Old Bones, Old Rocks, Off Road & Petroglyphs


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

80 Miles.

That is how far I traveled today. Not far in distance, but I did travel back in time nearly 2 BILLION years.

Another of Mark’s suggestions was to stop at Dinosaur National Monument, about 20+ miles from Vernal, UT. I thought I might spend the morning there, then move on to Moab, UT to visit at Arches National Park. Little did I know that I’d be swept up with the Dinosaur exhibit and lessons in geology, then with Indian Rock Art (petrogylphs) and early homesteaders.

I arrived before 9 a.m. at Dinosaur National Monument and took a short tram ride to the Carnegie Quarry, a place where they have been digging since 1909 for dinosaur bones and fossils. As luck would have it a ranger was leading a walk and learn program soon after I arrived. With a good sized group of people he took us on a short hike to talk about the geology, the changing Earth over billions of years with uplift and continental shift and, of course, dinosaur bones. While I have seen numerous examples of the layers of time in the rocks and mountains where I have traveled, this was the first time to have someone explain and point out the pretty obvious layers of the earth. With the tilted and uplifted layers, it was easy to comprehend the layering. Within those billions of years, dinosaur habitation appeared 233 million years ago. Before that, single cell life forms developed 3.5 Billion years ago. In the ranger talk, we were shown undisturbed areas holding bones of the long extinct dinosaur and, from even earlier, small clam shells from an ancient sea floor.

Layers of the Earth, uplifted and exposed over the course of eons.


Inside the large visitor center at the quarry, they have preserved a large section of the dig which is displayed like a massive mural, hundreds of fossilized bones scattered about in the rock for all to see. Computer screens from vantage  points on a higher level help to explain and identify the bones from the different species of dinosaurs. This is one of the best ways to display and describe prehistoric times that I have ever seen. Incredibly fascinating.

After the ranger talk, I drove further into the park on Cub Creek Road to see other places of obvious layering and to investigate the places of the Indian Rock Art (petrogylphs), and to see an early ranch. Most of that road was paved, except for the last several miles, that held the most interesting parts of the self guided drive tour.                                                                                                                                                             

Back in this rugged land of beauty, the Green River flows through, it’s muddy waters forever etching deeper and deeper through the valley. One working ranch remains from a handful of hardy pioneers. From high above an overlook green fields stand out amongst the reds, grays, browns, whites of the surrounding mountains. 


At the end of the paved road, a mostly smooth gravel road led back to the rock art and an old ranch at it’s end. But to the right of me, a much smaller unpaved dirt road led up into the hills. 

Guess which road tempted me - uh huh, the less traveled road. 

Turning up on the two track road, I was ready to add some more excitement to my day. Almost from the beginning, I was put to the test as a patch of exposed rocks were the only surface upon which to drive. Not skipping a beat, I lowered gears and my truck started to climb upward rocking me from side to side, rattling my head as the tires clung to each uneven surface pulling us up and over onto a smoother, sandy surface. 

Whew, made that, now what else is ahead?

The surface, though rutted and was relatively smooth, only a few slightly muddy spots. Continuing upward, other side roads, splintered off occasionally. I stuck to what seemed the most used, at times climbing up and over lower summits that did not challenge me as on the previous days adventure. Reaching the top of a hill, I had several choices of side paths, one climbing even higher, and others that descended to parts unknown - actually ALL went to parts unknown. Getting out and observing my surroundings, I decided that, with the doubtful weather conditions, a more prudent choice would be to cease this side trip and return to exploring on the better road below. Coming down was a piece of cake, my tires having leveled out the sandy surface on the way up. Even the rocky beginning seemed to offer me little heart pounding excitement. 

Back to the road, though unpaved, it was traveled frequently, and so, offered no surprises. Very few people were visiting out in the further reaches of the park, which I was liking. To see what I wanted to see, petroglyphs, is better when not in a crowd. Climbing up on mountainsides to reach the art panels is a deterrent to most people, but not me.


The petroglyphs were amazing, as they have always piked my interest. I could imagine Native people standing on a ledge and painstakingly chipping away to create their masterpieces. Using sharp rocks, they had to have been dedicated to produce such interesting and unusual designs. Some things depicted are obvious, others are otherworldly. These artists were of the Fremont tribe who’s singular difference from other tribes rock art was that theirs also depicted lizards. 

Climbing up on the trails that are established, I was able to look closely at all the pictures I could see. Some faded and eroded from the elements, but most intact. This was very similar to visiting an art museum and admiring paintings from master artists. I will admit, however, that I spent more time here  viewing than in a building containing works of art. 

Heavy clouds hung over the higher mountains all day, and only drizzled occasionally. A steady rainfall held off until I had driven to the last stop on the road and started to return.

Cub Creek Road led further into this national monument where points of interest are detailed in a driving tour. With the Green River flowing along or near the roadway, picturesque scenes abounded. For lack of sunshine, however, the impact of the scenes was very muted. 

After considerable time following along a trail along the cliffs, I could see rain falling in the distance and knew I should be continuing on my day’s journey. At the end of the road, my last stop was the old cabin 

and ranch of one of the few who eked out a living in this place. This ranch was owned and run singly be a very independent woman named Josie Morris, who built her own cabin far back into the area. She lived there from 1914 to 1964 having reached the grand age of 90.

Josie had been divorced at age 40 and her children were grown, so she set out on her own to live the life she wanted, her nearest neighbor 10 miles away in the rugged wilderness. The cabin she built and where she lived has been kept in good condition by generous donors. It is rugged but she created her own paradise irrigating her fruit trees and garden from the nearby Cub Creek. She had no modern conveniences for the 50 years she lived there, but raised chickens, horses and some cattle. It is a peaceful, albeit lonely and lovely place.

Now approaching 4 p.m. and a steady drizzle falling, I started my return to the main road. Dinosaur National Monument in near the Colorado border and Moab is almost due south of there. However, no roads lead directly there. The choices are to return to the west and swing around and down or to cross over into Colorado for 60+ miles and drop south, then west back into Utah and to Moab. I choose to go into Colorado and stopped for the night in Rangely, CO., a small town, that thankfully had some motels. 

One reason I chose to stop here is that it is still a 3 hour drive to Moab and with the time then after 5 o’clock I preferred to end my long day and continue the next day.

I have a mountain pass to tackle today which likely will slow my pace. The road I’m taking is marked a scenic byway which I am looking forward to experiencing. Outside, heavy clouds are trying to block out the sun in the East. I am hoping the weather clears. Driving over the mountains in rain is no fun.

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