Posts Tagged ‘Steamboat Rock’

Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Three

July 3rd, 2014

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.”)

Upper Jones Hole Near Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

Upper Jones Hole Near Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

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.

Green River, Rafting Party, Harpers Corner From Jones Hole, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

Green River, Rafting Party, Harpers Corner From Jones Hole, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

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?

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.”)

On The Road To Dinosaur By Philip Hyde

November 28th, 2011

The Beginning Of Ardis And Philip Hyde’s First Trip To Dinosaur National Monument

From the Rough Draft of an Unpublished Article By Philip Hyde Originally Titled, “In Quest of Dinosaur.”

Circa 1951. Edited by David Leland Hyde 11-28-11.

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, copyright 1955 by Philip Hyde. Philip Hyde’s most published black and white photograph.

(See the photograph large: “Steamboat Rock, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado.”)

The creeping death of exploitation was threatening another great natural area. Through certain members of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society including Martin Litton, Richard Leonard, and Olaus and Margaret Murie, David Brower heard and subsequently I heard about the beauty of Dinosaur National Monument and the proposed destruction of its integrity as a unit of the national park system.

On the phone, in letters and when we visited the San Francisco Headquarters of the Sierra Club, David Brower, Richard Leonard and Martin Litton told Ardis and I about the debates over Dinosaur in Sierra Club board meetings. The Sierra Club board was divided as to whether to remain a California centered organization with a primary emphasis on the Sierra Nevada, or whether to expand regionally and possibly nationally. Already other land use debates in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon and Washington were beginning to heat up. [Read about how campaigns in the Cascade Mountain Range became important blueprints for environmental grass roots organizing across the nation in the blog posts, “Oregon Cascades’ Impact On Conservation,” and “Oregon Cascades Conservation: Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area.” Also, learn more the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director and his contributions to photography and land preservation in the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer and Environmentalist 1.” To find out more about Martin Litton read the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1” and later posts in that series.]

Word and newspapers had it that those promoting the building of two dams inside Dinosaur National Monument claimed it was only another inaccessible scramble of river canyons. Defenders of Dinosaur retorted that as a scenic and geological spectacle, it was unique in the world. Now at long last, we were going to see it. We were heading out to the far reaches of Utah and Colorado up near Wyoming where Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Utah-Colorado border. We will see for ourselves if this little known land is worth preserving in its natural state. [To read more about how Richard Leonard and Olaus and Margaret Murie, founders of the Wilderness Society, traveled to Dinosaur and how Richard Leonard and David Brower sent Philip Hyde on the first photography assignment for an environmental cause, see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 2.” For an introduction to why Dinosaur was pivotal for the Sierra Club and the entire conservation movement that it transformed into modern environmentalism, see the blog posts, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1,” and other blog posts in the series.]

Packing and organizing for a photographic expedition of a month is a long chore. The scheduled day for departure found us still packing until early afternoon, but eagerness to get on the road would not allow us to wait another day for an early morning start. When we finished packing, we set off in our trusty Champion, leaving Monterey and crossing California’s great Central Valley toward the mountains and the deserts beyond.

Nightfall found us looking for a dirt road to turn off on for our first night’s sleep in the open, somewhere in the foothills above Auburn, California. The thrill of sleeping under the stars was still new to us, though we had both been doing it most of our lives. This was the first night of a new adventure and it quickened us with anticipation. The next day flew by as did the miles of Nevada’s Basin and Range Province. Our second night found us on an old road on a hill high above the lights of Winnemucca, Nevada. It was early June and the desert nights were still nippy, but we were warmed by the exhilaration of being out again in wide open spaces. Our third night out we spent in the “luxury” of a Salt Lake City motel before embarking on the final lap to our destination. We became tourists for a few hours of sight seeing around Salt Lake City, visiting the Utah State capital, the Mormon Temple and other main attractions of a city we had only traveled through briefly before.

The final hundred miles to Dinosaur took us up over the Wasatch Mountains out of Salt Lake City and along high plateaus covered with whole forests of aspens. Then we dropped gradually down, down to the semi-arid plains of eastern Utah, skirting the Uinta Mountains, whose snow capped summits we could see dimly in the north. Here and there along the plains among the low naked hills were green fields of Alfalfa and other crops. We came to a road sign that said, “Dinosaur National Monument 7 Miles.” This trip would be our first encounter with the infamous Dinosaur dirt roads, sometimes when wet they were made of slippery axel grease, sometimes they were nothing but a jumble of jagged rocks. The first dirt road proved prosaic enough and took us without difficulty to the Monument headquarters and the nearby Dinosaur Quarry.

