We had had several people tell us that Dinosaur National Monument was well-worth the trip, but we didn’t really know anything more about it than it was a place where dinosaur fossils had been found. We assumed there would be a few fossils on display but the actual exhibit was far cooler than what we had imagined.
We planned a long driving day from our campsite near the Tetons to get as close to Dinosaur N.P. as we could by evening, while also staying sane.
Our big highlight on the drive was witnessing a real group a cowboys/girls herding hundreds of cows along a busy road. It was quite a production and amazing to see!! There were a dozen or more cowgirls and boys along with their little herding dogs helping the cows stay together as a group to go from point A to point B. Along the road there was a police officer and pickup truck with flaggers out the window at the rear and lead of the herd. For the most part the cows were cooperating and making a racket in doing so. However, there was one cow that we found on the wrong side of the road (on our side) running to catch up with her family. Well that and also there was that one bull trying to ride a cow down the hill.
The girls did pretty great in the car biding their time journaling, doing sticker by number books and listening to their Grammy’s stories I recorded her telling the girls on our last trip to the east coast.
That evening we didn’t quite make it to Dinosaur National Monument but instead stayed on some BLM land in Utah (Greens Draw Dispersed) just an hour outside Dinosaur National Monument. It wasn’t necessarily a bad spot but boy, it was windy!! Usually when we are staying somewhere for just one night we don’t bother with the little stabilizer jacks but without it at this site we were swaying back and forth like we were on a boat! We put the feet down and luckily didn’t blow away in the night.
Dinosaur National Monument
When we arrived at Dinosaur NM the next day we ended up pulling over in a campsite that we felt was a fairly good site but the plan was to hop out and explore on foot to be sure we snagged the best site we could.
We soon realized that there was much more to that site than met the eye. As you peaked behind the picnic table there was a little path which led back to a private beach on the Green River. Even better than that, someone had created a large cove protected from the deep strong current of the river making it the perfect spot to play. We were sold! We liked it so much we paid for 5 nights which would take us up through our Moab campground reservations.
The sand at the river was extremely fine and soft and the water was just right to cool off in. The girls had an absolute ball! They popped on their water shoes and spent the whole day creating games, building and digging and taking breaks on the lovely picnic area they created with blankets. Such a blissful day!
Quarry Exhibit Hall
The second day at the park we zipped to the visitor’s center to get a map and some hike suggestions from a ranger. Added perk was we all got to touch a real dinosaur bone at their mini-museum!
We stopped by some petroglyphs and pictographs which the ancient Fremont people had created. It’s amazing that these images have survived time so well intact. I was especially amazed that the pictographs drawn using minerals, clays and other pigments were still visible after all this time. It wasn’t just visible, there were still brilliant reds plainly visible.
We decided to do a short hike this day since the day was already partly over. There is a Fossil Discovery Trail that leaves from the visitor’s center up to the Quarry Exhibit Hall which sounded like a place not to miss. Although we were a bit warm on the hike we found some neat things including a cave carved out of the sandstone, a lizard and a couple other odd insects we had never seen before.
Part of the path was made of slabs of rock which resembled dinosaur vertebra. That boded well for us as the girls were distracted by counting and jumping across the “vertebra” toward the exhibit hall.
The Quarry Exhibit Hall was something not to miss for sure! The building was phenomenally built into the side of the existing rock hillside. The building used to be a little shed in which paleontologists used to shelter themselves from the weather while uncovering and studying the bones of so many dinosaurs. Today it is a large building with glass sides letting in lots of natural light.
Inside we were blown away to find mass amounts of ginormous dinosaur bones half revealed and still intact in the rock hill side. I’m talking full necks with sculls attached! The amount and size of these bones were unreal!
In 1909 a man by the name of Earl Douglass first discovered dinosaur bones at that spot. Since then hundreds more have been recovered. It was pretty neat to see the bones intact where they have been for thousands of years. There was a really neat interactive computer on the upper level of the hall in which you could zoom into a camera pointing to what you were seeing in front of you in the bone wall. The computer would then let you choose which bone you were curious about and not only tell you what bone it was but also show it in a diagram where it fits into the makeup of the dinosaur it belonged to.
On the way back to the visitor’s center there was a really neat safari style shuttle that brought us back down.
So, every SINGLE night (no, I am not exaggerating one bit) since we have been on this trip our oldest has begged for me to sleep with her. It goes something like this, “Mama, I would really really REALLY love to sleep with you tonight. I just love snuggling with you so much it would be so SO very special to do that.” It goes on for 3-5 minutes which is so sweet but also not a super realistic request. I am, mind you, a leg length from her bed! I made a deal with her that when we got into warmer weather we could have a sleep over in Azul, just her and I. Well, the night had finally arrived to our oldest’s ecstatic delight! We converted the van and got it all cozy for our much anticipated slumber party.
I told her stories until bedtime and she fell asleep snuggled around my neck like a sweet little monkey. Every time I woke up I covered her up, every time she woke up she wrapped her arms and legs around me and fell back asleep. Though it was a fairly uncomfortable night for me, it was totally worth it for all the sweetness.
A Down Day
The next day we agreed upon as another down day. We figured we might as well take advantage while we had such a terrific site! I enjoyed baking a coffee cake and everyone enjoyed eating it! The girls spent another day having the time of their lives in the cove and beach.
