If visiting an uplifted riverbed choked with 150-million-year-old dinosaur bones isn’t enough of a thrill at Dinosaur National Monument, be sure to hike the gouged and twisted landscapes of the Sound of Silence Trail.
A visit to the “Wall of Bones” in the Quarry Exhibit Hall alone is worth the drive and cost of admission to this remote National Park Service outpost on the border of Utah and Colorado.
The sun-splashed exhibit hall runs for roughly 200 feet on two levels. It encloses an ancient riverbed uplifted by geologic forces to a 67-degree angle. Paleontologists have chipped away the clay and rock to expose a rich deposit of some 1,500 dinosaur bones.
We arrived late in the day after a 300-mile drive on U.S. 40 from Laramie, WY. Our plan had been to hit the exhibit hall before closing time, spend the night in Vernal, UT, and then drive north the next morning to hike at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. It seemed more interesting than standard desert hiking.
Alas, an hour out of Vernal the next morning we began to smell smoke. Then signs announced a controlled burn ahead. As we crested a hill, we hit a veil of smoke that descended deep into the valley below. Flaming Gorge was on fire. MontaraManDan turned the car around and the the Geek turned to AllTrails to find a Plan B back at Dinosaur National Monument.
We began with something simple, the Fossil Discovery Trail. It parallels the Green River from the Quarry Visitor Center before winding up a modest hill below the exhibit hall.
Trail markers promise many fossilized wonders, but all we could spot was the large sauropod leg bone identified with a large white arrow painted on the rock face above. No junior paleontologist badges for MontaraManDan and The Geek. If you plan to discover much of anything on this trail, join the ranger-led hike.
We did, however, enjoy the trail’s amazing selection of petroglyphs, which to our untrained and unqualified 21st century eye included etchings that looked a tad demonic, even alien.
Spirits revived with sub sandwiches and a tureen of ice tea back in Vernal, we decided to try to salvage the day on the Sound of Silence Trail. Not only was it our best move of the day, but the hike ranked among the favorites of our four-week sojourn across the back roads of the American West.
The trail begins inauspiciously with an amble across a flat plain of scrubby desert toward a pair of giant disc-shaped boulders. They lean provocatively against a crease of uplifted desert like a pair of wrecked alien star ships. Intriguing.
Just past the stone saucers, the trail cuts left into a riverbed through a canyon dotted with cottonwoods and other trees, which were flying fall colors. The dry river bed sinks deeply into red clay, with the bank rising above eye level in spots.
The terrain transforms again with rocky scramble upward before depositing us in a narrow track that winds through the conical, rippled walls of an ancient waterway.
The Moenkopi Formation trapped the heat of the day. The trail felt increasingly claustrophobic with each twist and turn. We both were getting kind of dizzy but we staggered forward.
Eventually, the trail rises onto a hillside and across a breezy plateau with an amazing view of Split Mountain, a rocky anticline of uplifted strata that protrudes like a spine from synclines on either side.
The trail continues its rise into a grove of junipers before descending in a steep and lengthy scramble back toward the desert floor, where it completes the loop.
After another night in Vernal, we had planned to spend a night or two in Provo for one last round of hiking before heading home to The Coastside. But with a forecast of snow in the Sierras looming, we dead-headed west instead, blowing past Provo, the Wasatch Front and the Great Salt Lake before spending one last night on the road in Winnemucca, NV – where we hiked the local cemetery. Yes, a bit of an anticlimax to be sure.
And here we are, six months later, sheltering in place against COVID-19 and unsure when we may be able to travel again, near or far. So, we content ourselves with the back streets and trails less traveled near our home and look forward to our next big adventure. TBD.
Be safe. Be well.
This post is the 13th in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.
Part 13: A ‘Wall of Bones’ and Tortured Landscapes at Dinosaur National Monument