Where the Colorado and Green Rivers Meet… Canyonlands National Park

A gargoyle-type rock perches above the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.

I have a weakness for gargoyles. Their grotesque features appeal to my sense of humor. Or is that warped sense of humor? Whether I am touring a medieval cathedral or visiting Gotham City, they leap out and capture my imagination. Thus I was delighted when I came across a gargoyle-type rock hanging out above Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands is where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet. The down-cutting erosive power of these two rivers combined with the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and six million years of time are responsible for the breathtaking multitude of canyons and rock formations found in the Park.

A trip out the park road to Island in the Sky provides views of both basins and other prominent park features. A detour to Dead Horse Point State Park off of the main road shows the Colorado River doubling back and almost meeting itself in a major meander known as the Gooseneck.

The Colorado River winds around and almost meets itself at Gooseneck. This photo is taken from Dead Horse State Park and is looking down into Canyonlands.

Flowers, twisted juniper trees, wildlife and distant mountains add to the scenery.

Both Canyonlands and Arches National Park are easy day trips out of Moab in southeastern Utah. Sego Canyon with its fascinating examples of Indian rock art that I blogged about recently is also within easy driving distance.

One of the Southwest’s best known Indian rock art sites, Newspaper Rock, is located on the southern road into Canyonlands National Park. I will feature the site in my next blog.

Finger like canyons working downward to the Colorado River gradually cut away at the harder rock of White Mesa. This picture is taken from Grand View Point at the end of Island in the Sky Mesa. The maze-like canyons that disappear into the distance provide multiple reasons for the Parks name.

Flowers, like this Indian Paintbrush, add a dash of color to Canyonlands.

Junipers, even young ones, tend to look old, but this guy has obviously been around for a while.

Raven has a special place in Native American lore. His tricky ways, croaky voice, and ability to survive in extreme conditions give him a special position in the bird kingdom.

Spring is sprung but this young buck is still wearing his winter coat. While it may not be the height of fashion, it’s warm.

Distant snow-covered mountains, multi-colored rock cliffs, deep canyons and picturesque trees are all part of the Canyonlands National Park scenery.

Stark tree.

It is easy to lose yourself in the vast open spaces of the Southwest. My wife Peggy and Cloud prove the point.

The semi-arid climate, erosive forces of nature, and geology of Canyonlands National Park and the Southwest combine to create unique natural sculptures.

If my memory serves me correctly, these two sculptures are called the Beehives.

This massive monument of sandstone greets visitors at the north entrance to Canyonlands National Park.

Cub Creek Petroglyphs… Dinosaur National Monument

Like much Indian rock-art, Cub Creek petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument raise intriguing questions. It would be fascinating to know the story behind this unique anthropomorphic figure. What do the lines stretching toward the sky represent?

Peggy and I crossed over the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument and followed the road toward the cabin of Josie Basset Morris, the tough old pioneer woman who had worked her way through five husbands and finally discovered she preferred living alone.

The river, mountains and distant vistas entertained us along the way. Two prominent landmarks, Elephant Toes and Turtle Rock, lived up to the names the early settlers had bestowed on them. I found the big toes particularly amusing.

Elephant Toes Rock in Dinosaur National Monument along the Cub Creek Road. 

While not  as humorous as Elephant Toes, the turtle of Turtle Rock is easy to see. Both Native Americans and pioneers were quick to see and name familiar figures in the landscape.

The true surprise on our way to Josie’s, however, was the Indian rock-art. Huge six-foot lizards had been pecked into the cliff faces high above the Cub Creek Valley. One can only wonder if the Native Americans of the Fremont Culture had somehow made the correlation between dinosaur bones found throughout Dinosaur National Monument and really big lizards. Or did small lizards so prominent in desert environment serve as the models?

Our van, Quivera, provides perspective on how high up in the cliffs the Cub Creek petroglyphs are.

