Dinosaur National Monument

After our long drive across Colorado it was nice to discover the peaceful setting of Dinosaur National Monument’s Green River campground.  I could have spent the day just hanging out there in the Airstream, despite the heat, but we had come to Dinosaur to explore and had budgeted only a couple of days to do it.  So we piled into the car in the morning with all our gear for hikes and photography and started our day at the new visitor center.

We had first planned to visit Dinosaur when we were full-timing back in 2006.  Coincidentally, that was the year the visitor center began to approach total collapse, and the park service closed it.  (The previous visitor center was built by the famous Fossil Quarry, and unfortunately began to disintegrate due to unsuitable soils beneath.)  For this reason we shelved Dinosaur for years, waiting for the new visitor center to be built, and finally last October it was opened.  So this visit has been a long time coming.

After all these I wasn’t disappointed.  Every point of this enormous park is beautiful, and the Fossil Quarry is fantastic to see. It’s hard to believe that all those amazing fossils concentrated into one small area, are real.  We chose to take the ranger-led hike along the nearby trails, which was also well worth the 90 minutes spent hiking in the heat.  Weather forecasts we had checked before coming were misleading; temps have been in the low 90s and so the only other people on the ranger-led hike were from Phoenix.

Even for us, the heat was enervating.  I couldn’t put my finger on why, but after just two miles of walking Eleanor and I had no interest in hiking any more.  That’s odd, for us, but we just decided to go with it and spend the rest of the afternoon auto-touring.  First Emma got her Junior Ranger badge at the visitor center (note the sweat marks on her shirt from her backpack), and then we drove out to Split Mountain where the rafting trips down the Green River terminate, and the Jessie Morris cabin, and found some petroglyphs here and there.

By late afternoon we were fading fast.  Back at the campground I toyed with the idea of jumping into the Green River to cool off, but it was so silty I’d have to shower afterward.  So we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Airstream with all of the fans running, taking cool showers and planning our next moves.

The fatigue never really let up.  I think it’s a form of post-traumatic reaction.  The next day we had a slow start, and after relocating the Airstream to the town of Dinosaur (about 25 miles east, much closer to the Canyon entrance to the park), none of us were in a hurry to go exploring.  We took a drive up the Harpers Corner Road, stopped for photos and dramatic vistas at a few points, but as the day wore on I just got less interested in exploring and thinking wistfully of laying in the Airstream for a nap.  I started to worry about having caught a virus, but nothing came of it.  In retrospect, we probably should have spent one of our vacation days doing nothing but reading books and napping.  The Airstream is a good place for that.

We have spent a lot of time over the past few years in remote western national parks, and nearly all of that time has been enjoyable.  One challenge we perennially face is food.  Eleanor always packs the Airstream with massive quantities of ingredients, but she’s not big on “convenience” foods if she thinks they aren’t healthy, and most of her ingredients require fresh produce and other perishable items in order to be prepared.  Knowing that we are going to be remote locations she pre-cooks and freezes some meals, but the freezer space is very limited in the Airstream and of course I always need a half-gallon of ice cream in there.  So we are usually looking for a decent grocery store or farmer’s market every three or four days.  That’s a challenge in a place like this.

Of course, if you can’t find a grocery store with fresh produce, you probably also don’t have a lot of good restaurant options.  That’s the position we found ourselves in the last two nights, plus we were tired.  The first night Eleanor managed to put together a smorgasbord, and the second night we drove 20 miles down to the oil field town of Rangeley to find an Italian restaurant.  We were lucky it was only 20 miles.  In other parks like Big Bend, Yellowstone, Great Basin, Navajo, Hovenweep, etc., the drive could easily be 50 miles or more.

Today’s plan is to head toward home base, traveling down the Utah/Colorado border toward the Four Corners region.  Today I awoke feeling fairly well rested so a long tow will be easy to do.  Of course, Labor Day weekend is upon us, so we’ll have to pick our stops carefully.  We have a few ideas for tonight’s stop but ultimately it will come down to happenstance.  It should be an interesting day.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine