Monday, September 28, 2015

A Fantastic First Stop in Utah: Vernal

We love Utah, its unique landscapes draw us to this state time and time again. This time we entered Utah from the north west corner and made Vernal our home for a few nights. From dinosaurs to Native American history to dramatic landscapes, this area has a lot to offer.

I already posted about our fist hike in the area, Moonshine Arch, which got us right back into hiking among the incredible sandstone formations that Utah is famous for. Our next adventure took us into Dinosaur National Monument, where the discovery of a large deposit of dinosaur bones in 1909 planted the seeds for what eventually became the (currently) 210,000 acre Monument.

The Carnegie Quarry houses the dinosaur fossils which were found in the Morrison Formation, laid down here between 147 to 155 million years ago. The fossils found here are of large dinosaurs, probably having been washed into this site in an ancient river bed and quickly covered over with silt.

A portion of the wall of dinosaur bones in the Quarry exhibit.
Many skeletons have been removed from this site and are displayed in museums all over the world.

There is a short trail outside the Quarry where a few bones can be seen in the nearby rocks, including this vertebrae.

Continuing down the Quarry road, we came to the Sound of Silence Trail. This moderate three mile hike took us among colorful geologic layers and huge mounds of petrified sand dunes..

The variety of rock layers here is a feast for the eyes.


Further along the road we came to the Green River.

Petroglyphs created by the Fremont Indians approximately 1,000 years ago.

These petroglyphs are some of the largest we've ever seen, again by the Fremont Indians.

The next day we drove to Red Fleet State Park, just a few miles north of our campsite at Steinaker State Park (our camp fee enabled entry to both state parks). At Red Fleet we hiked 1.5 miles to a dinosaur track site. Hundreds of tracks were laid down here about 200 million years ago.

This track series were some of the most visible tracks, many others are very faint impressions.

This track was likely made by Eubrontes, a 20 foot long dinosaur that weighed up to 1,000 lbs.

After the dino trail we walked across the street to hike among the Red Fleet sandstone formations.

Can you see why they named it Red Fleet?

Walking beneath the front of the ship.

This is the formation just east of the battleship.

Gopher snake.

We drove to a viewpoint overlooking Red Fleet reservoir and got a terrific view of the area we'd just hiked.

On the way home we drove into the campground/picnic area at Red Fleet and got a view of the dino track site across the reservoir. The hundreds of dino tracks were on that red slab!

On our last full day we took a drive to the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery for a hike. After a long drive across the sage and grass covered Diamond Mountain Plateau the road descends abruptly into a canyon lined with steep cliffs.

Lots of "wows" as we dropped into Jones Hole Canyon.

As we drew closer the canyon walls became even more impressive.

The trail follows Jones Creek for four miles until it reaches the Green River.
It's a very gentle descent to the river, probably the easiest 8 mile hike we've done in a long time.

The Fremont Indians left their mark all over this part of the country, pictographs this time.

The sun is just about to crest the East rim of the canyon as we approach the opening to the Green River.

LOTS of trout in Jones Creek.

All along the trail we'd been searching for bighorn sheep, it just seemed like bighorn territory. Soon we saw lots of fresh droppings and even smelled them as we walked through different areas. As soon as we reached the Green River our search was rewarded!

Here Jones Creek meets the Green River.
Out on the rocks next to the river are a small herd of bighorns...

Here's a zoom so you can actually see the seven females and young hanging out on the Green River.

Hi there!
Notice how green the Green River is!

Much to our surprise, walking just a few feet further, we almost ran into this group of males!
About 25 feet from us, they just kept on munching away.

A small plane flying the Green River canyon.

Jones Hole Fish Hatchery sits atop the Jones Creek spring which supplies up to 15,000 gallons of water per minute.
The hatchery captures the water directly from the ground so it is pristine.
About 1 million fish per year are raised here and distributed to the Upper Colorado River System. 

Campground Review
We stayed at Steinaker State Park and would gladly stay here again, though not in the same site. Roads and sites are paved and have picnic tables and fire pits and many have shade ramadas over the picnic table. There is a mix of full hookup and electric only and dry sites. There are restrooms, but no showers. We had good 4G Verizon signal with our booster, having an upper level site helped us get the good signal. Some sites are down at lake level and would have a harder time getting good signal.

