Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vernal (5/20/2017) & Jensen (5/21/2017)

After visiting the two remote parks in Dinosaur National Monument, I drove toward the town of Vernal, largest city in the Uintah Basin with a population of about 10,000.  Home of two Ute Reservations, its largest industries are energy extraction and tourism.  In addition to Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal is the southern gateway to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area  and several Utah state parks are nearby.  It appears to me the town is much the same as in 2004 when I last visited.  Apparently nothing has happened to spur growth, which suits most of its citizens just fine.  They didn't come here for the hustle and bustle of a large city.

From miles away, I could see unusual clouds or steam rising into the sky.  As I approached, it was evident the clouds were actually dust.  I finally was close enough to see it was an off-road race going on, with multiple vehicles flying around the largest race course I've ever seen.  This is the type of activity that appeals to many who live in this area.

Passing through Vernal, I drove a short distance up the Flaming Gorge Scenic Highway and noticed a big change in the geology from where I had been earlier in the day.  Since I was on my way to see Moonshine Arch, it seemed reasonable that sandstone would be the prevalent rock here.  That's where arches are usually formed.

Following the directions from the Visitor Center, I took a short dirt road into the cream colored formations and parked at a fence.  It might have been possible to drive farther, but the condition of the "road" was more than I was willing to undertake.  From there, it was said to be "about a mile" to the arch.  I measured it at 1.4 miles, with more than half of it up a steep incline of sand and slickrock.  Not surprisingly, a number of young people passed me on the trail as I stopped several times, taking photos of wildflowers and rock formations to save face.

Finally I reached the arch, and it was quite impressive...about 80 feet wide and 45 feet high.  Behind it were short "caves" the youngsters were exploring.

The walk back down was much easier and more fun.  I got to tell new arrivals "oh, it's not far" and "it's worth it", just like I was told on the way up.  There were good views, including Steinaker Reservoir that supplies most of the area's drinking water.

The next morning I took it easy after the previous day's activity, a reminder that I may be getting too old for this stuff.  When I did go out after lunch, it was mostly driving and short walks.  Taking some dirt roads recommended by the lady running the campground, I had a little four-wheeling fun and took a few photos, starting with another pronghorn (quite plentiful here) and ending with an old west style cowboy camp and corral..

Another visit to Dinosaur National Monument  ended the day with a stop at the fossil exhibit for a quick tour.  Since there has been no change in the past thirteen years, it didn't take long to check it out.  This quarry has yielded more than 500 dinosaur fossils since its discovery in 1909, as well as some smaller animals.  The exhibit shows numerous fossils still in the rock, plus a few specimens that have been removed and cleaned up.

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