Posts Tagged ‘Harper’s Corner’

Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part One

December 5th, 2013

Dinosaur National Monument, 2013 Visit

Part One: Introduction And Setting

Diamond Mountain And Diamond Gulch Near Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

Diamond Mountain And Diamond Gulch Near Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

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.”)

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 3

March 3rd, 2010

Whirlpool Canyon, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah-Colorado, 1951, by Philip Hyde.

Philip Hyde on Assignment in Dinosaur National Monument and the Setting for the Battle that Helped Launch the Modern Environmental Movement

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 2“)

The Escalante Overlook is the first branch off of the Harper’s Corner Road. Today there are signs at the Escalante Overlook discussing air pollution, its effects and what average people can do to decrease it. It is surprising to find signs on this subject in Dinosaur, the remotest National Monument in the lower 48 states, but a thick sea of haze nearly always sits on the southern horizon, carrying 500 miles from Southern California or occasionally from Texas or Mexico. The signs also show nearby copper smelters, oil refineries, and both coal and oil-fired power plants where pollution originates. One sign says, “If each commuter car carried just one more person we would save 600,000 gallons of gas a day. Welcome to Dinosaur National Monument.” See this article: “Road Transportation Is The Greatest Culprit In Global Warming.”

When the Bureau of Reclamation first proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument and downstream at Glen Canyon, in the Grand Canyon and at many other sites on the Colorado watershed, they claimed hydropower was clean energy. This has subsequently proven incorrect as scientists have discovered that reservoirs, especially in the hot Southwest, radiate greenhouse gases. To read about some of what was lost when Glen Canyon was dammed, see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde.”

At another overlook an unimproved trail winds out to the canyon rim. Cholla Cactus wedges between parted layers of lichen-covered sandstone. Skunkweed and sage hold to small troughs of soil. To the right the cliff drops a dizzying 1,500 feet straight down to the steep slopes dotted with the green of stunted Douglas Fir and Juniper that run down to the edge of the inner gorge of bare rocks and wind-swept stone domes. Lichen varies from black to gray to burnt orange, yellow-green, gray-green and many combinations, matching the layers of sandstone. Robins and a Chickadee call softly. Back from the cliff edge the gray twisted wood of dead Junipers and Pinon Pines shelters Rudbeckia, a tall yellow star-shaped flower. Today Dinosaur remains one of the least developed National Monuments in the country. Most of the roads are still unpaved and few are graded and graveled.

Following the plateau skirting the canyons, on 26 miles of part dirt and part pavement, between monument headquarters and the Echo Park turnoff, the weather changes four or five times. At one moment the white puffy clouds with plenty of blue sky between look harmless. In the next moment after topping the plateau, a low, dark bank of clouds approaches. It is hard to tell at what speed the clouds are approaching, when they will arrive, how soon they might produce rain, or whether they are headed toward the Echo Park road that cuts steeply down through long, precipitous alluvial slopes and sandstone cliffs.

In dry weather, the hardened mud-slide road is more visible and easily examined from the turnoff as it descends. The beginning of the route consists of mostly gravel and seems easily passable, perhaps even in rain. The roughest, most rutted part of the road is deceptively out of sight and turns to clay as slippery as axel grease when wet. In the space of 15 minutes the sky shifts and changes several times from threatening to clearing. Before a rain any two-wheel-drive car could make it down the 13 miles, but not back up—rain could trap an unfortunate sojourner in Echo Park for days.

In 1950 Richard Leonard served both on the Sierra Club Board and as a leader of the Wilderness Society. Olaus Murie and Margaret Murie were also Wilderness Society leaders. After a meeting of Wilderness Society leaders in Denver, Richard Leonard, Olaus Murie his wife Margaret Murie visited Dinosaur National Monument. They made it out of Echo Park without incident and they were greatly impressed by its scenery. The next year when Richard Leonard and Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower sent my father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde on assignment to Dinosaur National Monument, Dad almost did not make it out of Echo Park.

When Richard Leonard returned to the Sierra Club Headquarters in San Francisco he and David Brower, then Fifth Executive Board Member, agreed to team up to work on the Dinosaur battle. They had been climbing friends for a long time. But they were preoccupied with many battles in the early 1950s and the Dinosaur National Monument issue sat on a shelf for a year until after David Brower met Philip Hyde. They met, Dad said, “Probably in Tuolumne Meadows, when Dave was coming through and Ardis and I were custodians at the Sierra Club Lodge. I used to think that Ansel introduced me to Dave, but Dave said no, that I met him before that.”