We had reserved full hookup site #4 and it was a beautiful site with excellent views to the East and West and good privacy. The only problem with site #4 is the serious slope to get into the site (from a 90 degree angle, no less). We could see that others had scraped the pavement getting in the site. With some effort we made it into the site without scraping our bike hitch (missed it by half an inch, and had to remove a bike tire so it wouldn't hit the ground). The park ranger told us later that he intended to offer us another site when we arrived...but he was away from his post at that time. This was a better site anyhow, and actually worth the effort.

We were a little worried upon arrival that the park would be overrun with noisy ATV 's, especially on the weekend, but that did not happen. ATV's can be ridden to and from the nearby ATV trailheads only, no crazy riding through the campground allowed.

This turned out to be a beautiful and peaceful campground, close to tons of things to do in the area and only a few miles into Vernal for shopping. We easily could have spent a couple of weeks here enjoying the many different sights and trails within a 50 mile radius.

Camping is also available at Red Fleet State Park just a few miles north of Steinaker. Though the Red Fleet reservoir is prettier and larger than Steinaker, the camping area is not as nice. Basically the sites are asphalt rows with very little separation and no privacy.

Site #4.
That slope into the site is hazardous.
Fortunately, once we got up there, the pad was big enough to hold our 35 ft rig.
Though the area outside our door was not great, the patio behind the rig was excellent.

Once we were settled in, this was an awesome site!
Excellent views in two directions and good privacy too,
with afternoon shade from our rig on the back patio in the afternoon.

The lunar eclipse over Steinaker Lake.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Transition Time: Mountains to High Desert

We've had an incredible summer in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana but the time has come for our slow migration South and West towards San Diego for the holidays. It's going to be hard to leave behind the incredible wealth of wildlife we've witnessed this summer; the last month from Red Lodge, MT through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming has been an endless bounty of wildlife sightings.

But move on we must, and our last stop in Wyoming was a couple of nights in tiny Boulder, WY allowing us one day to hike in the Wind River Mountains, a range we've heard lots of good things about.

The Wind River Range is part of the Central Rocky Mountain chain and has the largest system of glaciers (63) in the American portion of the Rockies. We chose to access the range from the Boulder Lake trailhead because it was close to our RV park in Boulder, WY. Very little information is available about the trail itself, so we just showed up and hoped for the best!

We hiked about four miles up Boulder Canyon. The trail is well marked and often follows Boulder Creek with dark granite canyon walls towering overhead, sometimes through thick forest, sometimes across rock outcroppings. It's a good idea to carry bear spray as grizzlies have moved into the range in the past few years.

Though we're still up at 7,000 feet the landscape has changed to sage covered hills.
We saw what we believe to be wild horses on the road to Boulder Lake.

A little fall color pressed up against dark granite canyon walls.

Pond covered with spent lily pads a couple of miles into the hike.

Boulder Creek

We stayed at Highline Trail RV Park, a nice private park with easy access to the Wind River Range from nearby Boulder Lake. We had a huge pull through site, and though there was noise from highway 191 right outside the park, it was very quiet at night. We had good 4G Verizon signal with our booster.

Site #1 at Highline Trail RV Park.

Moving on, we made the big transition from mountains to high desert and the fabulous sandstone formations of Utah. We're spending several nights in Vernal, UT at Steinaker State Park. Just a couple of miles from our park is the short but somewhat strenuous hike to Moonshine Arch, which we learned about from John and Pam who hiked it during a long day trip which you can read about here.

This vulture was waiting for one of us to keel over as we hiked to the arch!

The early morning light was terrible for photos, this one looks much better in black and white!

Great sandstone fins stand out above the juniper and sage desert.

A lone ponderosa pine thrived in a wash among the waves of petrified sand dunes.

Though we're sad to leave the cooler temps of the mountains behind, we're always happy to be in Utah's spectacular landscapes...despite their archaic liquor laws. We had dinner last night at Vernal Brewing Company and were reminded that any beer sold on tap cannot exceed 4% ABV.

Get ready for some sandstone hiking!