Friday, June 20, 2014

US Hwy 191: Dinosaur Land — Part 2

A few miles east of Vernal, UT, lies the Dinosaur National Monument, originally just an 80-acre site dedicated to preserving an unprecedented discovery of dinosaur fossils. Accordingly, an informative visitor's center and a fascinating quarry exhibit are located near the Monument's entrance. They're both worth an extended visit, but they're not the key features of this report.

The bigger and better story is the surrounding geology, the importance of which was later recognized and prompted the Monument to be expanded by 200,000 acres. I'm not one to "bury the lead" so here it is: In this single photo, you can see rock dating from over 4 billion years ago when the earth first started to form, right up to a few million years ago that's just an eye blink in geological time.

Through a unique combination of deep geological forces that pushed ancient rock upward by many thousands of feet and surface river forces that eroded it in deep wide trenches, every age and stage of rock is visible. As usual, photos don't do it justice, but you can see there's a lot going on here:

Even within one general type or era of rock, much finer details of geologic time can be seen. In this photo, those variously colored bands of sedimentary rock reflect what was going on in earth's history during remarkably short periods. To have that much history so readily accessible is astonishing.

Geology may be the lead story here, but anthropology is a close second. Humans have been living here for over 10,000 years and have left many priceless artifacts for study. In numerous places, modest shelter spaces have been found that display petroglyphs over 1,000 years old.

As you can see, the Monument is sparsely populated by visitors, making it easy, quiet and pleasant to explore on one's own. The "dinosaur crowds" stay mainly at the entrance facilities while the rest of us explore a well-documented 10-mile road deep into the landscape.

Dinosaur Monument is an under-appreciated resource that especially appeals to the thinking person. It takes a lot to get your head around the geologic scope and timeframe. It takes a lot to look at petroglyphs and sort out who did what and when. I haven't even mentioned the ecosystem diversity of Montane forest, semi-desert, shrub-steppe, woodlands and wetlands.

If all that isn't enough to give your brain a workout, the area also offers an engaging array of history and heritage. Settled early in the pioneer days, there are numerous sites of interest. Because of it's proximity to three state borders, the region was popular with outlaws who were evading the law. Characters of all kinds left their mark here, just waiting to be explored.

One such character was a local legend named Josie Morris. Born and raised in the northeast corner of the state, as a young woman she moved to the area and settled in a small, idyllic plot that is now within the Monument. At the end of the road you can visit her homestead, complete with gardens, outbuildings and the last of several cabins she built for herself.

Her legend includes a colorful history as a gracious hostess, helpful neighbor and sometime cattle rustler and game poacher. Throw in some bootleg whiskey trade for good measure and you get the gist of it. The site's documentation is engagingly informative and ends with a poignant question: "Could you see yourself living here alone, without electricity, for 50 years?" My answer, frankly, is in the affirmative.

That wraps up the exploration I've done in the area for this visit. With so much besides dinosaurs to offer, you can bet I'll plan to spend more time here in the future, when I drive US40 which goes right through Vernal... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

No comments: