After over four years in Utah and loads of epic weekends, I feel like I’ve at least done a cursory exploration of most of the major geographic regions in the state. One of my favorite nerdy pleasures is unfolding a map and re-tracing roads and trails in my mind. But there are still some big blank spots I haven't explored, including the area around Dinosaur National Monument. Coincidentally, I had a work thing up in Vernal this week (the opening of the new Field House curational facility!) so I jumped at the chance to check out Dinosaur NM and the surrounding area. Jordan had to go back to work, so this trip did double duty as my last solo weekend before we get married (one month -- holy sh*t!)
For as much as I knock National Park "windshield tours," that's always what I end up doing the first time I visit one. I guess it's just a good way to get an overview of the place, knock out all the cheeseball sites, and scope out good places to dig a little deeper. So the first thing I did at Dinosaur was visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall, which showcases a wall of 1,500 embedded dinosaur bones. The entire back wall of the building is a quarry site full of fossils. These bones are in such great condition -- many of the skeletons are nearly complete and arranged in the correct anatomical position. Jordan and I get pretty excited finding tiny little bone shards when we're out hiking, so I can't imagine finding something like this!
The Quarry Hall is what drew me to Dinosaur National Monument in the first place, but of course there's a lot more to see. The landscape is a contorted rainbow of uplifted rock carved into steep canyons by the Green and Yampa Rivers. Whitewater rafting is a big deal in Dinosaur NM, and I can see why. From origins high in the Rocky Mountains, the Green and Yampa Rivers wind across sagebrush plains, then squeeze into tight canyons surrounding by soaring cliffs. The wild Yampa is the last un-dammed river in the Colorado River system, and it has some crazy Class V rapids. The Green is little more manageable with Class II-IV rapids. Of course, it's tough to get your hands on a permit, but I'm definitely going to try!
Dinosaur NM is also full of incredible petroglyphs and pictographs. I've seen a lot of rock art in Utah, but the classic Vernal style is really distinct. These images were created by the Fremont people around 800-1,200 years ago. The figures tend to be trapezoid-shaped anthropomorphs with elaborate headdresses, necklaces, and earrings. It's impossible to know exactly what rock art represents, but to me these figures seem really war-like and foreboding. Many of them are carrying shields and what look like decapitated human heads. Spooky, but really cool.