Dinosaur National Monument, 2013 Visit
Part One: Introduction And Setting
Early Travels To Dinosaur
When I was a boy of about nine, I visited Dinosaur National Monument with my parents. Later, in my early teens my father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, and I stopped through Dinosaur on the way back from a Fastwater Expeditions Sportyak trip down the Green River with famous river guide Bill Belknap.
The second short visit, I do not remember much. From that trip, besides the vivid memories of the river run, the only memory I have of the Dinosaur area is of looking down on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming upstream on the Green River. From the earlier trip with my parents, I recall only the visitor’s center and Dinosaur Quarry on the Utah side of the Colorado-Utah border that runs through Dinosaur National Monument. This is what most travelers to Dinosaur remember too, because it is all that most travelers see. However, there is much more to Dinosaur than fossilized bones or an interpretive building. The national monument consists of over 209,000 acres of sandstone bluffs, monuments, rolling hills, outcroppings, shale, slate and the most diverse and interesting feature of all, the labyrinthine canyons of the Yampa and Green Rivers. The highlight of these canyons is an oasis called Echo Park, where the two rivers come together and the canyons open up into a small valley between 1,000-foot cliffs. In the center of Echo Park rising straight out of the rivers at the confluence is a gigantic sandstone rock fin that on the near end looks like the cut off end of a loaf of bread. This 900 foot tall sandstone loaf end is called Steamboat Rock because from the side angle it looks like a steam ship.
Stories Of Our Fathers
Steamboat Rock figured prominently in discussions I had with my father after my mother passed away in 2002. After she was gone, I left a high paying job and moved from Upstate New York back home to Northern California. I moved in with Dad in the house I grew up in to help him out because he had not only lost the first love of his life, but had also lost his eyesight two years before and thus lost the second love of his life, photography. Dad explained how Steamboat Rock had become a symbol in the 1950s and 1960s of the then fledgling modern environmental movement and its first big success in defending Dinosaur from the invasion of dam builders, who wanted to erect two dams within the national monument, thereby flooding 96 out of 104 river miles of the Yampa and Green Rivers. For more about the battle over Dinosaur as well as conservation leader David Brower and photographer Philip Hyde’s roles in it, see the blog post series, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism.”
We talked much about Dinosaur and I poured over the maps and photographs. The series of blog posts above I originally wrote as a chapter in a book about my father’s life that I am still interviewing people for who knew Dad. By 2005, I could not wait to get up to the remote northern border of Utah and Colorado and see the place for myself. On the way back from a visit to Boulder, Colorado, I took the road less traveled, US Highway 40, and rolled across the open desert. A description of the approach and entry into Dinosaur can be found in the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 2.” In summary, I traveled the long pothole infested paved road out to Harper’s Corner, stopping at overlooks along the way and ending with a one mile hike out on a thin slice of sandstone 2,000 feet above the Green River at Harper’s Corner, where a large portion of Dinosaur’s geology and canyons can be seen all at once. I also took a risk going into Echo Park, made a tribute to my father at Split Mountain and had all sorts of other adventures, all fueled and inspired by my first listening to Jack Kerouac’s quintessential Beat Generation novel, On the Road. Kerouac’s lyrical, poetic prose lifted me and put a lilt in my step and my writing. For more on my journey as well as Dad’s explorations of the same territory and much more in the dusty, wild past of 1951, see the blog posts, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 3” and “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 4.”
Randy Fullbright And A New Dinosaur Campaign
I came back from Dinosaur changed, more on that and my profound experiences in future blog posts. The sad irony is that I did not have my camera with me in 2005 to record it all. Needless to say, this irony has been poking at me ever since I bought a Nikon D90, my first digital camera, in 2009. I have been hankering to go back, but never had the chance. Enter artist, goldsmith, gallery owner, gem and fossil expert, photography collector, photographer and impromptu wilderness guide Randy Fullbright.
I first started talking to Randy Fullbright via e-mail and phone in July 2011 when he introduced himself through comments on my blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 9.” Ever since then we have talked from time to time about his extensive photographic explorations of Dinosaur and about my dad’s work there too. Randy has two goals: 1. To photograph all of Dinosaur, no easy feat, and 2. To help Dinosaur become a national park. To these ends he has worked tirelessly and become well acquainted with many of the park rangers and management of the monument, as well as the local politics of air quality, oil and gas exploration and drilling, mining, tourism, recreation, ranching and the boom time explosion of the population of Vernal, Utah. Randy operates Fullbright Studios in Vernal, is active in the community and knows just about anyone who is anyone in town and all over the West.
While I spent this last summer in Boulder, Colorado for the first time again after a two year absence, I began to talk seriously about taking Randy up on his offer to take me into Dinosaur to some of the places few to no one else has photographed and locations my father photographed in the 1950s. Isn’t that a great offer? Again on my way home to Northern California, I took Highway 40, the road less traveled, and raged across the desert to Vernal, where I arrived at Randy’s house behind his gallery at 4:00 am. I did not see him until the morning when we embarked on a dirt road romping, camera carrying trip in to Dinosaur and an unforgettable hike into Jones Hole. Stay tuned for the whole story in blog posts to follow in this series, plus more about the mystical canyons, people, politics, fishing and simple freedom of Jones Creek and the Green River in Dinosaur…
(Continued in the blog post, “Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Two.”)