Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sheep Loop to Antelope Herd, and More Natural Beauty In Between

September 16-18, 2017
Vernal, Utah

There are so many beautiful places to see in this little corner of Utah, it's a challenge to figure out which ones to choose. Flaming Gorge is on my list, and our neighbor tells Bill that Sheep Creek Geological Loop, in the same area, is a must-do. So Saturday we head north on Highway 191.

We make a couple stops along the way to take in the pretty views and play in the red dirt. Soon we're on Highway 44 and into Ashley National Forest.

Layers continue to erode, exposing new color beneath.

I find this big brain along the highway - and that big rock behind him :-)

Mesquite and old fences.

Cart Creek Meadow
Lots of places to come back and explore another day.
Small Aspen groves get an early start on Fall colors.
Sheep Creek Loop climbs over deep canyon views, then drops along several switch-backs. Every turn brings another geology lesson - and lots of Wows! Layers of different colors tell the story of oceans, ice, drought, ash and deep rivers. Uplifts provide dramatic evidence of Mother Earth's violent remodeling projects. It's a beautiful drive, and we agree it's a must-do. We don't see any of the Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep herd living here.

In Malta, ten miles from the Wyoming border, we grab lunch at Browning's, the only eatery in town. Might be the only public place in town. Then we return to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, hoping to catch the afternoon color. 

Red, white and blue.

7 miles of washboard dirt road take us to the viewpoint at Dowd Mountain - worth every shake and rattle.

A hidden finger of water.

The viewpoint itself is lovely.

These signs line Highway 191 - no place to stop to catch my favorite "Stegosaurus roamed here."

Red Fleet Lake State Park

The three red "ships" that give the lake its name.
Sunday it's football all day. It's really a bonus that we have satellite under the stately tall trees.

With our focus on several games at once, the diligent guard dog keeps on eye on the dangerous kitty cat next door.
When we crossed the city limit sign in the motorhome on Wednesday, the check engine light came on. Not the CHECK ENGINE!! light, the other one. Bill called the local Cummins Service Center, and our appointment is 7:30 Monday morning.

Mike is a great guy who immediately hooks up the computer. Of course no active fault :-(. He assures us he'll continue to work on it, and we head out for breakfast.

And coffee - I'm never up this early!

Sue recommended we visit Fantasy Canyon southwest of town. Sounds like our kind of place - weird and not well known.

Much of the drive is through active oil fields, small hills of scrub brush, and open range with lots of cattle. Hard to imagine a natural wonder existing out here.

But even from the dirt parking lot we can see a naturally wonderful place. We explore for over an hour, looking for the shapes named and identified with small markers, and pointing out our own favorites. We have the whole place to ourselves. Tessa even gets in some zoomies among the formations on the trail.

Sandstone, siltstone and shale deposited and hardened 38-50 million years ago along what was then a 150 acre lake, over a half mile deep.

Penguins and bud vases

Ghosts and gargoyles

Some crevices are deeper than the naked eye can see.

Tessa thinks this new playground is great!

Looking like sand, the formations are very hard.
Free standing art pieces along the trail.
Can't we stay and play all day?
We take a different route back, and have three pronghorn sightings - each group larger than the last. They are beautiful animals.

This lone young buck takes his time crossing the road.

I wait for him to cross, then approach slowly while he just watches us drive by. Handsome guy.

Near the Green River we see this small herd.

Over 50 in this herd! Alfalfa farmer probably doesn't think they're so pretty.

All are about the same age and move in tight formation through the field.
Our house is ready to pick up when we get back to town. 19 computer updates, but no specific problem found. Jessica has contacted our extended warranty, and says she'll call us when she hears back. No, we don't need to pay anything now. Just take the rig and let them know if the light comes on again. Nothing to sign, all good.

I've mentioned before how much I love small towns and the people who live and work in them. We do hear back before we leave - warranty covered everything, nothing to pay. Emailed zero balance invoice. If you need work on your Cummins engine when you're in the area - go see Mike and Jessica!

Next we return to Dinosaur National Monument for two more amazing days of exploration. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thar Be Dinosaurs! And Sheep and Mammoths :-)

September 13-15, 2017
Vernal, Utah

An easy 150 mile drive on Wednesday takes us to the little town of Vernal, Utah. We're here to see dinosaurs, and find so much more! 

Fossil Valley RV Park is in the middle of town. It's a perfect spot for all we want to do. The owner, Dennis, is a quiet gentleman, and runs a well maintained, no frills RV-only park. The sign out front is beat up, but the park is clean, level and peaceful. Lots of beautiful tall trees, but Dennis knows which sites are good for satellite and he lets us pick the one we like. Park WiFi works well too.

Wasting no time, we're off to see Dinosaur National Monument. This is a large park, shared by Utah and Colorado. More than a day's worth to see for sure!

More than once we say "This alone was worth the $20 entry fee." It's free with our America the Beautiful membership. 

