I’d set the alarm, and we got up had breakfast, and were on the road before 11. We never did get an early start the entire trip. We drove through a little bit of the main drag of Rawlins – it seemed depressed.
We were going to have to push hard today to make it home. I was willing to stop overnight if need-be in some place like Richfield, Utah … I didn’t have to make my class in Cedar City until Noon.
I didn’t promise any excursions to Ben. But, Dinosaur National Monument would be on our route. I’d been there in 1992 with Mary Jo, and it was really cool. It has 2 visitors' centers on either end, and we would be hitting the side that Mary Jo and I skipped.
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From Rawlins we went west for about 20 miles on I-80, before exiting onto Wyoming 789 going south. We could have stayed on I-80 until we reached I-15: that would have been about 4 hours to Park City, and about 4 more to Salt Lake City. At this point, the interstate might have saved us time, but we’d seen the sights along most of that way.
The number of pronghorn we saw in Wyoming was absurd. I’d seen a handful around Cedar City, but I estimated we saw 400-700 in Wyoming.
Just before the Colorado border we went through a town called Baggs. The Little Snake River was flooding there, and we had to drive through a few inches of water that were crossing the road. Two hours out of Rawlins we came to Craig, Colorado, where my cousin Barbara used to live. It’s smaller than Cedar City. There we turned west onto US 40.
We saw the last of the pronghorns west of Craig. We’d also been seeing black-footed ferrets since our morning in South Dakota two days before, but they disappeared when we got into this new country.
I probably shouldn't have taken the picture of Ben while driving.
It was sunny and we were getting into more familiar looking Great Basin desert: rocky and rolling, with lots of sage brush, and a few pinon and juniper trees. It looked like home: less green and grassy than Wyoming.
About 2, we turned into Dinosaur National Monument and went to the Visitor’s Center (and gift shop!). There we learned that the main visitor’s center at the other end of the park had been closed for good. It was built on unstable ground, and had been condemned.
I was upset. That place was one of the wonders of the world: a huge wall of hundreds of easily visible fossilized dinosaur bones formed one of the walls of the building.
Here’s a photo from someone else who got to see it a few years ago.
I inquired about short hikes that were suitable for kids, and I was advised to do the hike at the other visitor’s center. So this sidetrip was a waste – but Ben got more loot.
Half-an-hour later we were at the other Visitor’s Center by the Yampa River. They say it’s temporary, but it looks like one of those “temporary” government structures that will last for 30 years before they get around to replacing it.
For the hike, they drive you up to the old visitor’s center, and you can walk down a trail with fossils along it. It was a beautiful day, and a great hike – a bit on the hot side, and we were might thirsty by the time we hit the bottom.
The condemned Visitor's Center.
The hike wound down this valley to the Yampa River.
Ben on the trail - the kid has an eagle-eye. He told me there were fossilized fish scales all over the trail, and when I didn't believe him, he found 3 in less than a minute.
Ben by a fossil femur.
Ben with some pictographs.
That rock by Ben is just studded with little marine fossils – mostly mussels.
The trail is obviously a low budget solution – they put a spot of spray paint by any significant fossil that you ought to check out.
Dinosaur National Monument is known for it’s large number of fossils of camarasaurus – a medium-size long-necked plant eater. Here’s a femur.
Here’s a more complete, but worn, femur.
It’s hard to see if you don’t blow up this picture, but there’s a fossilized spine tucked in the crack at the top left.
Here’s a close-up.
So many fossils are found here because of the tremendous uplifting and tilting. A rock like this was one side of the old visitor’s center.
An arch in the distance.
Nicely colored rocks.
We hit the gift shop again, and headed out around 3 PM. The Yampa River – a tributary of the Green, which is the largest tributary of the Colorado, flows right past the visitor’s center. It’s the biggest river without a dam in the west. It sure is pretty.
We drove on to Vernal, which is the biggest town in the northern part of eastern Utah. It has a small, state dinosaur museum. I didn’t want to stop, but Ben insisted. It was right on the main drag, so it wasn’t a tough sell.
I’ve now been to several small museums in Utah. If you are ever traveling out west, I recommend any of them over any big city museum back east. They are small and intimate. They have better displays, with more up-to-date information. And they all focus on locally available fossils.
The museum in Vernal is still under construction. Here’s the Diplodocus in the lobby.
This reminded me of a Daffy Duck cartoon we all love: a painter is taking a bream from doing the background for a diorama. It looks so simple!
I thought this was one of the neatest displays I’ve ever seen. It was an entire wall of flagstones, each with a different plant fossil in it. So cool.
Ben by a diorama of some uintatherium – these are mammals that lived in the area about 30 million years ago.
Outside, this museum has a beautiful garden with some life-size sculptures.
Ben with a moschops – an amphibian carnivore from about 250 million years ago.
Ben with a dimetrodon from the same era.
A cheesy looking tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.
Some protoceratops with some sort of therapod.
A luvenile allosaurus
We left the museum just before 5, and went to McDonald’s for some food and coffee. Then we gassed up the tank for the home stretch. Could we make it home on one tank of gas, and before nightfall? It was over 300 miles - I doubted we could do it on one tank, but we were on home turf so I thought I'd be able to make it by dark.
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We stayed on US 40/191 going west. There was a lot of construction: the Vernal area is undergoing an oil and gas boom.
When we got to Duchesne, US 191 split from US 40, and headed southwest, following canyons through the West Tavaputs plateau. Mary Jo and I had been on this road in 1995, but it was the only road I regretted taking the entire trip. Don’t get me wrong – it was a good road. But, it twists and turns a lot, and when you’re in a truck it was hard to maintain speed. Towards the end, we crossed the same desolate valley where we’d seen a UPS truck 14 years before.
We returned to civilization in Helper, and ran quickly east of due south down to Price. The latter also looks like its booming compared to earlier years. We then turned southwest again on Utah 10.
I’d never been down this road before, and it was another good one – straight and flat, with big shoulders, and broad curves. The little cow towns are strung out like pearls along it, but most of them didn’t require you to slow down for long.
I bypassed another potential sidetrip. Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is off this road – 30 miles off on a gravel road. Ben wanted to go, but he didn’t push too hard, and I reminded him that it was after 5 and the gift shop was surely closed.
That road ended at I-70 on the western edge of the San Rafael Swell. There we turned west, and crossed the Wasatch and dropped down into Salina. We sped across the flatlands, and then back over the Tushar mountains to I-15. There we turned south towards Cedar City.
We didn’t make it without stopping for gas though. I was nervous: the gage was low when we passed a gas station near Richfield, and I found out the hard way that it was 60 miles of so to the next gas station in Beaver. The gage was on empty, but the idiot light was not on when we pulled in and tanked up. I called Mary Jo and told her we’d be home in less than an hour.
We pulled into Cedar City, and wound the truck up the switchbacks onto Leigh Hill. Then I went around our block and came up on our house from the backside, so that I could park by our big gate that’s close to the French doors leading into the basement. We were home.
We’d driven 2700 miles, in 45 hours, spread over 6 days, and it was much easier than I thought it would be. That’s a longer trip, done at a faster rate, than my brother and I did in 1991. But, back then our truck was full, and it had a carburetor with a governor that got us down to about 5 MPH just before the Eisenhower Tunnel.
We went in and got Mary Jo and Hope, and the four of us unloaded the truck. It wasn’t that full, and we were probably done in an hour. I took the truck back the next day, and bargained for whatever settlement I could get for the extra boxes and materials I’d bought. And I made my class at Noon.
I hope it was a trip that Ben will always remember. Perhaps this blog will help.