Giant, six-foot long, rock-art lizards work their way up the rock face at Cub Creek. Are they representative of the dinosaur bones Native Americans found at Dinosaur National Monument?

Or did the giant petroglyph lizards represent the small lizards so prominent in the arid regions of the West?

Numerous other petroglyphs also demanded our attention. We even found a partial image of Kokopelli, the hunch backed flute player found in ancient rock-art from Mexico to Canada and whose image has been applied on everything from jewelry, to blankets, to pottery in today’s gift shops throughout the West. Kokopelli was both a musician and trickster god, but mainly he was a fertility deity known for his for his bad behavior. Watch out fair maidens one and all.

My wife Peggy admires a small section of the numerous petroglyphs found at the Indian rock-art site on Cub Creek in Dinosaur National Monument.

A partial petroglyph of the flute playing Kokopelli is found at the Cub Creek Indian rock-art site. Odds are he is luring young maidens with his music.

Geometric forms are common in rock-art. This galaxy-like representation caught my attention.

I selected this particular photo because it demonstrates how dark rock varnish has been chipped away in the petroglyph process to reveal the lighter colored rock underneath.

An early day smiley? This guy appears to me to be all mouth and legs but it’s creator likely had something else in mind.

Greetings Earthlings. Check out the dangling ear rings and necklace on this guy. Jewelry apparently was quite important to early Native Americans and may have represented an individuals importance or clan. You will probably note the prominent anatomy as well. Genitalia was often included on Indian rock-art until the Spanish Missionaries informed the natives that such display was sinful.

I call this petroglyph Big Boy.

A Jurassic Playground… Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument is located on the border between Colorado and Utah on the southeast flank of the Unita Mountains. This photo featuring the Green River was taken near our campsite. Yellow Rabbit Bush provides a splash of yellow.

While Dinosaur National Monument lacks the grandeur of some of it’s better-known cousins, it has an armload of subtle beauty, two gorgeous rivers, and a super abundance of dinosaur bones that attract world-renowned paleontologists like bears to honey.

It also has a fine collection of Indian rock-art and at least one eccentric pioneer. I’ll save the rock-art for my next blog but I’ll introduce the pioneer now. Her name was Josie Basset Morris. She lived to be 90 years old, divorced four husbands, buried a fifth, and spent the majority of her life living alone in the backcountry of what is now Dinosaur National Monument.

She was one tough old coot.

During Prohibition, she was known for making a fine apricot brandy. In her 60s she was arrested and acquitted for cattle rustling, twice.

Peggy and I went to visit the log cabin that she had built and lived in for 50 years. Natural features compensated for what it lacked in modern amenities such as electricity, running water and a phone. An ice-cold spring provided water, a hidden box canyon served as a corral, and river bottom dirt supplied fertile ground for fruit trees and other crops. 

Apparently she lived quite well. But what about the tough times? I am guessing she lived off of homemade booze and rustled filet mignon.

Peggy stands next to the log cabin that Josie Basset Morris lived in for 50 years and provides a five-foot, six-inch perspective on the size of the cabin.

A photo of Josie at her cabin in the early 50s. (Photo from Google images.)

Earl Douglass was working for the Carnegie Museum out of Pittsburg PA when he discovered the dinosaur bones in 1909. He was looking for more recent mammal fossils. The dinosaurs roamed the area in Jurassic times, some 100 million years ago. He spent several years digging bones, packing them up and shipping them off to Pittsburg where you can now see them reassembled at the museum.

Or you can visit the Douglass Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument and see how paleontologists dig up the bones. Some 1400 have been exposed and labeled at the Quarry. It’s an incredible site. It was closed when Peggy and I visited due to disrepair but fortunately I had visited it before.  Funding from the Obama Administration has since allowed this treasure to be reopened to visitors from around the world.

Peggy and I satisfied our desire to see dinosaur bones by scrambling around on the hillside near the Quarry and stopping off at the Visitor Center. The Peripatetic Bone was impressed with his ancient relatives.