“That was the beginning of a very long association with Dave of making books and working with the Sierra Club too.” Dad made sure he did not work “for” the Sierra Club. He was a freelancer on assignment. “They managed to scrape together small amounts of cash and I would go off on a project.” Dad said. “In the case of my first trip in July l950, Dave invited me to accompany the 6 week High Trip, which looking back now was very important for me to do.” Following the High Trip, a signature, or series, of Dad’s photographs graced the pages of the Sierra Club Bulletin. It was Dad’s first publication and was widely acclaimed. That paved the path for David Brower to suggest to the Sierra Club Board that Dad go to Dinosaur and bring back some of the beauty.

On assignment from the Sierra Club in June 1951, Dad had difficulty making it out of Echo Park even in dry weather. Dad said that when he and my mother, Ardis Hyde, tried to climb the steep hill out of Echo Park in their 1949 Studebaker Champion, they could not make it up the steep section above the inner canyon.

“We had a lot of camping gear, food, photography equipment and God knows what else,” Dad said. “Champion was notoriously underpowered. I got up as far as I could and unloaded the car partially. We took what was left on up to where the road leveled off a bit. Ardis stood by the upper half of the load while I went back for the rest. That was the kind of thing you had to be prepared to do in that country because there isn’t any help out there.” Ardis and Philip Hyde worked as a team and Mom never balked at any challenge nature presented. At Dad’s picture stops, Mom slipped right out into the deep grasses or onto the steep hillsides, observing and identifying all she saw. She was a keen birder and a self-trained botanist.

Dad and Mom drove from their home in Greenville in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northeastern California about 850 miles to Dinosaur National Monument with only a verbal request from the Sierra Club and a promise to pay Dad’s expenses plus one dollar per print or published landscape photograph. He was not long out of photography school at the California School of Fine Arts where he studied under Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston, with guest lecturers including Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model and other photography greats from 1946 to 1950. Philip Hyde joined the Sierra Club in 1946, a year before his marriage. Ardis Hyde joined the Sierra Club the year she married Dad. They were married four years when she accompanied him on this, his first photographic assignment to the dry Colorado Plateau. The young couple had become acquainted while attending the University of California Berkeley and found they had much in common including a shared passion for nature. Both of them grew up camping under the stars, Philip in the Boy Scouts and with his family; Ardis with her family, her father especially loved the outdoors. Later, the couple imparted that love to me, their only son.

Dad’s wilderness photographs in time would appear in more environmental campaigns than any other landscape photographer. Dinosaur was the first major campaign, and to this day Dad’s image of Steamboat Rock is one of his most published. “That photograph became a symbol of the fight to save Dinosaur National Monument,” Dad explained. “Steamboat Rock was the symbol representing Dinosaur long before I photographed it.” Dad made his photograph from the end of Echo Park where the road enters, near the cliff across the field and opposite Steamboat Rock, probably not far from the old cabin, where the night Ranger now stays.

Today, the field is home to at least one four-foot long rattlesnake. I saw the distinctive diamond-shaped skin pattern and rattles as the snake slithered away when I was stalking Dad’s picture site. He made the photograph with his 5X7 Deardorf View Camera. He framed the picture with some of the waist-high grasses in the foreground and the dry desert grasses only an inch or two long stretched away toward the Cottonwood-lined river and the 800 foot tall Steamboat Rock looming over it all. As with his later landscape masterpieces, Dad’s use of foreground detail invites the viewer to all but step into the photograph.

At the upstream end of Echo Park the Yampa River joins the Green River just out of sight on the far side of Steamboat Rock. On the near side of the giant monolith, the narrow 1,000 foot deep gorge opens into Echo Park, essentially a small valley lush with cottonwoods, willows, native grasses and wildlife. Off to the left of the road at the downstream end of the valley lies a small 17-site campground with running water. A gravel road leads down to the river for float trip access. At the water’s edge Steamboat Rock dominates the view. Its hulking nearly 800 foot tall mass of vertical sandstone rises directly out of the far side of the swirling waters of the Green. The swollen river slows, reflecting glimpses of red sandstone and shattering the images as the torrent churns again naturally free and unfettered.

From the boat landing the proposed dam site is almost visible just out of sight where the river dives back between narrow sheer walls that could make dam construction easy. The boat landing would have been buried under 500 feet of water. Echo Park potentially could have become the ideal water storage tank, though its scenery would be destroyed, not enhanced as the Bureau of Reclamation claimed. Only the top 300 feet of Steamboat Rock would have shown and the sense of the size and grandeur of the formation would have vanished. With the monolith dwarfed, visitors today would be left with the reek of motorboat gasoline and a cesspool of settling mud and evaporating water.

