Posts Tagged ‘U. S. Highway 40’

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 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“)