Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument is famous for the Douglass Quarry. This was the site of an enormous excavation in 1909 which supplied many of the fossils at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the month before we took the kids there in 2006, they decided that they had to close the quarry because of problems with the foundation. You would think that would have made the visit a disappointment, but it didn’t. It turns out that the park has something even better which most people don’t get to see. That something is the river which runs through the middle of it.
This stretch of the Green and Yampa rivers has some of the most historic rapids in the world. In 1869, John Wesley Powell set out from Green River, Wyoming to explore the largest blank space on the map of the United States. His book recounting the trip is one of the classics of exploration literature. Amazingly, the stretch through Dinosaur is almost exactly as he saw it a hundred and forty years ago. Here’s Peter watching as our guides set up the rafts just above the Gates of Lodore.
The gates are just as impressive today as they were in Powell’s day. And the canyon continues on like that for several days, as you meet a series of famous Class III rapids with names like Hell’s Half Mile and Disaster Falls. It was an amazing trip. The canyon is closed to almost all uses except rafting, and it was late enough in the season that there were very few people on the river. This meant that the only sound we heard was the roar of the rapids echoing up and down the canyons.
We did see a few other users of the canyon though. On evenings when we camped in sites where the rock walls weren’t completely shear, these mountain goats would come down to drink from the river at sunset.
As the sun set, our guides would set up a tent and get a wonderful supper cooking. Everyone was very hungry after a day on the water.
After supper, the kids would play a few games of washers, or do some slacklining.
Then it was off to bed in our cozy tent. In the morning, our guides would get the coffee started and then wake us up while they started breakfast. Then we’d load up the rafts and start down the river again.
On the calm parts of the river, we would let the kids head off on there own in these little inflatable kayaks known as rubber duckies.
They thought that was great, especially when they got into a big splashing fight with one of the guides. When Randy had finally had enough, he reached out with one of the long oars on the big raft and flipped Tom’s ducky over, dumping Tom into the cold water.
Another thing the kids really loved was hiking up to the rim and looking back down into the canyon.
After a couple of days in the deep canyons, in the very heart of the park, it suddenly opens out into the most spectacular natural amphitheater you’ve ever seen. This is Echo Park. The name comes from the amazing echoes off the gigantic wall of white rock on one side known as Steamboat Rock. They say that you can hear eight echoes here, but I’m not sure any of us counted quite that many.
In the early 50’s, the Bureau of Reclamation planned to build a dam here and fill it to the rim. The Sierra Club fought this. Their victory was in many ways the beginning of the US environmental movement.
Our memories of this rafting trip are among our favorite memories of all of the parks we’ve visited, and we’re so glad that it was preserved so that we could enjoy it with our children. If you go rafting here, be sure to either bring along Powell’s book, and/or Wallace Stegner’s wonderful book about Powell.