Some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire region would have been inundated along with Echo Park. The road into Echo Park through Sand Canyon, along shady Pool Creek and the Pool Creek Petroglyphs, would all have been flooded. In Sand Canyon the sandstone forms into cake-layered tan-gray rock terraces. Over the terraces and alternating rounded and undercut layers, the black lichen stains run vertically where water seeps. In the horizontal ledges Junipers cling to pockets of earth. At intervals the soft underlayers cut far under harder layers to form overhangs and caves. A few of these have collapsed or partially collapsed roofs forming the beginnings of future arches. All of this would have been lost.

Dinosaur National Monument contains 200,000 acres, predominately canyons. Most of the canyons would have been flooded with the dams in place, virtually eliminating the primary scenic feature. The two proposed dams, at Split Mountain and at Echo Park, would have inundated about 91 out of 101 river miles in the monument, Sue Walter explains in her Ranger talk at Dinosaur National Monument Headquarters. She reminds the listener that the Bureau of Reclamation did have a dam built upstream from Dinosaur’s northern boundary, on the Wyoming border at Flaming Gorge, but the Yampa River remains the only undammed tributary to the Colorado River system. Because of this the Yampa River is the only surviving habitat for four endangered fish species: the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Colorado River Squawfish and Bonytail Chub. Dams stop the flooding that maintains natural flora and fauna and creates backwaters for spawning.

Wishing to photograph some of the wildest parts of the Yampa River and Green River, Ardis and Philip Hyde explored the Dinosaur National Monument canyons the whole month of June, 1951.

In a letter from the field to Richard Leonard, Secretary on the Sierra Club Board of Directors, Dad wrote, “At Mantle’s Ranch we wandered for eight days and left feeling like we’d only scratched the surface.” Mantle’s Ranch is in Castle Park, another verdant opening of the canyon into valley, upstream from Echo Park. The Mantles were early homesteaders before the monument. Into Mantle’s Ranch Mom and Dad followed a landscape architect in a jeep, who was investigating possible campground sites and other potential improvements for the Park Service. Fortunately a Park Ranger followed along behind them in a green Charger.

Dad began to have misgivings he said when, “We dropped down into most aptly named Hell’s Canyon. Champion’s undersides began utter protests and finally after half-a-dozen very rough creek crossings, downright refused to go any farther, conked out and rolled back a little before I could stop and we crunched on a rock. Next we knew, gas was gushing from the wound…

(CONTINUED IN THE NEXT BLOG POST IN THE SERIES, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 4.”)



The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 2

February 1st, 2010

The Campaign to Keep Dams Out of Dinosaur National Monument and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism in the United States 2

Revised April 5, 2006

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 1“)

David Brower and Philip Hyde at 2000 NANPA Summit by Ardis Hyde with throw away camera. Both David Brower and Philip Hyde received Lifetime Achievement Awards from NANPA for their contributions to conservation. Their collaboration began on a 1950 Sierra Club High Trip. The first major battle over Dinosaur National Monument, many have said, ushered in the age of modern environmentalism. Such notables as Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner, Sierra Club Leader, photographer and journalist Martin Litton and others also led the fight.

…Meanwhile three states away, in the remote northeast corner of Utah, the town of Vernal, like many other small towns around the West, celebrated the possibility that it would soon become a boomtown too. In 1948 the Upper Basin Compact between the states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, divided the upper basin share of the Colorado water. By 1950, the Bureau of Reclamation or “Bureau of Wreck The Nation” as environmentalists called it, had plans for ten dams in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Vernal was the closest town of any size to two dams proposed on the Green River within the boundary of Dinosaur National Monument, one at Split Mountain and one at Echo Park. The Bureau of Reclamation enlisted the political support of Vernal businessmen for the nearby dams that would in turn prosper the local economy.

National Park Service Director Newton Drury felt that the National Park Service must respond to the local desire for water development and avoid a direct confrontation with the Bureau that might lose Dinosaur National Monument irrevocably to dams. The two proposed dams would have inundated 91 out of 101 river miles within the monument. Newton Drury thought the monument boundaries could be redrawn or a compromise secured at the last minute. Therefore, he went along with Bureau of Reclamation plans and “signed a secret ‘memorandum of understanding’ which essentially stated that the National Park Service would not interfere with water projects in Dinosaur National Monument or in Grand Canyon National Monument,” Reported Jon Cosco in Echo Park: Struggle For Preservation.

