On monument time

The sun catches the yellow and green vegetation of an early October morning along the bank of the Green River as rafters paddle through the morning mist on the water in the Rainbow Park area of Dinosaur National Monument.

As she leans against the giant rock wall filled with dinosaur bones, a ranger talks with visitors on the ground floor of Dinosaur’s Quarry Exhibit Hall as others view with the help of interactive exhibits from the second floor. The bed of fossils in the quarry was discovered by paleontologist Earl Douglass in 1909 while he was working for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which is located in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Dinosaur’s Quarry Exhibit Hall reopened in October, 2011, after being closed for five years due to structural problems. The exhibit hall’s quarry contains more than 1,500 bones of a variety of dinosaurs preserved in the Morrison layer of stone.

The McKee Spring petroglyphs decorate the cliff walls just inside the boundary of Dinosaur National Monument along the gravel Island Park Road on the west side of the park. The Fremont people chipped the petroglyphs into the rock about 1,000 years ago. An abundance of Fremont petroglyphs and pictographs can be found in various places around the park including rare carvings of lizards at Cub Creek. The Fremonts are the ancestors of today’s Ute tribes, according to the National Park Service.

On Oct. 2, visitors that took the Harpers Corner Drive into Dinosaur National Park in Colorado found a chained and padlocked gate with a sign noting the government shutdown a few feet north of the Echo Park Road intersection.

Fields of the Mantle Ranch, an inholding of private land within the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument, add patches of green and brown to the scenery at the bottom of the Yampa River Canyon as seen from an overlook along the Yampa Bench. The 525-deeded-acre ranch was sold in 2012 to a private party who plans to continue ranching the land, which includes 30.000 acres of federal grazing rights. The winding, dirt Yampa Bench Road offers several spectacular overlooks of the Yampa River Canyon.

Less than two hours from the Grand Valley, the remote park straddles Colorado and Utah.

We wander down the gravel Island Park Road — “Impassable when wet,” a sign warns — to Rainbow Park and a simpler time of not so very long ago, days without cellphones or Internet.

Early autumn paints the Green River’s banks in splashes of gold and red. We listen as the whistling notes of bull elks bugling echo off the canyon walls.

At night, the 100 billion stars of the Milky Way glitter over our heads in a sky that is one of the darkest and clearest in the country.

Wisps of morning mist curl from the river’s surface in the mountains’ shadows as rafters quietly paddle toward thundering rapids downstream.

Travel back a thousand years more. We search the cliffs for petroglyphs where the Fremont people chipped out strange figures with trapezoid bodies and antennae in desert varnish. Carvings of lizards, big horned sheep and odd symbols silently stand guard over the monument’s canyons and creeks.

We wander along the edges of cliffs where the Yampa and Green rivers coil hundreds of feet below through layer upon layer of multi-colored rock that dates to the dinosaurs, back to the trilobites.

We are so out of touch with the world, yet so in touch with the land around us.

Suddenly, the outside invades our solitude and drags us back to the present. As we move to the Colorado side of the monument, we discover the government locked the gates.


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