Flaming Gorge to Dinosaur National Park
June 23 - 26th, 1999
After being away for several days, it was now definitely vacation time. We hooked up the Explorer 'toad' and made a brief stop at the grocery store, then backtracked our travels of a few weeks before - going northeast out the windy I-80 canyon pass to Green River, WY. Green River today is a dry, powdery mining city, the trona capital of the world. It is also a historic Union Pacific railroad town wedged on the banks between what else, the Green River, and Castle Rock. There we turned south on route 530 into the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
Shortly we were following the narrow, winding highway that threaded itself along a high desert, somewhat bleak plateau. We passed the distinct landmark of Haystack Buttes, off to the west.

We were driving through open-grazing lands and running parallel to the Green River canyon. From our high perch, we occasionally caught glimpses to the east of the waters of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Completed in 1964, the dam and reservoir provides much needed water to an arid area but also engulfs much of the canyon gorge. Fur trader William H. Ashley first floated the Green River in 1825. But most of what we know of the wild Green River and its spectacular canyon views were recorded by the 1869-70 expedition of explorer-scientist Major John Wesley Powell. Much of what these parties saw is now underwater.

Along the roadway, we encountered several desiccated cattle carcasses and skeletons, silent evidence of the harsh winters in this area. Again we saw pronghorn antelope feeding. Crossing the border into northeastern Utah, we reached the town of Manila, the boundary between Wyoming's desert lands and the Uinta Mountains. There we changed to highway 44, arcing southeast and later connecting to route 191 to the south.
A few miles south of Manila, we made a quick decision to park the motorhome, unhook the Explorer, and take a sidetrip through Sheep Creek Canyon (Photo to right). This loop trip took us through eroded formations and exposed geological layers. It was a great choice and we could have spent an entire day hiking and exploring there. Our drive on southward led us up into mountain forests. Nearer Vernal, we began descending, again to arid scrublands. Throughout the day, we had this beautiful and sometimes stark scenery largely to ourselves. In fact during the entire 112 mile drive from Green River to Vernal, Utah, we passed less than a dozen vehicles. Reaching Vernal late in the afternoon, we found and setup at our campsite.

The following day we took U.S. 40 east to Jensen, then turned off to our first stop at Dinosaur National Monument. There we visited the exhibits and fossil bone displays at the dinosaur quarry. Here in 1909 on a ridge above the Green River, paleontologist Earl Douglass, then working for the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, first discovered eight exposed tail bones of a Apatosaurus in their exact position.

These were the first of thousands of dinosaur bones that Douglas and his workers removed from this single upraised ridge. In 1915, the quarry site was designated a national monument. In all, ten different species of dinosaurs were located at the Quarry. Douglass continued to excavate for several more years, but now left bones in their original positions. They compose a giant jigsaw puzzle of preserved natural history. The dinosaur bones that can now be seen on the Quarry cliff wall were buried in an ancient riverbed sandbar about 145 million years ago. Today over 1,600 exposed bones and their sandstone rock setting make up an amazing gallery wall in the Dinosaur Quarry building (Left Photos).

Next we took the Cub Creek Road, east of the Quarry, winding our way across the Green River and ending up about ten miles later at the Josie Morris cabin. Larry was reading a recent book purchase: 'The Bassett Women' (1985) by Grace McClure. This book was about a mother and her two daughters from nearby Brown's Park, Utah. Josie and sister Ann were daughters of Elizabeth Bassett, who was remembered by some as the 'head of the Bassett Gang.' Sister Ann was called 'Queen of the Cattle Rustlers.' Josie gained notoriety in other ways; in a time where divorce was rare she married and discarded five husbands. She was suspected of killing at least one of them. Among her suitors was supposed to be Butch Cassidy. When almost forty, Josie left her childhood home of Brown's Park and moved to this remote, wild homestead. In 1936 at the age of sixty-two, Josie by then a grandmother, was arrested, tried, but not convicted of stealing and butchering a neighbor's cattle. She lived at her cabin on Cub Creek about fifty years until shortly before her death in 1964. Her unique life's story is one of pioneering courage, independence, and perseverance. It touched on the ongoing battle between large ranching operations and small family homesteads. Today, her Cub Creek home is part of the Dinosaur National Monument
Now having read much of Josie Morris's biography, we took a trail hike from Josie's cabin back into a box canyon where she pastured her cattle and pigs. We pass by the remnants of her garden, orchard, and hay field. She had once hunted and dressed out wild game here. We tied to envision what her life was like here; it wasn't that long ago

On our way back to the park's visitor center, we stopped (again on the Cub Creek Road) to view some Fremont petroglyph sites near the road. The Fremont Indians, people who lived at the same time as the Anasazi culture, occupied this area until sometime before 1300 A.D. They were first hunter gatherers, but also learned to farm these arid lands by building rock checkdams and directing rainwater to catchment crop areas. Fremont people were influenced by their neighbors, but they were also distinctly different. Like the Anasazi to the south, they had the bow and arrow, pottery, and basketry. But their pottery was plain gray and they never achieved the Anasazi's artistry. They sometimes settled in small villages, but their architecture was crude compared to that of nearby neighboring cliff-dwellers. Fremonts also had hide shields, that reflect an influence from the Plains people. Their rock art is the most outstanding evidence that the Fremont left behind. Some of their drawings are pecked into the dark varnish coating on the rock (petroglyphs) while others are painted (pictographs). A distinctive element of Fremont rock art is a broad-shouldered humanlike figure. The figure often has eyes, may be adorned with necklaces, earrings, or sashes, and many hold a shield or have horns. It was fun to try and interpret the meanings of the Fremont rock art.
We ended the day driving east into Colorado then southward. Someday when we return, we would like to take the eastern route along Green River and Flaming Gorge (said to be even more spectacular), spend more time on the geology tours in Uintas Mountain areas, visit Brown's Park (sometimes called Brown's Hole), and do more hiking.
Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 1/99
Updated, 2/00
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