of my other favorite spots, the Ute Trail and Tombstone Ridge, just off Trail Ridge Road in Rocky. As we hiked up to Tombstone Ridge we saw another person coming out and as we got closer, we realized it was our friend Lyn. We seem to run into her everywhere! She told us to watch for a herd of elk farther up the trail.

Rocks on Tombstone Ridge frame Longs Peak in the distance

We spent quite a bit of time scrambling around on the rocks, using them to frame Longs Peak. The light on the rocks was exquisite.

After the sun had set we started looking for the full moon, which was rising in the east about the same time as the sun was setting.

We hiked around a bit more, and began to see that the herd of elk that Lyn mentioned was up on a nearby ridge. Susan suggested we maneuver ourselves to catch the moon behind them. I wasn't enthusiastic at first, as we weren't that close to them and we would have to hike even farther in, plus it would be dark soon and we still had to hike out. Soon she had me convinced and we began working our way over to get them between us and the moon. I didn't expose the details of the moon very well, but I like the rim lighting on the elk a lot! I'm so glad I listened to my wife! :-)

Surprisingly, the elk herd began to move toward us and it was getting pretty dark and hard to keep track of them. We kept retreating back down the trail, but they seemed to keep moving toward us and we were sure they knew we were there.

Rising moon with elk herd moving on the trail and Longs Peak in the background

Susan kept suggesting all kinds of interesting and fun shots, so we hung around a bit more before deciding to head back down the trail to the car.

Our moon-shadows on the trail :-)

Forest Canyon by moonlight with car headlight on Trail Ridge Road

Two cars make their way down Trail Ridge Road

Even though it was pushing 10pm and the sun was long gone, the moon was so bright we didn't really need our headlamps. It was a really fun evening at a really fun place!