1/2 mile before the entrance we make a quick stop along Green River. No fish, but there could have been!
 A small and informative Visitor's Center with a good video about the incredible dinosaur finds here - and very friendly and helpful rangers. 
The Carnegie Quarry is mind-blowing for dinosaur geeks like us. I've seen other's pics so I knew we'd love it. But nothing beats the personal experience. We spend a long time reading and touching and just staring at the incredible collection left in situ. 

Experts believe that the cycle of drought and flood along this ancient riverbed led to the large number of skeletons found. 500 specimens have been unearthed. While most are still in the quarry, some are displayed in other museums including the Smithsonian in DC, and the Carnegie in Pittsburgh. 

The Wall of Bones from the second story.

Can you imagine coaxing these huge pieces from the rock?

I took dozen of pics, but you get the idea of all there is to see.

Found in 1924 here at the quarry, this Allosaurus is one of the best preserved complete skulls ever found. More fragile than other bones, skulls are usually found crushed and shattered.

Happy dino-geek with a femur as tall as he is.

In addition to the giant treasures are some much smaller finds. This salamander fossil is about the size of my finger - and is 149 million years old!
I find it fascinating that the covered quarry is only a small part of an area they believe contains many more bones and fossils.

One man's dream realized here at Dinosaur National Monument.
Stunning views draw us further into the park.
We're blown away by the quarry, and would be happy if that's all we see today. Continuing into the park, the happy just keeps coming!

Scoops of ice cream.

This large snake head looks through the small arch.

Colorful uplifts throughout the landscape.

Green River adds another layer of color.

Multiple angles carved by centuries of river flow. See them in the sand to the left?

Bill sees them first. A small nursery herd of ewes and their kids - Big Horn Sheep chill on the beach.

Until recently it was believed the Green River cut through Split Mountain to make two - new evidence shows the separate ranges were there before the river.

Interesting signage adds to the experience.

Straight lines and dripping varnish make this look man made - but it's all Mother Nature doing her thing.

Down river she throws in some purple. Because she can.
While we're here.....
The expected rain comes on Friday, a perfect day to visit the Utah Field House Museum of Natural History (they have a dinosaur almost as long as their name!).

Yesterday's geek-fest continues. If you've seen enough dinosaurs and fossils feel free to bail here.....

We start in the small theater with a video that does a great job of explaining the earth's layers and how they represent millions of years of plants and animals. This information is referenced throughout the museum, making a great foundation for picturing how the area evolved. 

Exhibits include bones and fossils combined with murals depicting how they interacted in different eras. It's truly amazing what we can know today about who was doing what (and why) with who, hundreds of millions of years ago!!

It's not as easy as it looks - what's a fossil and what isn't.

Diplodocus swallowed stones to grind their food for aide with digestion - they lacked back teeth to do the job of mastication.

Haplocanthosaurus skeleton found nearly complete, missing only the head. Believed to have died at a very old age because arthritis was found, but no teeth marks or other indicators of attack or trauma. So cool!!

This Stegosaurus fossil was a rare find because the bones are still in their natural position. It answered questions experts had about plate positioning along their backs.

The juvenile Stegosaurus (cast from the bones) uncovered here is the best sample found to date. 

If we ever move back to a stationary home we'd love a wall of fossils!!

A spiral of shark teeth - 250 million years old.

The small exhibit on the Fremont Indians includes a beautiful collection of old beaded items.

Diploducus carnegii found in the Morrison Foundation, Wyoming, 149 million years after she died. 100+ feet long!
This mammoth is part of the outdoor display that we could view through the window while it was pouring outside. The "hair" is hemp which has to be replaced periodically because the birds love to make their nests with it. Wonder if the big guys had similar issues with their real hair?
Vernal is a great town. It's clean and easy to navigate. Most services are available. There's a decent variety of eateries. People are friendly.

And at least one police officer is really awesome!

Driving a back road while looking for a place to grab some lunch I hear the whoop, whoop behind me that you never want to hear when driving. I pull over and pull out my driver's license. The serious officer asks if I know how fast I was going.....uuuh, no. But I do admit sincerely that I wasn't paying attention, that we were trying to figure out where to eat, that we aren't from around here (you know, in case he didn't notice the California plates), I apologize. He shares that I was going 16 miles above the speed limit. Damn. Just as exciting, the proof of insurance card is expired. This is going to cost a lot of money :-(

While he returns to his vehicle to determine my fate, I pull up the current insurance doc on my phone. When he comes back to my window he hands back my docs and says "Everything's in order." He doesn't need to see the electronic copy. He reminds me that school is back in. I agree I'm a bad person.

And then he tells me to slow down and gives me a big smile. Seriously? I'm from out of state, going way too fast in your town, you had to put your siren on because I wasn't paying attention, I don't have the required proof of insurance, and you're giving me a verbal warning????? All my good driving karma just got cashed in.

Of course we ask him where we should eat. Now that we're all buddies. His recommendation is delicious :-)

We're having such a good time, we've already extended our stay :-))