Journey Through the West – August 2016 – Part 3
I have been a dinophile since I was small. In the 1950’s, I had a collection of the first hard plastic dinosaur toys ever produced. So going to Dinosaur National Monument on our way to Crestone was high on my list. I didn’t know then that this Park played an essential role in my childhood interest in dinosaurs.
On our way, we took a little detour and stopped to check out the unique Homestead Crater Hot Springs, hoping to squeeze in a soak and add a new location to our hot springs life list.
The Crater is at the heart of a resort in Midway, Utah. It’s a natural geological feature formed by the hot springs themselves. The mineral laden steam gradually, over thousands of years, has created a travertine dome, 55 feet high and 400 feet across at the base. There are exterior stairs leading to the top of the outer dome where you can view the entire valley and peer down the top opening and see the bathers below. A 110 foot tunnel was drilled through the dome in the 1990s, allowing the hot springs to become accessible to everyone; before that, you had to rappel from the hole on top. The pool inside is 65 feet deep and about 95°.
The number of people allowed in the pool at one time is strictly controlled. The fee covers only 45-55 minutes at a time in the warm waters. Wearing life jackets was required. I begrudgingly donned the raggedy, slightly soiled jacket, quietly grumbling about this ridiculous rule. But after a few minutes in the water I actually like having it on, the extra buoyancy made floating completely effortless. I was a carefree gently bobbing cork on the surface.
We doggy paddled slowly in the silky, soothing deep blue waters, the whole scene dimly lit by filtered light from the small opening above and a few added spotlights. Most of the people there were young Russians. Their whispered incomprehensible conversations adding to the muffled sound of gently splashing water, all of it echoing off the rough, cavernous walls dripping with steam. Not only do people snorkel and scuba dive here, the resort offers yoga classes atop paddle boards. If you fall out of your tree pose, you just tumble into the warm, comforting waters.
If you saw the movie 127 Hours, you saw the Homestead Crater. It’s in the scene where James Franco shows two young woman how to jump into a subterranean pool after sliding through a thin crack in the red rock. The Crater is, in reality, no where near that supposed location and it is most definitely not hidden in a remote slot canyon. Hollywood fools us again.
We drove into Dinosaur National Monument campground after dark. The next morning we changed sites to be closer to the Green River which skirts the campground. There were numerous warnings posted about swimming in the river due to strong currents (although it was not prohibited). Generations of campers had rearranged river rocks to create little jetties that made pools of slower water. The river became a delightful, enlivening refuge from the desert heat.
In front of the Visitor’s Center was a life-sized stegosaurus surrounded by a low fence, looking like a cow in a petting zoo. The gift shop was a dinophile’s dream, displaying dinosaur-related paraphernalia in all possible media, including a table piled high with hard plastic dinosaur toys, very much like my childhood set except more colorful. I was tempted to buy a few.
We boarded the shuttle bus for the newly renovated Quarry Exhibit Hall, a short drive up a winding road. When you enter the building you face a nearly vertical rock wall, 150” long, chaotically scattered with over 1500 skeletal remains. They appeared tossed there like a giant game of pick-up sticks. Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus. Seeing this wall of fossils must bring out the paleontologist-wannabe in everybody. There were spots where you could lovingly stroke a 150 million year old bone. I felt saddened by their demise.
Rather than take the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center we chose instead to hike down a 1.5 mile trail. It was mid-day and very hot. Not surprisingly, we found ourselves alone on the trail. We spotted a few fossils along the way barely emerging from rocks, left in place by scientists to give visitors a sense of what the first paleontologists may have seen. It wasn’t hard to imagine the thrill of discovering these remains.
The connection to my childhood? The person who discovered and unearthed these dinosaurs was Earl Douglass. He was a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. In the summer of 1909, searching for fossils for the museum in Utah, Douglass found eight dinosaur tailbones protruding from a sandstone hill in what is now the National Monument. This discovery was the beginning of one of the most productive Jurassic era quarries ever found. The great wall in the exhibit hall is what is left of it.
The excavated remains – more than 700,000 tons of material – were shipped by train to Pittsburgh. By 1915 the Carnegie Museum exhibited a completely reconstructed Apatosaurus in their new Dinosaur Hall, one of the first, best and largest collections of dinosaurs in the world.
Growing up in Pittsburgh with grandparents who lived close to Carnegie Museum, I visited these exhibits frequently. I was mesmerized, fascinated, enchanted by the towering skeletons that filled the huge marble rooms. Real monsters! Thus began my love of dinosaurs. I can still recall the pleasant musty smell, the echoing sounds of murmuring awed voices and the clacking of footsteps on pale gray stone.
Dinosaur National Monument is also known for its many petroglyphs created by the Fremont people about 1,000 years ago. Chris and I drove to several spots and hiked short distances to see them up close. I enjoy standing in the spot where someone long, long ago picked up a stone and began to draw, expressing something – although mysterious to us – about their life. One of the more unusual, rare petroglyph includes several sizable lizards, the largest almost six feet long. It seems more than coincidence that these people lived in an area along side the remains of “giant lizards.”
In 1994, a Buddhist monk in remote Thailand, unfamiliar with dinosaurs, dug up some T-Rex bones after he had visions in meditation of a huge creature that was “bigger than a elephant with a long neck.” Its location was revealed in a dream. (The monastery now has toy dinosaurs on their altar.) Maybe the ancient spirit of the local dinosaurs entered the dream world of the Fremont people who lived here.
We also visited the homestead of Josie Bassett Morris, a true character and independent woman of the wild west. After five marriages, four divorces and several children, in her 40’s she moved to a nearby canyon and homesteaded alone, building her own cabin (which is still there) and raising her own food and livestock. During the prohibition era, she was known for her apricot brandy and chokecherry wine. She died at 89 in 1964. It was a beautiful spot, quiet and green, with a gurgling spring.
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