Hot springs were used by Indians in the Steamboat Springs area. French trappers gave it the name because a sputtering spring sounded like a steamboat to them. But it really grew after 1915 when a famous Norwegian skier moved to the area and built a ski jump still in use. However, it is not as unified as the later ski resorts and spreads out in what otherwise might be called urban sprawl.
Nonetheless, it has its attractions. Among them is a lovely easy paved walk back to Fish Creek Falls, 165 feet high. The creek provides Steamboat Springs its water and, as we are now west of the Continental Divide, drains into the Colorado River.
Going west on US 40, we took the second Dinosaur National Monument entrance into the canyon portion of the park. Essentially one climbs up by the Plugged Hat Mesa and drives about thirty miles on a high ridgeline looking down into canyons formed by the Green and Yampa Rivers. The views are spectacular but no more so than in many parks in the West. We were tempted to take the dirt road down to Echo Park (the French word for meadow is parque), but the prospect of rain and a road labeled “impassable when wet” discouraged us.
We satisfied our desire to get off the payment taking a shortcut, County Road 16, back to US 40. (Why else would we buy a Jeep?) Shortcuts often take longer, but this one worked out, and we enjoyed seeing the curved strata of the mountain rock as we descended.
Vernal was disappointing. Most of its motels were old. All were more expensive than we encountered in other places. One of the new ones, The Springhill Suites, required a two night stay at $184 a night. Had we liked the lodging better, we might have remained longer to try several of the day trips in the area.
As it was, we went back to Dinosaur National Monument with low expectations and were pleasantly surprised. At the visitors’ center, the lone ranger had several older couples and two busloads of elementary school children to guide. He did an excellent job.
The Quarry Gallery was rebuilt in 2011 after the original building developed severe cracks from settling soil. It houses just a tiny portion of what was once a hillside of rock where a scientist from Carnegie University found eight dinosaur tail bones in 1908. The subsequent quarrying removed most of the hill and bones from about 500 different dinosaurs.
Millions of years ago, the area was a flat riverbed near a shallow sea surrounded by thick vegetation. Drought killed some dinosaurs. That was followed by a flood. Together, they drought and flood carried the bodies of all these animals down to where they formed sort of a log jam, the source of the 1908 discovery. Even the small portion of wall still visible holds about 1500 bones and more are believed to be beneath the surface.
If one was camping, one could hardly find a better place than the Split Rock Campground. We enjoyed just walking along the Green River near the spot where Wesley Powell pulled his boats out in the 1860s after an exhilarating first exploration of the river’s rapids in which he lost one boat and much of his supplies.
There are many places in the park where one can see petroglyphs dating to the Fremont period prior to 1200. We stopped at just one which was near the road.
Near the end of the park’s road, one finds the cabin of Josie Bassett Morris. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, she homesteaded the area. A divorced woman almost forty with grown children, she had a good pasture, chicken house, garden and orchard. She lived alone there without plumbing, electricity or neighbors for early fifty years until she died at age ninety in 1964.
She penned her animals in two box canyons. We walked up Hog Canyon. It was a lovely day, but you want to visit here in the spring or fall, not in the summer’s grueling heat or winter’s bitter cold. That is the part of her stay that I could not understand.