We introduced ourselves to the Park Ranger on duty, Max James. He found Jess Lombard, the Superintendent of Dinosaur. We were greeted like returned relatives and offered the empty section of the barracks, which we gratefully accepted. The sky looked like it would burst open in torrents any minute, which it did shortly after we made it safely under cover with our gear.

This area was our base during that month in 1951 when we roamed over Dinosaur National Monument. It proved to be a great help to leave some of our equipment and extra film here while we were off for a few days in some remote hinterland of Dinosaur’s canyons. Our first job here involved evolving some kind of plan to see the whole National Monument. In this project the Park Ranger, Max James and the Monument Superintendent, Jess Lombard, were invaluable with their extensive knowledge of the terrain.

Because of unpredictable weather, we decided to stay in the immediate area for a few days to see the Quarry, the sandstone reefs near it and Split Mountain Gorge, the mouth of which, where the Green River emerged and would be flooded by 300 feet of water if the dam builders had their way, could be reached on a branch road about three miles from Monument Headquarters. This was enough to keep us busy for a while. The sandstone reef turned out to be full of fabulous rock forms that could have provided subject matter for the camera for weeks without stopping. [To continue Ardis and Philip Hyde’s adventures in Dinosaur National Monument see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 3.”]

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 9

June 23rd, 2011

Conclusion To The Story of Dinosaur National Monument And The Birth Of Modern Environmentalism

(Continued From The Previous Blog Post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 8.”

To celebrate this final part in our series on Dinosaur National Monument and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism, below are excerpts from Ardis Hyde’s 1955 travel log of the Sierra Club river trip down the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument.

Steamboat Rock From The Side, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, copyright 1955 by Philip Hyde.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers included an introduction and first chapter by Wallace Stegner with documentary and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton. It was the first book ever published for an environmental cause. An essay in This Is Dinosaur called “Fast Water”, written by Otis “Doc” Marston, an expert river guide, lyrically described the adventure down the Green River through Dinosaur National Park.

“The canyons of Dinosaur have had a reputation far worse than they deserved,” Doc Marston wrote. “Anyone who goes boating on them now goes with ninety years of experience behind him. The change by which a fearsome river has become a playground has involved two things: the dissipation of wild tales and bogey stories about Niagaras, ‘sucks,’ and cataracts on the one hand; and the development of suitable boats and techniques on the other.”

June 28, 1955: We met our river party near Vernal, Utah at the house of Bus Hatch, the river boatman. We piled into school buses, crossed the Green River near Jensen and headed into Colorado. A side road off U.S. 40 lead to a point on the Yampa River above Lily Park, a popular put-in four miles upstream from the Eastern National Monument boundary. After lunch the party of 67 people and six rubber ‘barges’ launched. I rode in Ray Simpson’s folbot as a bow paddler. The river meandered through a valley. This normally smooth section grew rough due to headwinds. The fun began upon entrance into the canyon proper at the National Monument boundary. We ran a series of healthy rapids, quite an experience to go through in small craft. We traveled about 15 miles to our first campsite at Anderson Hole. It was a long beach with springs in the sand and a large, flat sagebrush area above, good for campsites. We had a campfire every night on this trip.

June 29, 1955: “Brick” woke Philip and I. He sung us happy anniversary while playing the bagpipes. It was our eighth year of marriage and not unusual that our anniversary found us in a wild place. We logged 28 river miles, a long stretch for the day, highlighted by Big Joe Rapids which is a Class IV rapid in high water. Philip ran with Ray Simpson. I traveled in the boat rowed by Dave Rasmussen holding nine passengers including Dr. Putnam, a Geologist from UCLA, the Drapers of the Academy of Sciences, and Mosses, both photographers. We saw two beavers in the water near a sand bar and three Golden Eagles. In the larger rapids the boatmen customarily stood up in the rear of the raft and faced the danger, pointing the stern downstream. We could see Petroglyphs on the rock wall across the river with binoculars.

