Monday, September 10, 2007

The Real Jurassic Park

Sept 9
Another day full of amazing stuff, beauty, and adventure! Even though we woke up to another cold, totally cloudy day, we are so lucky!!

When I was a kid, I used to read books about how they stumbled across dinosaur bones on ranches in Wyoming. Well, today we got to see the ranch, and lots of dinosaur bones which are still in situ, waiting to be taken out. We started at the Dinosaur Center, where there is a small but well-done museum on the development of animal life, up through the dinosaurs. There are quite a few dinosaur skeletons there, including some that came out of the hills not far away. Then we boarded a bus and rode through the Hot Springs Ranch, up the side of the hill, and visited the dig site itself. Our guide wasn’t great, but the experience of actually seeing a place where dino bones are still being pulled out of the ground at a great rate is really fantastic. They have found a number of particularly important finds at this site (which was indeed uncovered by accident, during the process of building a road to another known bone site) and it seems clear that the hills around are still filled with more bones. An Elderhostel group was there a few weeks ago, and uncovered some bones that still haven’t been identified! It was all very cool.

A Hillside full of Dinosaur Bones

Dinosaur Bones

More Dinosaur Bones

After our dinosaur adventure, we drove to Hot Springs State Park, only a few blocks away from the Dinosaur Center. The hot springs at Thermopolis are allegedly the largest hot spring pools in the world. It was a little like walking at the hot springs and paint pots at Yellowstone (although not as variegated, as I recall Yellowstone), with walkways constructed over the pools. The cascades of mineral deposits over the sides go all the way down to the river below, which makes a very beautiful scene. The park includes a modern bath house with indoor and outdoor pools, all fed by the hot springs. The bath house pools are open free to the public as part of the arrangement the government made when they purchased the land from the Indian tribes who owned them.

Hot Springs Cascade

However, we didn’t go into the pools, because we felt we had had our hot spring experience at the campground the night before. Instead, we went to Legend Rock. Legend Rock is about 25 miles from Thermopolis, on a ranch, in the middle of nowhere. The site is administered by the staff at the Hot Springs State Park, and I had read that we needed to ask at the bath house for directions and a key to get through the locked gate. The directions are something like, “When you come to a fork in the road, go right onto the unpaved road. Open range—watch for cattle on the road. Drive for 2 miles. When you have crossed the second cattle guard, make a left. You will come to a green gate. PLEASE RELOCK THE GATE WHEN YOU HAVE GONE THROUGH. Drive another 360 yards on a dirt road…”

So we drove the 21 miles on the highway, another 5 miles on a paved road which needed repaving badly, and 2+ miles on unpaved gravel roads. Mo was quite intrepid and I guess we have good dentition, because none of our teeth fell out despite the rattling and jolting! When we got to the green gate, I got out, unpadlocked the gate, Joe drove through, and I relocked the gate. Then we drove down another 250 yards of unpaved road to the site of Legend Rock. Although another car was there when we arrived, we had some lunch first, and by the time we were ready to explore, we were the only ones there.

The petroglyphs were simply fascinating! We walked slowly on the path, which was steep and right at the base of the red cliffs. No one knows what the drawings mean, or who did them, or when, other than in the broadest terms (between 1100 and 100 years ago, not counting the more modern graffiti). I took loads of photos, and will probably upload more than necessary, just because we found them so interesting. We had fun naming them. Roxy loved the site too—we let her off her leash when we had finished looking at the glyphs and were walking back to the car (Joe wouldn’t let her off while we were on the rocky path, because he was worried about rattlesnakes!) She raced madly through the sagebrush, quite delirious with the new smells (and probably with joy for being out of the RV!)
Joe and Roxy

Joe and Roxy

A Bunny for Beth

Alien with Chanukkiah


The Mickey Mouse Club

Legend Rock and Surrounding Area

When we were ready to leave, I had to once again unlock the green gate, and dropped the key into the key slot provided. Then we headed back toward Thermopolis, and proceeded down the highway, first to Riverton, and then to Lander. We weren’t sure about where to spend the night, and had some questions about one of the routes we wanted to take tomorrow, so we stopped at a Quality Inn and borrowed their wifi to check the Wyoming Dept of Transportation’s website. It seems the route is clear, so we will go that way tomorrow. Then we went to Lander, a largish town compared to Thermopolis (approx 3,500 population) and Riverton (approx 6,000—they even had a Walmart!)

We decided we were tired of RV parks and their crowded sites with relatively little ambience. We’ve had to go to them mostly because there was no other convenient choice, or else because we wanted electric hookups and wifi. But Sinks Canyon State Park is only about 15 minutes from downtown Lander, so we decided to come up here and camp for the night. And it was a great idea—the park is small but beautiful, and our site is secluded, and not far from the rushing river. It is raining and cold again (the weather report said it would be around 40 degrees) but it’s warm inside Mo, and we can hear the sound of the river, and the rain, and it is just gorgeous up here. Much more like Wyoming should be, I think!

Our agenda tomorrow: wake up at 6, and drive for about 12 hours. It will take another 5 hours just to get out of Wyoming; then we will (God willing!) travel past Salt Lake City and on into Nevada before stopping for the night. And of course, I hope to find another place with some wifi I can borrow, so I can add this entry to my blog.


Steven said...

And now, on to Yosemite for the High Holidays

Ed said...

I just up-dated your trip. Sounds great and adventurous. I can't remember the exact date(s) you said you'd be in our neck of the woods. Do you know?

Have loads of fun and say hi to CA for me!
Love, Eddie