Dinosaur National Monument gives us the perfect desert goodbye
Yes, Dinosaur National Monument has dinosaur bones. The best bones have long been removed and placed in museums, but they’ve left a few in place to illustrate the amazing forces that made these bones find-able in the first place: first, lots of animals and dinosaurs died in a river bed. Sad. The smaller animals and dinosaurs were washed away by the river but the bigger ones settled down and were buried by sediment. Then, the ground fell into the ground and huge chunks of earth were tilted up at an almost 90 degree angle. It’s impossible to imagine this happening gradually, so I imagine it happening all at once. Then erosion happened over millions of years, then someone saw a bone sticking out of a hill, then they dug and dug and found tons of bones. They even found a new dinosaur species here. Then they built an awesome building around a big, tilted piece of earth, and now they shuttle a bunch of tourists up a hill to gape at it, pee in the pit toilet, and drive on.
Dinosaur is also a place of human historical importance. It includes long stretches of the Green and Yampa Rivers, floated by early explorers like William Ashley and John Wesley Powell. It was the site of an infamous dam battle back in the ’50s, which resulted in the creation of laws to protect already protected places from future development. After much contention, dams planned for Dinosaur ended up being placed in Glen Canyon to the south and Flaming Gorge to the north — no less beautiful places, just places that weren’t currently protected as National anythings and that “weren’t as well known.” Like I’ve said before, dams are a difficult compromise in the dry west, but this is also a good example of unintended consequences.
The Green and Yampa rivers make some fabulous canyon country. The best way to experience it is on a river trip, but that will need to wait for another time for us. This time, we hiked along the edge. I knew we were saying goodbye to the desert in Dinosaur National Monument, so I made sure to soak it all in. The washes, the slickrock, the mud hills, the oases…the smell of rain in the desert. The grand canyon views. Lucky for me, Dinosaur had it all.