July 1, 1955: The first day of July took our Yampa River adventure through beautiful scenery but insignificant rapids. The cliffs were higher and the Yampa River sleepily undulated through giant horseshoe bends. We drifted leisurely down smooth waters under streaked, curving walls of Weber sandstone of an older vintage. Our boat made frequent stops for Philip to photograph. We ran through the heart of sheer 1,000 to 2,000 foot cliffs.” In the evening Charlie Mantle came to the campfire and answered questions about his homestead and living in such a remote place. Afterward the Park Geologist, Morey Powers, along for the day’s run, gave a talk about the Yampa River canyon geology. The moon, approaching full, gave soft illumination to the still river against the high canyon walls.

July 3, 1955: We woke to fire crackers and bagpipes signaling our last day on the river. We pulled out at Rainbow Park for lunch and the unloading of the dunnage. The rapids with the worst reputation, rated Class IV at high water, in Whirlpool Canyon and Split Mountain Canyon were exciting but not too thrilling in the rubber barge. In Moonshine rapid, SOB rapid, and Schoolboy rapid (all Class II-IV depending on water level) the wind blew violently and spray and sand filled the air. We took out for good at Split Mountain Gorge.

At Split Mountain today the road and river mosey to a meeting at the campground and boat ramp. The campground is punctuated by cottonwoods and sleepy aspens nestling with the river and studying the upturned strata on the other side. Bands of yellow and Tuscan red zigzag up the hills to gray-tan sheer sandstone cliffs, with sage and green grasses receding into a blue sky, while puffy white clouds roll away forever over the flowing river. I hear a faint rustling of leaves, a low brushing of soft riffles. I smell the clean mud in the dry afternoon sun. I sit back in this campground and let time slow down until I get a feeling of reconnecting to roots in the Earth, the immediacy of feeling, of knowing what is real, of linking in the moment with something beautiful. This place was a gift from my father to his son, from his generation to mine and all those to come. I want to tell the river runners breaking down their boats, that without those early Sierra Club activists, the rafters and the rest of this campground would be nearly 300 feet under water here. Maybe they know or can feel it somehow, or maybe the circling hawks will tell them when they are silent on a quiet day like this. In the moments of stillness on the river bank, standing at the place where the water meets the land, I say, “Thank you, Dad.”

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 8

May 20th, 2011

Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, The Escalante Wilderness And Other Regional Repercussions Of The Battle Over Dinosaur National Monument

(FROM THE CATEGORY, “Excerpts Of New Book,” CONTINUED FROM THE BLOG POST, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 7.”)

Anasazi Grain Storage In The Sandstone, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 1951 by Philip Hyde.

The reservoirs on the Colorado River are currently at all-time lows because they lose more water annually to evaporation and seepage than they conserve, especially in drought years. Water and its management will increase in political prominence in the future as populations grow and the supply of water as a resource declines. The Glen Canyon Institute today is campaigning to have Glen Canyon Dam bypassed. As water in the Western United States grows more and more scarce, this idea is destined to gain momentum.

Immediately after the dams in Dinosaur National Monument were dropped from the Upper Colorado River Storage Project and the corresponding bill passed both houses of Congress, David Brower, still in Washington, spoke by telephone to a group of Sierra Club Board Members back in San Francisco, urging them to continue the fight and remain in opposition to Glen Canyon Dam. Unfortunately, in The History of The Sierra Club, Michael Cohen explained, “Bestor Robinson felt that such a purist stand would result in defeat, since the Club had made a compromise, saying in effect that the Bureau of Reclamation could have Glen Canyon. Bestor Robinson later said that ‘if you didn’t have the Grand Canyon then Glen Canyon should be preserved’; but, he argued, ‘the trade-off was necessary.’” For more about how long it took to fill Glen Canyon and other Glen Canyon miscalculations and mistakes, see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.”

The Virtues And Vices Of Compromise

“Bestor Robinson was worse than a compromiser,” Martin Litton said. “It was as if he were on the other side. The point is, no matter how hard you fight, you are going to end up with a compromise. If you start with a compromise, you have lost. Richard Leonard, Sierra Club President, believed the compromise had to be kept if the Sierra Club was to maintain credibility.”

Martin Litton said that Richard Leonard expressed concern in Sierra Club Board Meetings that Congress would be convinced the ‘preservationists’ were unreasonable.

