Dinosaur National Monument – June 3rd to 5th, 2020

Our second destination for the summer was Dinosaur National Monument. The campgrounds within the monument were still closed along with the Quarry Visitor Center and Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall. However, the roads and trails were open, so our plan was to disperse camp on BLM land just outside the monument.

On our way to Dinosaur National Monument from Stagecoach State Park, we stopped in Steamboat Springs to fill up with gas. We used a couple of roadside rests for bathroom breaks along US 40. They were both vault toilets. The first one was not that clean - at least the men’s was not. There was only one other vehicle at the first one. A couple of cyclists, then a couple of vehicles stopped at the second one. We ate our lunch at the second one. A couple of noisy birds were chasing each other in the small clump of trees by our picnic table, flying from one tree to another.

The flush bathrooms were open at the Canyon Visitor Center in Dinosaur National Monument, even though the Visitor Center itself was closed. From there, we drove up Harpers Corner Road and stopped at a couple of overlooks.

We enjoyed walking a short trail at the Plug Hat Butte picnic area called Bull Canyon Rim Trail. The trail is actually on BLM land and follows a ridge out to a point. The sandy trail is among short evergreen trees. It was three miles round trip and pretty flat. Gorgeous views of the canyon were all along the trail and at the point. The end of the trail is a loop, but we looked up our location on the Hiking Project because we almost started heading off on a trail to the northeast instead of the southeast back to the picnic area.

We continued driving on to Blue Mountain Road where we headed west to find a camping spot on BLM land. There were a couple of sites immediately off Harpers Corner Road, but a large RV was already set up there and the other sites were a little close to the RV for our liking. As we headed a couple of miles down the road, there were dirt tracks leading off the road to stone fire rings. We took one of the first ones we saw, with gorgeous panoramic views.

Both of us peed among the bushes near our site, among the cow patties. Lucky for us the cow patties were not fresh. Right Buddy (RB) used the camping toilet after dark and in the morning. A humming bird and a butterfly flew into the van while Left Buddy (LB) was working on his laptop inside with the door open.

We watched the sunset from our camping chairs perched on the edge of the ridge. Our dinner was roasted beet salad. RB stretched out on her new exercise mat (paid link) just like the night before; she forgot to stretch the first night. She likes how much room it gives her. The charge on our battery bank did well. Lots of rifle casings were laying on the ground at our campsite. Surprisingly, we had a great internet connection with our Weboost and Verizon Jetpack at our campsite.

The next morning we packed up camp by 8:30 am, even after picking up the garbage and shell casings around our site. We drove the rest of the way up to Harpers Corner, stopping at all of the overlooks along the way: Canyon Overlook, Vivas Cake Hill Overlook, Island Park Overlook (Ruple Point Trailhead), Iron Springs Bench Overlook, and Echo Park Overlook. We took all the short little walks to the viewpoints, except for Ruple Point since it was over 9 miles long. In addition to the gorgeous canyon views and colorful rock formations, there was an abundance of beautiful wildflowers. Harpers Corner Road crosses over into Utah and back before reaching Harpers Corner. So we violated our rule already about staying in Colorado. We justified it with the fact that Dinosaur National Monument straddles both states.

Echo Park Road is a four wheel drive road that winds it way for 12 miles down to the Green River about where the Yampa River joins into the Green River. The road was open, but the campground on the river was closed. Not having a high clearance vehicle, we did not venture down Echo Park Road. The restrooms were open at Canyon Overlook and Harpers Corner, but we didn’t check the ones at the other overlooks. But we do know that the restrooms were closed at the Plug Hat Butte picnic area we stopped at the previous day.

A couple seemed to be following us from overlook to overlook. We had a nice conversation with them at Harpers Corner. He was from Missouri and she was from Iowa. They were taking a two week, spur of the moment, road trip. She really wanted to see dinosaur bones, but the quarry was closed. They were headed to Utah next.

The quarry was closed for renovations that last time we were here with the kids. And this time it’s closed due to COVID. We guess that just means we’ll have to come back one of these days.

We could see three rafts on the Green River below Harpers Corner. Each boat only had one person in it. We watched them go through some rapids. It looked like one of the boats was trying to row back up and go through the rapids again. The park is pretty deserted. There were two cars at Canyon Overlook, one car at each of the other overlooks, and three cars at Harpers Corner. There was a cow standing up by the railing at the Vivas Cake Hill Overlook. She looked upset that we stopped there. She turned her back on us and walked slowly away.

