Dinosaur National Monument, 2013 Visit
Part Three: Down To The Green River And Up To Ely Falls
(Continued from the blog post, “Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Two.”)
Into Jones Hole
As we ambled down the trail away from the Diamond Mountain Fish Hatchery and into Jones Hole, we began to see signs of what Randy Fullbright and the Park Ranger had been talking about: the recent rock slide. High on the cliff we could see the fresh, unstained light tan undercut where giant sandstone boulders, just weeks before, had peeled away from the cliff and come tumbling nearly straight down at least 1,500 feet, landing like bombs in Jones Creek and rolling through the forest smashing trees and everything else in their path.
The Boulders ranged from small house size down to bowling balls and had badly broken up the deciduous forest and riparian undergrowth on both sides of Jones Creek. Jones Creek contained many of the light tan boulders, as did the entire surrounding area in about half a mile radius of the main devastated area. It must have been quite a sight to observe all that sandstone raining down from high on the cliff above–and the noise must have been deafening. The trail had been closed for weeks as the Park Service was still nervous about allowing anyone to hike into Jones Hole. They were afraid more sandstone would come tumbling down and crush unknowing hikers and fishermen. Park Rangers had re-routed the trail to skirt safely around what looked much like a war zone. Randy and I walked into the heart of the devastated area and approached the creek to see the damage. After observing the current effects of geology in action and making a few documentary snapshots, we moved back to the detoured trail and on down the canyon.
Fishing, Hiking And Photographing
Jones Hole attracts fishermen from all over that part of Utah and Colorado. The Park Service still plants Jones Creek with Rainbow Trout from the Fish Hatchery upstream. While Jones Hole generally appeared dry and desert like, cottonwood trees, willows, tamarisk and other riparian plants grew thickly along Jones Creek. Besides, on that day at times it felt like rain could overtake us any minute as the sky brooded overhead. Other times the ceiling thinned and the sun grew brighter trying to break through. The light greens of sage and sagebrush offset by the deeper greens of the larger trees along the creek, with dried yellows and beiges of meadow grasses provided a good mixed palette of colors and textures against the reds, browns and tans of the sandstone cliffs behind.
We mainly hiked, but stopped for photographs occasionally. Randy made only a few photographs the entire day, while I stopped more frequently and he waited in his courteous, quiet way. Photographing Jones Hole took some adjustment as I am used to the lush river canyons of the Northern Sierra in California, or the more complete desert scenes of other parts of Utah further south. Much of the views of Jones Creek were a wild tangle, but the creek itself had character, as did the cliffs all around, if we looked closely. Randy took me on a detour off the trail and over to the cliff across the creek at one point to show me the petroglyphs and pictographs he had promised. These were not large or overly striking, but they were impressive in how well preserved and distinctly they stood out in red-brown against the tan cliffs at that spot. Few people know where they are and Randy said he and the Park Rangers intend to keep it that way.
Back on the main trail, we stopped for lunch along the creek where there were a couple of giant 10X20 foot natural granite “tables” and a good spot for photographs up and down the creek. It was good to sit in the shade or what was trying to be sunshine, stop and breath in the warm desert air with the more fecund smell of mud and life along the water. After a good break from hiking and a dunk of our shirts in the stream, refreshed we set off again. Except for a few sections moving over boulders along Jones Creek, most of the trail was fairly smooth, though a bit sandy in places. The hike still felt fairly strenuous to me at four miles each way, down to the Green River and back to the Fish Hatchery. Across and high on the canyon wall, Randy pointed out where a spring came out of the rock and made a waterfall and place to “shower” and get refreshed high above the trail. Though the spring was only a trickle at that time, we could see a thin silver ribbon of falling water high up against the far cliff.
Dinosaur’s Main Character–The Green River And Its Canyons–Now And Then
Not long after, we emerged from the trees to find ourselves finally at the Green River. Almost immediately after we walked out on the gravel shore, a herd of bighorn sheep passed us. Randy told me some stories of the males being less than friendly in rutting season, but this day the herd passed close by us without much concern. We looked around behind us at a tall, cone shaped promontory towering above Jones Creek. When we got out in the open and could see upstream, we noticed a rafting party beached on a rock and gravel spit above the riffle at the mouth of Jones Creek. Way up the Green River past the rafting party we could make out the outlines of the rock outcropping called Harper’s Corner that I had driven to in 2005 from the Colorado entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, made a black and white photograph, published in 1955 in the National Geographic, from Harper’s Corner looking down over 3,000 feet at the upturned strata typical of the Green River and Yampa River canyons. Harper’s Corner also overlooks Echo Park and Steamboat Rock farther upstream, the proposed site of one of the dams slated for Dinosaur that Dad’s photographs helped prevent. Dad was the first photographer ever sent on assignment for an environmental cause to Dinosaur in 1951 to help prevent two proposed dams that would have flooded 96 out of 104 river miles in the monument. Dad’s photographs and those by river guide and journalist Marin Litton became the illustrations for the first book ever published for an environmental cause, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers, edited and with introduction by Wallace Stegner.
The sky had been darkening most of the day and here at the Green River, it finally began to rain lightly. Our shirts we had soaked just an hour earlier were already dried out and the cooling rain felt rejuvenating, even though it passed after only about 15 minutes and everything dried out again quickly. Having worked for the last two months moving furniture and packing boxes at my townhouse in Boulder, Colorado, and having minimal sleep for a number of days, I was already tired, but because this was one chance that might not come again for years, if ever, I agreed to hike with Randy up Ely Canyon to Ely Falls on the way back to the Fish Hatchery.
Ely Canyon was interesting and narrower than the Jones Hole canyon. There were a lot of small dead Juniper tree skeletons dotting the landscape. Ely Creek and Ely Falls were both small, Ely Falls only being about 12 feet high, while the creek was only a foot or two wide in most of its course. However, the falls were set in a greenery-surrounded oasis. Randy and I talked about conservation and my father’s work in the area, as well as the present day prospects of Dinosaur National Monument becoming a national park. More on Ely Creek, Ely Creek Canyon and the movement to form a national park in the next blog post.
(Continued in the blog post, “Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Four.”)
Have you ever been to Dinosaur National Monument? Have you seen bighorn sheep or any other large wild animal up close?