The Dinosaur Bone Quarry: Evanston, WY to Vernal, UT (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 09 Sep 2004

The Dinosaur Bone Quarry: Evanston, WY to Vernal, UT

After stopping to admire Wyoming's nice passive solar rest stop on I-80 (complete with diagrams for how the passive solar setup worked in summer and winter), we took a byway through rolling hills of Morrison bentonite and Mancos shale to Manila, UT, where we got our first (and nearly our only) view of Flaming Gorge, which staggered us.

Not because of the red gorge, which by all accounts used to be spectacular before the dam was built and the canyon flooded with a reservoir; and not because of the reservoir itself, which seemed nothing special. The interesting part of the view from Manila is two huge, parallel curving ridges with what looked like a lowered flat area in between. Imagine a freeway offramp leading from a high rocky cliff down to the reservoir, with a wall of sharp red sandstone on either flank ... then scale it up by an order of magnitude ... and you have some idea of what this odd formation looked like.

There's a forest service office in Manila, so we stopped to ask, "What the heck IS that thing?" We suspected successive glacial moraines, since the valley in which Manila sits looks very glacial (U-shaped, and all that) but we wanted to talk to someone who knew more.

Unfortunately, the geologist on staff was out. The ranger (new in town and not yet fully versed on the area) also thought moraines were a likely answer, but he and the helpful lady at the counter suggested I check back with the geologist, which I will certainly do.

Then we headed south to Vernal, and hit some nice surprises. First, someone involved with Utah road signs actually got the silly notion that travellers might have some interest in geology. Every mile or so, we'd pass a sign saying something like "Jurassic Morrison Formation: graveyard of dinosaurs", keeping us posted as we crossed each geologic layer boundary. It was almost like driving with "Roadside Geology of Utah", without having to check mile markers all the time. What a great idea! I'm sure it's appreciated by lots of travellers along that road, not just amateur geology wonks like us.

After a few miles of that, a pullout announced "Sheep Creek Geologic Loop". The AAA guide and a few other references I'd seen mention this loop as being near Flaming Gorge somewhere, but nobody actually says where it is or anything about it. What a nice surprise to stumble upon it accidentally!

So of course we took it. Unfortunately we lacked any guide to the road, and the Sheep Creek route doesn't have the frequent labelling of the highway leading to it. But the rocks were spectactular, varied, majestic, and warped, and the creek and surrounding aspen meadows (with the leaves just starting to turn) made for a fantastically scenic and interesting drive.

In due course we re-attained the highway, continued on to Vernal, secured a room, then proceeded to the main attraction: Dinosaur National Monument's famous Quarry.

I say "famous", but in fact, few people seem to know about this park. We'd learned through the web that the southwest end of the park, nearest Vernal, contains a visitor's center building built around an existing rock wall containing a large collection of dinosaur bones. What a neat idea! But reading about it, or photos on the web, doesn't prepare you for being there and seeing the wall, still connected to the rest of its sandstone cliff, with hundreds of dinosaur bones -- real ones, not plastic casts -- there to be seen, touched, and cataloged. It's so far beyond any fossil exhibit I'd seen anywhere else that it's not worth comparing. Even the excellent Burgess Shale exhibit at Yoho in British Columbia pales. It's fabulous. If you like dinosaurs, see it.

Afterward, we drove to the end of the road, admired the spectacular rock formations and the Green River, hiked a short way into a box canyon (to admire more twisted and tilted rock formations), then headed back to town.

Tomorrow: More dinosaurs, then on to Denver.

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[ 22:36 Sep 09, 2004    More travel/southpark | permalink to this entry ]