Hiking where the Dinosaurs roamed – Vernal, UT
Continuing our slow move southward, the next stop was at Vernal, Utah. Betsy had some serious mountains to traverse as we crossed the Wyoming-Utah border on the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway. We saw several major geological formations that exposed the core of the Unita Mountains, and as we neared the summit we paused for a few minutes to take in the breathtaking views of the deep multi-colored canyons:
We’ve driven this section of the byway before, and the unique geologic features never fail to “wow” us. Several signposts can be seen along the roadside that teach motorists the geology of the area. They identify the various rock strata and types of fossils found there, and describe the geologic time period. My previous post contains more photos and information from our last trip through the area.
The city of Vernal and its surrounding area is “dinosaur country”, well known to geologists for the fossilized relics found in the ancient seas that existed here. Our 2016 trip took us to Dinosaur National Monument, where more than 1,500 dinosaur bones and fossils have been found. Click here to read more about the logjam of fossils located at the monument.
Temperatures hovered at or above 95 degrees during our one-week stay. We were initially concerned that the smoke blown here from the California fires would hamper our outdoor activities, but we forged ahead with plans to hike trails that we missed during our last stay. Unfortunately most of my photos are a bit hazy and smoky.
There are many excellent trails here on the ancient floodplain which was once home to dinosaurs. Sticking to our mantra of early starts and lots of water helped us to beat the heat and have the trails practically to ourselves 🙂
Dinosaur Trackway Trail
The reward at the end of the 1.8-mile Dinosaur Trackway Trail is not as obvious as other hikes. Based on plaques along the way, we had to search for the reward: 200-million-year-old dilophosaurus tracks preserved in the slick rock shores of Red Fleet reservoir.
While neither of us is into paleontology, seeing the tracks is still pretty amazing. The trackway is found on a slanted rock at the end of the reservoir, which is sometimes partially covered during high water periods.
The Red Fleet track site reveals several hundred footprints, and includes five distinct trackways. A trackway is a set of three or more footprints left by the same creature, and they are rare. Some were much harder to see than others, but we managed to find several:
Sound of Silence/Desert Voices Trail combination
Both of these trails reside within Dinosaur National Monument, and can be combined by a connector trail to provide a wonderful 6.3-mile loop hike. They are interpretative trails; the Sound of Silence Trail has numbered trail markers that coincide with a guidebook, while the Desert Voices Trail has plaques that include commentary about the park system and local challenges involving water and land use, and traditional ranching activities. There are also displays created by kids for kids, one of which taught us about Antlions – never heard of them!
This was a moderate hike, and happily we didn’t meet a single soul along the trail. We were awed by the monument’s geologic diversity, colors and textures. Because of the guidebook and plaques on this trail, we’re more aware of the many amazing changes that have occurred over millions of years, and the recent environmental changes surrounding us. We highly recommend this hike!
Moonshine Arch Trail
This was another winner. Hiking to an arch is always exciting, even one less spectacular than this one. Moonshine Arch is one of Vernal’s best kept secrets, and we’re very happy that our friends John and Pam had done this hike in the past and recommended it.
It took us a couple of tries to find the trailhead, and we suggest using the map provided by the State Park – and the All Trails app if you have it.
Jones Hole Trail
When our friend Hans noticed on Facebook that we were in Vernal, he immediately suggested an excellent hike – but it was 40 miles to the trailhead. Hans and Lisa know a good hike when they do one, so after a bit of groaning by Steve we were on our way. Wow, they weren’t kidding – just the drive to the trailhead at Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery was worth the trip!
The trail is in a remote and scenic part of Dinosaur National Monument that runs from Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery to the Green River. It was an easy 8-mile round trip hike, changing only about 200′ in elevation. The walls of the canyon towered almost 2,000′ overhead, giving us shade during much of our trek.
This is an awesome trail that offers so much – a scenic canyon, Fremont Indian archeological sites, a spur trail to a small waterfall, and a Bighorn Sheep sighting if you’re lucky – all while meandering along babbling Jones Creek until it joins with the Green River. We loved it!
Petroglyphs (rock art) and Pictographs suggest that Fremont Indians hunted game here some 800 to 1200 years ago:
Eagle Ridge Trail
On our final day at Steinaker State Park, we accessed the park’s Eagle Ridge Trail from the group camping area. It followed the ridge and gave us great views all around, including a glimpse of Moonshine Arch, Hogback Ridge, Betsy in the campground, and almost empty Steinaker Reservoir. It’s expected that the reservoir will be re-filled in Fall of 2019 after planned dam modifications are completed.
That wraps up our one-week stay at Steinaker State Park. It was hot and smoky, but we felt we had explored much more of the place where the Dinosaurs once roamed.