Friday, September 18, 2015

Diggin’ Dinos

Meeker, Colorado
It’s a long way from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Jackson, Wyoming so we decided to spend the night in Meeker, Colorado. I was introduced to this interesting little town back in 1981 when all that was there were a couple of bars and a public park. In fact, we camped in that public park on every visit that we made bringing teachers from the Science/Mathematics Education Department from UT-Dallas to Yellowstone. The last time I visited there was a bar that, for a couple of dollars, you could rent a towel and get a shower; that was real luxury compared to where we’d been camping! I’m happy to say that the town hasn’t changed much, except for the addition of several places to stay and a few restaurants.

On the way to Meeker, we took State Highway 24 out of Colorado Springs. The views were spectacular as we approached Granite where we had to make a decision. Did we want to go up to the historic town of Leadville then on up to Interstate 70 or did we want to drive
Valley with Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance
through Aspen? We actually chose to do both; we drove into Leadville then backtracked to Granite and took CO-82 toward Glenwood Springs. Aspen, which used to be a cute little town, is now one store after another with breaks for hotels and ski runs. However, the rest of this drive is quite pretty. Once into Glenwood Springs, we turned left onto Interstate 70 and were treated to a very nice trip through the Colorado River valley. When we got to Rifle, we turned north on CO-13 to Meeker. The landscape from Colorado Springs to Meeker changes dramatically from forested mountains to those that are scraped bare by a sometimes blistering wind. At this altitude there are only large stands of trees on the sides of the mountains that get the rain as it comes in from the west. By the streams that flow through the valleys are lush grasses. This land is used for ranching but the barren areas have traditionally been used for mining. The town of Meeker sits on the White River is a lovely green little valley.

Nathan Meeker, for whom the town is named, worked as an Indian Agent. However, in 1879 he irritated the Utes by trying to force them to switch from being hunters to becoming
Rio Blanco Reservoir
farmers. Since they wouldn’t comply, he called in the army; but rather than putting down the rebellion, the Utes killed Meeker and seven other members of the agency. After the Meeker Massacre and other fighting, the Utes were finally defeated and relocated to Utah reservations. Eventually Meeker became known as a hunting destination, even visited my Theodore Roosevelt on one occasion. As we left Meeker, we had to stop at a couple of picturesque lakes before we headed toward one of the largest collections of fossils in the US. Out of Meeker we took CO-64 northwest. Not far from town is a mining group that is throwing so many particulates into the air that the air is brown; my eyes started to burn and didn’t quit until we were 50 miles away. The closer we got to the Utah border the more signs and statues we saw depicting Dinosaurs. The Town of Dinosaur had a population was 339 in 2010 and it didn’t look like it had grown. Once named Artesia, it was renamed ‘Dinosaur’ in 1966 to capitalize on the town's proximity to Dinosaur National Monument. At the post office you can buy a post card and stamp; when you mail the card, the stamp is canceled with a dinosaur! It’s worth a stop just to get this inexpensive souvenir.  Once we left Dinosaur, we crossed the Utah border and stayed on State Highway 40 into Jensen and the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument.

Declared a National Monument in 1915, Dinosaur National Monument is located on the southeast side of the Uinta Mountains between Colorado and Utah, where the Green and Yampa Rivers meet. This is high desert, so hot and dry that you lose moisture from your body with every breath you take. As you walk from the parking lot to the visitor center there are trace fossils up on the cliff face at your left. Most people miss these ripple marks, the
Top L to R: Vertebrae with ridge bones, Ripple marks
Bottom L to R: Quarry wall, Dinosaur model
remainders of the shallow waters and muds that dried in this distinctive pattern. The visitor center is a good place to wait for the bus that takes visitors up to the Quarry. You can walk up the hill, but it was stinkin’ hot, so we opted for the bus ride. Discovered by a Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist, Earl Gouglass, in 1909, the fossil beds have produced literally thousands of bones that were shipped back to the museum for study and display. In fact, there were so many bones that in the 1990s there were still unopened crates of these in the basement of the museum. The wall of fossils that was left once digging ended is now called the Dinosaur Quarry and has two levels for visitors’ viewing pleasure. This new facility, built in 2010, replaced the original that I have visited in the 1980s and has quite a bit of information about the dinosaur bits and pieces. The National Park Service personnel do a good job of explaining what visitors are seeing, and have a very good time pointing out oddities including what looks surprisingly like a Velociraptor claw (it’s not, it just looks like one). These fossils all came to be buried together because they died at about the same time and were carried to a bend in the river where their bodies were trapped, covered with mud, and eventually became fossils. If you have time for hiking, there are some great trails with remarkable views of the Green and Yampa rivers. At one time there was a possibility that a dam was going to be constructed at Echo Park; this would have flooded these scenic areas. The Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society led a nationwide campaign to save this area. The outcome was the establishment of the Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956, which states “that no dam or reservoir constructed under the authorization of the Act shall be within any National Park or Monument.”

After spending some time at the Quarry, we went back into Jensen then on to Vernon and into the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. This is a gorgeous drive with amazing scenery and large signs that tell about the geologic formations you are passing through.
Flaming Gorge
There are plenty of places to pull off the road to take pictures of this magnificent gorge. Flaming Gorge Reservoir straddles the Utah-Wyoming border. The reservoir is in a steep-sided narrow canyon with walls of silica-rich sandstone and very hard quartzites along with softer shales, siltstones, and argillites. Once you’re through the Gorge, it’s only a few miles to Green River, Wyoming. When we were bringing teachers to Yellowstone, we always stopped in Green River to do some fossil hunting. The famous Green River Formation is the location of thousands of fish fossils and there are many places to dig. However, the best place we found was the Warfield Fossil Quarry. There is camping at the quarry and after you’ve spent all day digging in the beds, you’ll be covered with dirt and dust. The camp area has a nice shower and a place to sit by a campfire. Being away from the bright lights of the city, the Milky Way is visible and looks close enough to touch. The town, itself, has its beginnings (late 1800s) as a starting point for expeditions down the Green River to the Colorado River, and finally into the Grand Canyon. It was also named the site of the division point for the Union Pacific Railroad. Green River is also famous as being one of the first cities in the US to ban door –to–door sales. From Green River, it was on to Jackson, Wyoming and two more national parks, the Tetons and Yellowstone.

For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Reviews of Road Trip to Yellowstone’. 
Towers at Green River, Wyoming
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