“Richard Leonard was afraid we would be accused of suggesting the waste of the ‘entire Colorado River,'” Martin Litton said. “He thought Congressmen would say conservationists intended the Colorado River to be ‘unused’ and allowed to flood away into Mexico and the Gulf of California, as if that would have been so bad.” Studies now show that the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, is dying because its salt content has increased to unnatural levels with less and less fresh water from the Colorado River reaching it.

“Richard Leonard believed that the Sierra Club would not have been able to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon if Glen Canyon Dam had not been built,” said Martin Litton. “I disagreed with him. We had the public’s confidence in us, and we had the nation on our side as a result of Dinosaur. We could have carried that momentum right through the whole Colorado River system. I don’t mean there never would have been any pressures, but there wouldn’t have been any dam or reservoir once we got the great Escalante National Park.”

The Proposed Escalante National Park

Escalante National Park had been discussed by some members of Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt much earlier before World War II. It would have surrounded the entire area of Glen Canyon, the Escalante Wilderness and thousands of additional acres in the region. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II, Congress turned its attention to more pressing matters and Escalante National Park never materialized beyond the idea stage, not even as a proposal. Escalante National Park would have saved Glen Canyon. The Escalante Wilderness finally became officially part of the National Park System in 2000. President Bill Clinton signed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into existence on his last day in office. An act that enranged off-road vehicle users and local Utah anti-wilderness conservatives. The main drawback to President Bill Clinton’s National Monument is that under political pressure, he designated the new Monument under Bureau of Land Management care rather than the National Park service. The two agencies have significantly differing policies regarding their care and preservation of wilderness lands. President Bill Clinton compromised.

David Brower wrote in his autobiography about Glen Canyon, “My own bitter lesson there was that you don’t give away something that you haven’t seen; you don’t suggest alternatives until you’ve been there.”

The Green River, Yampa River And This Is Dinosaur

In 2005, the runoff was again higher than normal after years of drought, helping the reservoirs of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Storage Projects to recover from severe depletion. On the Green River below Steamboat Rock in Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, a river crew lifted a white three-pontoon river raft up the beach to the truck. The side of the boat’s inflatable outer pontoon said, “Outward Bound.”

The Outward Bound crew was one of hundreds of groups that float through the Dinosaur National Monument river canyons now every summer. Back when Philip Hyde ran the Green River and Yampa River, the Sierra Club had just overcome the myths of unknown danger and begun to prove to the American people that rafting through Dinosaur National Monument was safely possible.

Ardis and Philip Hyde ran the Yampa River in 1955 with a Sierra Club group. By then, many Sierra Club and other groups had run the Yampa River and the Green River since the first Sierra Club trip braved the canyons in the summer of 1951. That same year, 1951, Philip Hyde covered Dinosaur National Monument by land. It was the first photography assignment on behalf of an environmental cause. The Sierra Club sent Philip Hyde to see what Dinosaur National Monument had to offer and whether it was worth saving. Philip Hyde’s assignment and a group of essays by prominent river guides and naturalists of the time became the book This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and a first chapter by Wallace Stegner and documentary and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton.

(CONTINUED IN THE FINAL BLOG POST OF THE SERIES, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 9.”)

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 5

June 3rd, 2010

Philip Hyde On Assignment In Dinosaur National Monument, A Return Without Fanfare And Philip Hyde’s Early Struggles

(Continued from the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 4.”)

Philip Hyde In Jones Hole, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, 1951 Self-Portrait with 5X7 Linhof View Camera.

In 1950, the same year the Korean War began, Oscar Chapman, President Harry Truman’s Secretary of Interior, recommended Congressional authorization for the Upper Colorado River Storage Project, which to begin with depended on the building of two dams in Dinosaur National Monument.

One proposed dam would be built at the narrow lower end of a wide river oasis called Echo Park and in the process would flood the most scenic part of Dinosaur National Monument. Nearly fully submerged, in Echo Park at the center of the unparalleled scene stood Steamboat Rock. Steamboat Rock rises out of the river on three sides of it, 900 feet of sheer walls like a giant end of a bread loaf. The second dam would be erected at Split Mountain, also on the Green River below the Dinosaur Quarry near Dinosaur National Monument’s southern boundary where the river flows lazily along sculpted sandstone cliffs and birds call through the Cottonwood trees.

The US Bureau of Reclamation proposed Echo Park dam as the “wheelhorse” of the entire Colorado River Storage Project because the sale of its hydroelectric power would finance the construction of other key dams on the Colorado. They proposed Split Mountain dam to modulate flow fluctuations caused by large power-generating releases from Echo Park dam.