The Peripatetic Bone was quite impressed with the size of his ancient relatives. Here he rests on dinosaur toes at the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Center.

Since the Douglass Quarry was closed we scrambled up the hillside to find where a dinosaur bone had been exposed in the hillside.

We camped on the Green River and looked out on the surrounding mountains. Dinosaur National Monument is located on the southeast flank of the Unita Mountain Range, which is a part of the Rockies. Both the Green River and its sister, the Yampa, make my river running friends drool.

The River was wide and calm where we camped, however. Fremont Cottonwoods provided shade and rabbit bush a dash of yellow. I wandered around with my camera and enjoyed the beauty. 

Next blog: The Petroglyphs of Dinosaur National Monument.

View from our campsite on the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument.

A close up of the mountains shown in the Dinosaur National Monument photo above.

Another view of the mountains from our campsite on the Green River in Utah. This photo is set off by Fremont Cottonwood Trees.

The leaf of a Fremont Cottonwood tree backlit by the sun.

Flowers decorating the road into Dinosaur National Monument.

A Rabid Wolf Wandered through Camp: The Wind River Mountains of Wyoming

The Wind River Mountains of Wyoming are a premier destination site for backpackers. A number of years ago I took six months off to backpack various locations in the western United States and added the area to my itinerary.

Mountain men were there first.

Place names such as Sublette County, Fremont Lake and the Bridger Wilderness recall these larger than life characters who were kept busy between the 1820s and 60s pursuing beavers, exploring the west, keeping their scalps, serving as guides, working as frontier entrepreneurs, and, in the case of John C. Fremont, running for President.

Many were also great storytellers and participated enthusiastically in the creation of their own legends.

One of the most popular locations for weaving tall tales was the Annual Fur Rendezvous that brought the various trappers together with suppliers out of St. Louis.

Six of the Rendezvous were held near the small town of Daniel, which is located on the Upper Green River 11 miles from Pineville. I stopped by and tried to imagine what the river valley would be like filled with over 1000 trappers, Indians, suppliers, missionaries, and wayward journalists.

The Mountain Men pursued their dangerous and often lonely profession during the winter when the fur pelts were at their best. The two to three-week Rendezvous in the summer was an opportunity to sell their furs, catch up with friends, gossip and resupply for another winter. It was also an excuse to party.

‘Whiskey,’ pure alcohol watered down and then flavored with tobacco, was passed around in a cooking kettle. Horse racing and shooting contests soon deteriorated to drunken debauchery. Old journals report the results.

One new guy was baptized by having a kettle of the alcohol poured over his head and lit on fire. A rabid wolf wandered through the camp and bit people at will. Several trappers were witnessed playing poker on a dead man’s body

A contract between William Ashley, the creator of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, and the trading firm of Jedediah Smith, David Jackson and William Sublette listed some 50 different items to be delivered to the Mountain Men.

Many of these items such as gunpowder, lead, beaver traps, and butcher knives related to their work. There were also cooking kettles, flour, sugar, allspice, dried fruit, coffee, grey cloth, and washing soap for every day living. Some items such as beads, ribbons, rings, bracelets and calico were probably trade goods for the Indians

As one might expect, ‘fourth proof rum’ (80 % pure), regular tobacco and the more high quality Smith River Tobacco were included for long, lonely nights. Slaves were producing the Smith River Tobacco in Virginia at the time.

Reviewing what the Mountain Men carried with them into the mountains led me to look at my own backpacking list. It appears life is more complicated today. My list contains over 60 items and I rarely travel for more than seven to ten days without checking back into civilization!

But then again, the Mountain Men apparently didn’t worry about such niceties as toilet paper and toothpaste, not to mention maps and reading material. They also shot much of what they ate.

Wednesday’s Blog: “There’s a Beaver Standing on My Tent.” I have my own mountain man experience.