Finding the Dinosaurs

It was an epic journey, in so many different ways.

When we finally escaped the gravitational pull that had kept us in orbit around our business for 8 years straight, we headed due east.  We pulled out of the driveway at 8 AM and I was so enraptured by the escape that I drove through the night while my family slept.

The sun came up over Idaho.  We stopped for a while to buy a pillow and seek out the mandatory Starbucks, then headed out with Utah in our sights.  We stopped in Ogden for lunch an

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d saw a sign, “Dinosaur Park”. Well, we came to Utah to see dinosaurs. Not these, but some others. Since there was a sign and since we were already stopped, why not?

The Dinosaur Park in Ogden is on a winding drive up an attractive desert canyon.  While it was wasn’t exactly what we expected, it was pretty awesome.  Inside the building were exhibits and castings of fossils.  There were mineral and rock displays as well as animatronics.

Outside was a grassy, well treed park with life size replicas of the most well known dinosaur species.  We even fed Jurassic sized rainbow trout in the stream that led through the park.

That night, after checking into one hotel and promptly checking out (with some stressful moments in between) we ended up in Salt Lake City. We swam in the chilly indoor pool and I slept for the first time in 38 hours.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel.  It was somewhat difficult to find food that Angie and I could eat, as we are committed to eating on the ketogenic plan.  I will write more about that in another blog.

We left Salt Lake and headed toward Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument.  DNM is a location I had visited as a little boy and as a grown man. When I visited about 25 years ago it seemed like the first time I saw it as a wide eyed 7 year old.  I wanted to see if it held the same magic 51 years later and to see if my two youngest, 8 and 3, would feel like I did.  I was also very interested in seeing if my lovely bride, an avowed enemy of the desert heat, would enjoy it as well.

We headed into the mountains past Park City and the Olympic village.  I remember when I used to drive truck over that road and all that we there were a few fences and a scattered cow or two.  It was so impressive we had to stop and find some espresso there as well.

We got to Vernal in the early afternoon.  It was hot, but not desert hot.  Even the lovely Angie of The North seemed OK in the dry 86 degree heat.  I was surprised at the town.  Vernal was far larger than I remembered it to be, but it seemed that half of it was abandoned.  Being on a road that really leads nowhere of much importance to the masses, it was like many other towns we were to pass through and at the mercy and whim of a fickle energy industry.

When we got to the Monument it took my breath away.  Not just the magnitude of what it is, but that I saw my family stare in amazement at the stone cliff, littered with hundreds of dinosaur bones, fossilized and immortalized in stone for us to see.  Even Kian, only three years old, seemed to be transfixed in looking at the display before him.  Perhaps he didn’t fully understand what he was seeing, but it was like entering a massive cathedral for the first time.  The feeling that it is so much bigger than just its size is overwhelming as well as uplifting.

The visitor center, the building that protects visitors from the elements (as well as the bones, I imagine) had been rebuilt since I had last visited.  The new design allowed visitors to actually step up to the wall and lay hands upon the real fossilized remains of an animal that had died there 145 million years earlier.

Never, until this moment, had I ever experienced a first time feeling on second visit.  This was actually my 6th visit and each time, especially this last one, was as good or better than the first.

We spent the evening splashing in the pool at the hotel in Vernal.  We had dinner, a great steak and salad, in town and spent the night full of what we had experienced.  I am taking my kids back.  I  hope that they do the same.

The next day we drove into Colorado and over Douglas Pass.  Just outside of Rangely we saw a badger.  I never saw one outside of a zoo so we turned around and came back to see him again.  He looked a bit annoyed at that, bared his teeth, and took off into the bush at high speed.

We stopped at a lone Douglas fir, all adorned with Christmas ornaments, near the summit. We gathered some rocks for painting back home (see yondesea rocks on Facebook) and headed to Fruita Colorado.

9 years earlier, Angie and I had passed by the Dinosaur Museum in Fruita and had opted not to stop.  This time we took the boys and had a great time inside.  Most of the exhibits were cast, but inside you could see an actual lab where fossilized dinosaur remains, mostly from the Rabbit Valley dig, were being classified and labeled.  I think our little guys were so dino crazed that they ate it up.  It was a bit of a step down from the last two dino sites, but it was fun anyway.

For the rest of the day I took the family around the town of Grand Junction.  It was where I had spent most of my youth.  I took pictures of Cavan in front of the house we lived in as well as my Grandparents home.  We had dinner and spent the evening visiting with my highschool friend, Mike.

The next day was a bit tough.  I took the family for a drive over the Colorado National Monument.  Its a place a bit like the Grand Canyon on a much smaller, but in my opinion much more colorful scale.  Everyone was road weary and I don’t think anyone really enjoyed the trip.  That was too bad.

We spent a second night in Grand Junction, making full use of the swimming pool at the hotel.  It also gave us a second evening to spend with Mike.

The following morning we headed to Rifle Colorado.  I had lived there for a time when I was growing up as well.  We went to Rifle Falls and had an amazing time exploring the falls and the limestone caves.  As a side note, as a result of our ketogenic way of eating, my wife led us on a hike.  Not just a walk around the falls and pools, but up steep and winding trails leading to the top of the falls and around the rim of the canyon.  The boys were huffing and puffing, but Angie led out with the grace of mountain goat.

We reluctantly left Rifle Falls and headed north through Meeker and Craig, stopping for a while in Meeker at the old original Cavalry garrison which was now a museum.  I have never seen a more impressive collection of Americana and I got to sit with the boys inside the original Rifle to Meeker Stage Coach.

The rest of the trip back toward home was more of a chore than a joy.  There is a lot of nothing out there.  I was being renewed by the nothing, but the family was just tired of hours in the car.  We spent a night again in Vernal, then Next in Nampa Idaho, and then finally back home to Whidbey Island.

When we left, Angie and I had the feeling that we were actually being led by the Spirit.  We made no plans and set no agendas.  We just went. We came back feeling that simply going was all that was needed.  I felt renewed, somehow.  The wide expanses of desert and mountains, rocks and canyons, healed some raw spots on my soul.  The boys had a grand adventure and a few tokens to remember it by.  Angie and I felt even closer, if that were at all possible.  We somehow didn’t feel like the adventure was over, even though we were back.  All the joys and pains of owning a couple of barber shops, the intricate relationships, and the unpredictability of humankind reminded us we weren’t on vacation any more.  Even so, we both felt it.  We felt like the adventure wasn’t over.  Guess what.  It wasn’t!