Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stalking Old Bones: Dinosaur National Monument

We had a great visit with Sandy and Lorraine in Wyoming but like Fred says “Both fish and visitors start to smell after three days” so even though we enjoyed being with them, it was time to head down the road towards Utah.
The Flaming Gorge
The Flaming Gorge lays half in Wyoming and half in Utah. Now, as we have been exploring all these valleys, canyons, and gorges, there came a burning question – what is the difference between a gorge, a canyon and a valley? It turns out that there is not an awful lot and it generally depends on who you ask.
E-How says “The only technical difference between a canyon and a gorge is linguistic. “ Canyon" comes from Spanish, while "gorge" is a French word. From a geological standpoint, the two are exactly the same.” ( )
They say that gorges generally have rivers running through the bottom – but then so do canyons and valleys can have rivers as well. I never did get a definitive answer to that question, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Anyway, it was rather grey, overcast, and rainy when we drove along the rim of the gorge so not too much time was spent appreciating the scenery.
The outstanding memory of the Flaming Gorge is the road we took. Following US 191, we started with a detour, followed the road through the Gorge over the dam and THEN 10 switchbacks with 9% grades over an 8 mile stretch. I think we have done our Gorge-Passes thing - rather a white-knuckle experience.
Dinosaur National Monument
Vernal, UT is the jumping off place to tour Dinosaurland. The building at the Quarry site of Dinosaur National Monument is built to enclose and protect the fossils and the site.
A shuttle takes visitors from the Visitor Center to the Quarry site where a large glassed building encloses part of a sandstone hillside that resembles a steep riverbank. In fact, the building is built into a riverbank where ancient dinosaurs went to drink and either fell in or were washed away by fast moving waters. The bones remain where they have lain for millions and millions of years. The quarry is reputed to hold one of the best Jurassic Period finds in the world.
clip_image010As the river carried animal carcasses downstream, many became stuck on the sandbar, which eventually turned to rock. As a result, fossils from hundreds of creatures are concentrated in a small area. Many fossilized bones have been partially exposed but left intact in the rock where they can be easily seen. A building was constructed over the area, which is now known as "The Quarry" at the monument.
So much of what visitors get from a museum or exhibit depends on the guide. We had a phenomenal guide. With his laser pointer, he could highlight various bones on the wall and show us how they fit together – the vertebra and how they fit together to create a spine; leg bones; a skull; and he told us how he thought they got there.


And we never did make it to New Mexico!