We also became sure that our youngest’s foot issue she had been having was indeed athlete’s foot! Our only guess is that she got it from the locker room at a public pool we went to a couple weeks ago. The poor thing had been complaining about it for quite some time but she kept saying it was itching like a bug bite. She did previously have some mosquito bites so we just thought it was a bite that was particularly annoying since it was on her foot. It turned into her complaining about it mostly before bed which led us to believe she was just playing the complaint card to stall bedtime which isn’t a rate occurrence. However, when it started waking her up at night multiple times we knew it was something real. Looking at it it just appeared slightly dry.
We tried the obvious lotions and salves with no results. We then considered that it might be athlete’s foot and started using tea tree oil since studies have shown it to be 60% effective (compared to the 80% rate of over-the-counter medications). Since we had it and we weren’t near a store without an hour’s drive we tried it. Though it did make her feet (along with Wobbles) smell fantastic, it didn’t seem to be improving her feet all that much. Maybe we should have been more patient with it but I was worried it would spiral out of control so Justin made the long haul and bought some foot cream. To be continued to see if it does the trick. Poor little thing! I feel bad that we ignored it for so long.
Sound of Silence Trail
We figured we should get out and explore this big monument a little so upon ranger recommendation we started out for Sound of Silence Trail. Doesn’t seem like the best trail for young ones, I know (when are they ever silent??). We just skipped the first part of the title and went for ‘Trail.’ We actually only saw two people on the entire hike and this is saying a lot since we were on the trail all day! So, I guess during the weekdays this is a fairly silent trail.
Our intention was to leave first thing in the morning for the trail since we knew it was going to be getting hot in the afternoon. However, the girls were a bit chilly the night before therefore the morning routine was a bit stunted by not very successfully trying to coax little ice cube girls out of their beds to get dressed and go hiking. The temperature swings so much in the desert!
The first 15 minutes or so of our hike it was perfect weather. The trail was covered with sweet little lizards that the girls were fascinated to watch. They were talking to them like they were old friends. It was really sweet.
We saw so much rabbit scat along the way we were imagining the dessert floor being covered with rabbits come dawn or dusk. Goodness knows where they all hid during the day! There wasn’t much around for hiding places except an occasional juniper tree or greasewood bush.
The trail followed a dry river bed for quite some time where the ground was sand and we could see the erosion of the clay riverbank. We could see where recent rains had created an almost melting illusion of the clay walls.
It was a little tricky to see but we were able to look at a pack rats home which is made up of it’s findings including twigs, sticks, any hiker treasures and fecal pellets. These are all held together of course by crystalized urine. There is lots of information these pack rat “middens” give us. There are middens that date back to 10.000 years ago telling us that the now desert land was once a cool and dry place housing Douglas furs.
We also saw so many wild looking insects such as the Yellow Velvet Ant, which actually is a wasp in disguise. The thing is fairly large in size and has a fuzzy yellow puff ball looking behind with long fast moving legs. I later found out that it disguises itself with fluffy buns to blend in with the common desert creosote bush. They can’t fly but apparently pack a pretty nasty punch to their sting. This “ant” is also known as “cow killer.” Glad we kept our distance!
We spotted a neat looking darkling beetle with a pretty black stripe pattern on its back. Most of the insects we saw had such long legs. All the better to scamper quickly over the hot earth I guess.
My favorite thing I spotted was a juniper berry flower. Doesn’t exist you say? I have never seen anything like this and neither had the ranger we spoke to. Google has little to no information on them either. I could find other people who had taken photos of them but couldn’t find any information. It looked as if one of the female juniper tree cones/berries had exploded into a very stiff hard blossom. There were a set of two together and no more on the tree that I could see. Anybody know any more about these beautiful flowers? I’d love to know more! Such a special find.
The day soon became very hot which led to an extremely slow pace and lots of little ones reminding us that they were hot and tired. Shade was very hard to come by on the trail. We did, however, find a boulder to eat next to providing us with shade for lunch and we were very thankful for that.
We found periodic areas here and there to climb and did enjoy going through the maze between clay mounds.
Finally, when the hike was almost over we got to the part that drew us to this hike in the first place. Rock scrambling! Sadly, the girls were too tired and hot to want to climb.
With the promise of ice cream when we got to Azul and lots and lots of story telling, we all made it out!! It certainly felt like longer than 3 miles that’s for sure!
In the evening I gave the girls a much needed outside bath in their tub. I set up an umbrella to give them privacy from other campers which worked out well. I only wish I could have given them more time to play but bedtime was approaching. My hope is that in Moab the girls can have a longer bath. They love it so much and it’s so relaxing for them.
We collectively decided as a family that we wanted another down day to spend at the beach. The girls enjoyed playing their lap harp, making sand castles, finishing their Jr. Ranger Books and writing each other sweet notes. Did any of you ever do that as a kid? I remember my sisters and I leaving little notes for each other under a door or in little makeshift mailboxes. It felt so nice to leave a little surprise note and made us feel so happy to receive one. Such a simple sweet gesture that I had forgotten. My plan is to have the girls each make a mailbox for their bunks so that we can all periodically leave each other nice messages.
A spontaneous and wonderful thing happened as Justin and I started to prep for our travel day which was the following day. The girls put their whole selves into helping us tidy up and clean both Azul and Wobbles. The girls shook the rugs, swept, vacuumed and wiped down surfaces. It was a big help and really nice to have them be part of the prepwork. We all had a great time!