Richard Leonard, Executive Board Member and Secretary of the Sierra Club, also was elected to the council of the Wilderness Society in 1948. Leonard attended the Wilderness Society’s annual meeting in 1950, held in Twin Springs, Colorado. After the meeting, the founders of the Wilderness Society, Olaus and Margaret Murie, Richard Leonard and others visited Dinosaur by automobile. They approached by U.S. Highway 40 from the East.

U.S. Highway 40 rolls across Northern Colorado over arid auburn hills and plateaus covered with sagebrush and an occasional squat Juniper tree. The faint taste of powdered-dry dirt underlies the sweet earthy smell of sage. Low plateaus rise in the distance. Sculpted sandstone cliffs stand in tans, pinks and browns against the azure sky where tufted clouds flirt with the sun. The open vistas periodically collapse into eroded gray-brown clay badlands where flash flood torrents tear gullies and gashes in the open land.

Today, beyond the billboards at the eastern edge of the town of Dinosaur, Colorado, across the Utah-Colorado Border from Vernal, a small sign for Harper’s Corner points north along a two lane road that in 1950 was a dirt track. Immediately on the right of the Harper’s Corner road, the Dinosaur National Monument Headquarters and Visitor Center, a tan stone building blends into the surrounding sage. U.S. 40 is not a heavily traveled route and people passing by the Harper’s Corner turnoff must watch carefully or miss Dinosaur National Monument completely. The gentle sloping terrain offers no hint of the vast sculpted canyons of the Yampa River and Green River, the monument’s scenic highlights less than 20 miles to the North.

“Dinosaur is one of the best places in the country to observe the stars,” Sue Walter says in her Park Ranger talk at the Visitor Center, “because of its great distance from any city lights: four hours by car from Denver and six hours from Salt Lake City. Dinosaur in still air is quieter than a Hollywood sound stage,” For many decades after Woodrow Wilson legislated the monument in 1908, ranchers and a few paleontologists were the only people that set foot in the area.

The majority of visitors today experience only the Dinosaur Quarry on the Utah side of the monument, approached from the West Entrance road out of Jensen, Utah. The Dinosaur Quarry is the world’s largest excavation site preserved indoors and the origin of the most dinosaur bones in museums in the United States. A 300 foot long steel-beamed concrete roof with steel-framed glass walls protects an acre-plus of hillside containing fossil remains in a half-excavated state. A shuttle takes sightseers from the Quarry parking lot up to the museum, and by way of recorded message takes people “back in time 150 million years” to a period when an ancient river flowed northeast toward a distant sea, the opposite direction of the Green River today. In our current geological age, the Green River flows south and the Yampa River joins the Green River from the northeast. Over millions of years the plateau gradually uplifted more than 4,000 feet, while the rivers lazily cut deeper, maintaining the gentle meanders characteristic of rivers with a gradual vertical drop. The wide river bends carved from sandstone are unusual because rivers usually cut through bedrock in steep gradients that form straighter, more V-shaped canyons. The canyons of Dinosaur National Monument reveal even more geological time than the Grand Canyon, more than a billion years of rock layers, Ranger Sue Walter also explains.

The best way to see the carved scenery is by river boat and the Wilderness Society group did this one day. They also did as people often do today, they viewed the canyons by driving in from the Colorado side out of the town of Dinosaur, following the Harper’s Corner Road to the plateau top and beyond, skirting the river canyons for a total of 32 winding miles one-way to Harper’s Corner Overlook. This route branches into side roads to various overlooks and ends one mile shy of the pastel-red-to-tan 2,300 feet tall sheer walls of Harper’s Corner. Twenty-six miles from headquarters, a rough dirt road plunges down the cliff face through Sand Canyon to a homestead ranch, then on down to the Green River and Echo Park, the verdant “heart of Dinosaur.” Echo Park was named by John Wesley Powell, its first White explorer, because John Wesley Powell noticed that his men’s voices echoed off the side of Steamboat Rock. Echo Park is the focal point of the labyrinthine canyon country where a nearly 800-feet-tall-squared-off loaf of rock called Steamboat Rock stands as Dinosaur National Monument’s most prominent landform. The rough dirt road into Echo Park forks into other rougher roads only passable by four-wheel-drive vehicles. These sometimes muddy and often rocky tracks provide a closer look at various grottos and valleys of the Yampa river canyon. Here the canyon rises red, orange, tan, yellow, gray, pink, black and brown in painted sandstone walls. Exposed are over one billion-years of strata, the many-color stained river undercuts and the oasis called Echo Park or the Grand Overhang on the Yampa River, where a rock dropped from the top lands on the opposite bank at low water flow in the summer and fall.

The Escalante Overlook is the first branch off of the Harper’s Corner Road…

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 3“)