For years National Park Service leadership did not quite believe the Bureau of Reclamation would try to invade the national monument, even though a clause in Dinosaur’s legislation permitted it. As the Bureau of Reclamation garnered support from local towns expecting a boom, the National Park Service began to realize the Bureau of Reclamation would go farther than mere surveys. The National Park Service began to reach out for help to young environmental groups like the Sierra Club.

A Turning Point For The Sierra Club And The Modern Environmental Movement

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club was getting more organized, growing exponentially and debating a shift to a more national focus. In December 1952, the Sierra Club Board of Directors approved a new position of Executive Director for David Brower to lead the club, act as spokesman and recommend fiscal policy. David Brower had already organized boat trips down both the Yampa River and the Green River. He had concurred with Richard Leonard in sending Philip Hyde in 1951, to explore and photograph Dinosaur National Monument from land.

The Sierra Club bought three sets of Dad’s prints when he returned from Dinosaur. In September 1951, Dad was still seeking additional paying uses of his photographs when he wrote to J. W. Penfold, Western Representative of the Izaak Walton League describing his coverage of the subject:

I have quite a stack of negatives of Dinosaur to print. Though we missed getting into the Canyon of the Ladore, I covered the rest of the monument pretty well and have quite a few pictures of Jones Hole—the upper part you don’t see from the river—and one of the most beautiful areas of the monument, Echo Park, Mantles’ Cave and ranch area, the Quarry area, Split Mountain Gorge, Round Top. Several days before running the river, we flew over most of the monument in a Vernal man’s little Ercoupe—an experience I highly recommend. After having walked and driven over the area, it really puts it together to fly over it. And one gets a marvelous conception of the topography of the whole country. The plateaus and benches all begin to make sense from the air, something that didn’t quite come off when surveyed from the ground. Certainly from the air and on the ground the canyons present a more interesting and beautiful aspect than they could from the surface of a lake which would inundate them. The underwater caverns of Capri may be delightful from a glass-bottomed boat, but what could you see through the turbid waters of the Green and Yampa?

The Financial Outlook Became Bleak After Demand Subsided For Dad’s Dinosaur National Monument Original Black and White Prints

Dad went on to outline the same suggestions he also made to Richard Leonard, how his prints could help raise awareness of Dinosaur’s beauty. He suggested he make a set of prints to travel around to various conservation organizations, another set for use at Dinosaur, another set for the National Park Service, a fourth for Sierra Club use and another for reproduction in pamphlets and magazine articles. Several environmental organizations did use Dad’s photographs, though not to the extent he hoped. Richard Leonard shot down the traveling show idea but was responsible for supporting the purchase of the three sets of prints for the Sierra Club. Dad organized his own traveling Dinosaur Exhibition, that went to libraries and museums all over the country. All of the printing and framing materials added up for the young photographer, who had very little money having just spent nearly four years in photography school.

To help support Dad, Mom taught school for 12 years. She began teaching in 1948 while Dad was still in photography school. She first taught at Colma Kindergarten in Daily City. Mom and Dad moved to the northern Sierra Nevada in 1950. They took up residence at the Fox Farm at Lake Almanor, California. Mom taught kindergarten in Greenville and they moved to the Fredrickson’s Ranch east of town. Dad put together a makeshift darkroom in the Granary at Fredrickson’s. The darkroom had been a single stall closet, about four feet square. Dad could just get inside, tape the door shut and get the lights out to make prints.

Though the young couple were newlywed and happy in the mountains, those years were very bleak financially. Dad’s log entry for May 16, 1952: “Weeks of wondering, doubt. Ansel has been advising me to work toward some solution of economic problem. The two years in Greenville and the mountains seem to be drawing to a close. I have a feeling change is near. Ned Graves in Carmel suggests I work part-time in a photo shop and has provided the impetus. I will look into the possibility the second week of June when we go down below again.”

In one letter Dad told Ansel Adams of his troubles. Ansel Adams recommended that Dad get into another line of work for awhile. Ansel Adams said that it would clear Dad’s head and he could do photography on the side. Ansel Adams said Dad would have a difficult time making a living defending wilderness….

(CONTINUED IN THE BLOG POST, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 6.”)

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“)