Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Colorado's Million Years Highway

     Colorado has many scenic highways. There's the Million Dollar Highway which I posted about last week, and there's the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway. Here's my contribution to the list of scenic highways -- The Million Years Highway.

     From Fruita (just north of Grand Junction, Colorado) to the Echo Park Campground at the Dinosaur National Monument is 134 miles of a geologist's dream! Rocks galore from millions of years ago.

I began this road trip late afternoon yesterday.

The afternoon's setting sun enhanced the rocks' colors. 

Had the road almost to myself.

Pulled over frequently to take a photo.

Couldn't believe how beautiful this road was!

I was climbing gradually on Colorado State Hwy 139.

This rock looked like Swiss Cheese.

And this rock formation looked like a Medieval Fortress Wall.

Finally got to the top (Douglass Pass), then downhill to the town of Dinosaur.

Another Medieval Fortress Wall! it looks man-made, but it's not.

     I arrived last evening at the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor's Center just as the sun set (photo below). The Center is the gateway to the canyons and Echo Park (confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers).  It's not an information center about the dinosaur fossils (will explain later).

Spent the night in front of Plug Hat Butte.

Next morning at 6 AM, I was back on the road. At that hour, the Evening Primroses were still open.

And there was a bit of Alpine Glow!

The paved Park Road is about 30 miles long.

Very expansive views.

The Park Road briefly enters Utah; those are snowy Unita Mountain peaks in photo below.

Then back into Colorado.

At the end of the paved road, this dirt road beckoned me.

     A sign there told me, "The dirt road stretching out below you winds for thirteen miles to Echo Park, near the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers at the heart of Dinosaur National Monument's canyon country. Towering sandstone walls, prehistoric rock art, the "air-conditioned" Whispering Cave, and secluded camping await you if you are willing to venture off the paved road. Experience one of the monument's most stunningly beautiful sites where the last free flowing river in the Colorado River system (the Yampa River) meets the historic Green River at Echo Park, the "center of the universe." 

How could I resist that challenge!

About an hour later, I made it to the Green River where rafters (lower left) were taking a break.

They call this Steamboat Rock at the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers.

     There's a campground there, but there were also lots of mosquitoes! I returned back up the dirt road because if it rained tonight, the dirt road would turn to clay and I'd be forced to wait until the road dried. This was my view of the sky (photo below) when I returned up to the paved road.

Thunderheads and distant rain!

     The actual dinosaur fossils by the way, are located at a special exhibit (includes quarry) in Utah where I intend to visit tomorrow. Click here for the explanatory website.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Colorado Plateau

     From Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, I drove north toward Grand Junction, Colorado.  A little road called "Lands End Road" (had to see where it went) took me to a view of the Grand Mesa National Forest.

     But another road caught my eye; Reeder Mesa Road.

Mounds of curvaceous beautifully pastel colored hills!

     A sign told me this was "Mesa County, Colorado".  

I was smitten by these mounds.

     See the road lower left, lower center and lower right? I loved driving and curving around these mounds. Had the road to myself.

Reeder Mesa Road (south of Grand Junction) is a beautiful scenic road.

     It was Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, so I hurried north of Grand Junction to Colorado Monument National Park to get a camping site. There's a scenic park road, Rim Rock Drive, which is 22 miles long; twisting, curving, climbing, descending . . . it's a favorite road among bicyclists.

Rim Rock Drive is extremely scenic.

The road was a Depression-era public works project. Click here for a history of this road.

There were several overlooks to pull-off the road.

     How they managed to build the Saddle Horn Campground in this difficult terrain is a marvel. The campground is located behind the Sentinel Spire (see photo below). And in the very background, the line of hazy mountains, that's called the Book Cliffs. The white Sprinter on Rim Rock Drive is just to offer a perspective.

There's barely space to park off the one-way campground loop road, but many big rigs manage.

View of the Sentinel Spire from near my campsite.

Here's a better view of the Book Cliffs in the background.

This is my favorite photo. Do you see the white SUV on Rim Rock Drive? Hint, look under the 3 tiny white clouds.

Zoomed-in white SUV below, same photo.

This park is bold, big and brilliantly colored!

     Park Ranger Paula gave an informative talk on this national park. She's from Texas by the way; a retired school teacher who works here most of the year, then goes home to Texas for the winters.

     She showed me a poster; four states share the "Colorado Plateau" and its geological history.

And within this area are ten national parks and 17 national monuments.

Ranger Paula also explained the different layers of rock; the oldest layer is 1.5 billion years old.

Here's a better photo of the layered rocks.

     I took a bicycle ride one morning and noticed a camouflaged lizard on a red rock. It's a side-blotched lizard.

     When I got closer, it came running over the rock toward me -- lizard language translation, "This is MY rock, no trespassers allowed!"

     Upon research, I discovered they are prone to "engage" when intruders (humans, too) are near their territory. Intimidating eh?

These rounded rocks are called "Coke Ovens" (an old steel/iron term which few of us know about).

More unusual shapes.

Lots of pretty cactus flowers were blooming.

     I walked the short "Otto's Trail" named after John Otto (click here for his story). This deformed juniper on the trail caught my eye.

     Ranger Paula has enthused me to visit Dinosaur National Monument, a short drive north of Grand Junction. Never figured I'd be in Colorado this long; will be almost two weeks!