From Harpers Corner, drove down to town of Dinosaur to get gas. It took about an hour to get there. A friendly local man at the gas station struck up a conversation with us about our travels and bikes. From there we drove over to the Quarry Visitor Center on the Utah side. At the turn off of US 40 to head up to the Quarry Visitor Center is the rafting company we used to raft the Green River when we were here with the family years ago. We knew the Quarry Visitor Center was closed, but unlike the Canyon Visitor Center on the Colorado side, the bathrooms were also closed.

We drove out to Josie Morris Cabin, stopping at the Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs and Pictographs, the Green River Overlook, the Turtle Rock, and another petroglyph stop along the way. Green River Campground, like all the other campgrounds in the park, was closed, but we could see a couple of RV’s in the campground. Perhaps they were campground hosts? Green River Campground is where we stayed as a family years ago. What we remember the most about it was how brutally hot it was, in the 100’s, and we just laid in our tent sweating, trying to sleep with no success. The temperature at Cub Creek Road this time was twenty degrees warmer than up on Harpers Corner Road, 90 degrees versus 70 degrees.

At the Josie Morris Cabin, we met a couple from Florida. They have been on the road since March, although part of that time they were staying at their daughters’ houses.

Josie Morris built a homestead here in 1914 and lived there for 50 years. From her cabin, we hiked both up to Hog Canyon and Box Canyon where Josie corralled her cattle. The hikes were partially shaded and went through lush vegetation that seemed out of place when compared to the dry, harsh landscape just outside this oasis. Josie picked her homestead site well.

On the drive back to the BLM land to camp for the night, we took Blue Mountain Road from US 40 instead of driving up Harpers Corner Road. It took about 30 to 35 minutes to approach the same campsite we stayed at the night before, instead of only about 5 minutes along Blue Mountain Road from Harpers Corner Road. However, it saved us some time and distance from making the complete loop through the town of Dinosaur and up Harpers Corner Road.

As we starting climbing in elevation on Blue Mountain Road, the outside temperature reading on the van started climbing from 90 degrees to 118 degrees. We knew this could not be the actual outside temp since it should be dropping as we were going up. However, the temperature sensor is under the hood of the van, so the engine must be heating up, due to the strain of the incline. So we turned off the air conditioning and rolled  down the windows. Sure enough, the air outside felt cooler. The van was not reporting that the engine was overheating, thank goodness. As the steepness of the road started to lessen, the temperature reading started heading back down.

We saw some other sites before we reached the one we were at the night before. We tried to check out one of them. It was a short drive back into the one, with some deep ruts that LB tried to position the wheels so that we didn’t bottom out the van. We got all the way back into the site, only to see that someone else had already claimed it as a couple of tents were set up. Fortunately, the people were not there so we were not disturbing anyone. However, when we turned around and pulled back out onto the road, there was a hump and dip before reaching the road. We scraped the underside of the van in the middle and drug the bike hitch through the dirt several inches deep.  We decided to head back to the same site we had the night before.

For dinner we fixed chicken quesadillas. Just like the night before, there was a constant chatter of a variety of birds. Watching birds flying around from bush to bush, humming birds buzzing by, and chipmunks scurrying among the shrubs was our evening’s entertainment. Then we watched the sunset again before turning in for the night.

The next morning we left to head out to our next destination. When we started the car in the morning, our TPMS (paid link) sounded the alarm. The tire pressure was low in the driver side front tire - 46 psi. We didn’t see any damage to the tire, so we started down the road. It quickly came back up to pressure. Hopefully it was just cold. We’ll keep an eye on it.

We stopped at the Canyon Visitor Center on our way out to use the restroom. There we met a friendly couple from Nebraska. He was a photographer and she worked at the Legacy of the Plains Museum. They had stayed in a Best Western the night before in Craig. They were impressed by everything Best Western was doing for COVID. Best Western waits 24 hours after a guest leaves before entering to clean it. Four guests at a time were allowed to come down and pick out their breakfast which was then bagged up to take back to their rooms. A restaurant they ate at had outdoor tables which were at least six feet apart.

Despite many things being closed, we had a great experience at Dinosaur National Monument. Even though we could not visit the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall, we had a wonderful experience disperse camping on BLM land which we would not have considered if the park’s campgrounds were open. Sometimes adversity pushes us down paths that lead to new and wonderful things. We like to dwell on the things we have gained instead of what we have lost.

Check out our related video: Dinosaur National Monument

(RB)