Day 10 - Cheyenne, WY - Laramie - Rawlins - Flaming Gorge - Vernal, UT - Dinosaur NM

This morning we planned on a good breakfast because we would be crossing a lot of pretty empty territory during the middle of the day. We must also rearrange the interior of the car so that we can add one more adult as a passenger. There was one more complication, Daniel wasn't feeling well. He had a slight fever and an earache. The reorganization of the food supply gained free space on the seats. Aspirin helped Daniel feel better and allowed him to nap abit when we were driving. After we got the car in an initial trial reconfiguration, we got on the road west.

The road west to Laramie rises on top of an unusual geologic feature, the gangplank. When the mountains rose up in the Laramide Orogeny, the overlying sedimentary layers were eroded away, if not on top of the mountains, certainly on the slopes. But here, between Cheyenne and Laramie, that did not happen. A narrow ramp rises from the plains at Cheyenne to the top of the Laramie range of mountains. The surveyors for the Union Pacific Railroad found this route when the accidentally encountered a group of Indians atop the mountains. The Indians took off and, by following them, the surveyors were shown a rapid route to the plains. The Interstate highway also follows this route. At one point there is barely enough space for both the highway and the railroad to coexist. We finally leave the sedimentary rock and arrive on the Precambrian granite.

Before we reach the summit, we pass another unusual geologic area, the Vedauwoo (Arapaho for "earthborn") Recreation area. Here the exposed granite has been eroded into huge rounded boulders. This granite is 1.4 billion years old. When it was exposed, after being pushed up through the flat sedimentary layers, it first fractured into large rectangular blocks. These blocks were then eroded where the surfaces were exposed at the fractures. Eventually they became very rounded. Some of these boulders are as big as a house and may be balanced on top of another such boulder. At the highest point between Cheyenne and Laramie, a monument to Abraham Lincoln is located at a rest area. From here it is downhill into Laramie.

Laramie is the home of the University of Wyoming, the Cowboys. The buildings of the University are made from a pinkish sandstone which is quarried from the sedimentary layers found on the west side of the Laramie Mountains. They use images of these sandstone walls on their World Wide Web pages very effectively. We have many happy memories of this campus and of Laramie. Steve and I have visited here often, sometimes for several months at a time. We have not yet qualified for a free trip to Hawaii by being there every month of the year for snow, but we have at least 5 months chalked up, including September. It is here that I would see every day I entered the building, the motto "Strive On - The Control of Nature is Won, not Given" upon which John McPhee built a book, exploring the follies that man will pursue in his quest to exert control over "acts of God." This attitude of men that nature must be controlled and not lived with intelligently has always puzzled me. I have never understood the need to be in charge all the time. We have two reasons for being unable to visit Laramie today: Daniel's illness and the necessity to cover many miles today. So, with reluctance, we drive by without entering the town.

Laramie lies on the east side of the Laramie basin. West of Laramie, we are driving on marine shales and sandstones laid down in the Cretaceous Era. The higher lying land is topped by gravels brought down by erosion from the mountains. Antelope herds graze on these plains, but their movements are frustrated by the fences with which they are unequipped to deal. There are snow fences left here year round, again testifying to the short summers here. In the winter the winds here will create whiteouts on the highways if left unchecked. These fences, placed across the prevailing winds, cause the air currents to swirl and dump their load of snow behind the baffle. We are going northwest around the top of the Medicine Bow Mountains, following the route of the Overland Trail Stage. As the stagecoaches did, we stopped at Arlington to fill the gas tank and to make use of the rest rooms. Just west of here, south of the highway, we can see Elk Mountain, an isolated uplift of Precambrian granite just north of the Medicine Bows. The small town of Elk Mountain lies just at the foot of the mountain. In the thirties bands such as Harry James', Tommy Dorsey's and Benny Goodman's played the dance hall here.

We enter the Hanna Basin here. This is a deep basin, filled with sedimentary rock, brown and grey sandstone deposited by erosion from the Medicine Bow Mountains. The thick beds of coal found here were mined by the Union Pacific Railroad and used to power their locomotives. In a short while we pass the exit to Fort Steele, one of the most pleasant places to go for a picnic by the Platte River, shaded by cottonwood trees and with ruins of old fort buildings to explore. Just beyond Fort Steele lies the town of Sinclair, an example of the idealized small town of the west, with a central park and railroad station. This town was once owned by the Sinclair Oil Company who ran the refinery here. This is the biggest refinery in the Rockies. I expect to see swings in the yards of the houses that are classics from the early part of this century. Because I remember this town so pleasantly, we take a short detour to drive through the town. There is a large hotel with classic Spanish architecture here. It was renovated and reopened in the 70s but soon closed again. It appears to be slowly decaying and awfully empty, but you can still see it's past. We returned to the Interstate and continued past Rawlins, over the south end of the Rawlins uplift.

Here we enter the Great Divide (or Red Desert) Basin. This basin lies between two sides of the Continental Divide. The Divide actually divides and passes around this basin before reconnecting south of here. Water that enters this basin goes to neither coast. This basin, part of the Greater Green River Basin, covers approximately 3500 square miles and varies in elevation from 6500 feet above sea level in the center to higher that 8000 feet above sea level on the perimeterand receives only 6 1/2 to 7 inches of rain a year. The basin is a large syncline between the Rawlins uplift and the Rock Springs uplift. The rock strata dip abut 20° westward just west of Rawlins. At Rock Springs the strata dip eastward 5 to 10°. In the middle of this basin, the land is very arid and windblown, containing dune fields and dry lake beds. If instead this basin were an area with high precipitation, a permanent lake might lie here, since there is no outlet for surface runoff of collected water. This basin is also prime territory for the pronghorn antelope; here they do not encounter the fences that frustrate them farther east. We cross the Continental Divide 2 times driving between Rawlins and Rock Springs. Along this stretch of road we pass the town on Wamsutter and the Wamsutter gas field, producing natural gas from the local sandstones. Later we pass many oil and gas producing wells as we climb the eastern side of the Rock Springs uplift. Near here we pass Point of Rocks which once served as a stage station on the Overland Trail for the Pony Express. This was also a major railroad stop for miners when gold was discovered in the South Pass region.

Daniel decided that it was time to demand his rights. He wanted a kid's meal for lunch and Rock Springs was just ahead. It looked like this would be a fairly easy request to satisfy and, since Daniel was not feeling well, a nice thing to do for him. Since we planned to be fairly far from fast food for a while, we took the first Rock Springs exit and began to hunt for McDonald's/Burger King/Wendy's. We had to get pretty far away from the Interstate before we saw our first burger place, a Wendy's. Fortunately this meant that Steve and I could get baked potatoes and a salad. Daniel got a burger and fries, as did Kathy and Rebecca. But, ultimately, it was the soda and the fries that Daniel ate. The burger was wrapped up and brought with us, but it's presence only served to comfort Daniel with some of the artifacts of home while away from home. After he had had his fast food fix, we climbed back in the car for a short jaunt on the Interstate to the next exit where we turned south toward Flaming Gorge.

Approaching Storm

Now we traveled down US191 along the east side of the Green River. The Green River originates in the Wind River Mountains to the north, wanders across the barren Green River Basin and then, in a set of broad looping meanders, cuts some spectacular canyons through mountain ranges. It does this for the same reasons discussed earlier, the paths of the rivers were determined long before the rivers reached the rock of the current mountain ranges! John Wesley Powell began his grand river trip from near here, at the town of Green River. He started down into the great canyon here, and named it Flaming Gorge because of the brilliant red walls of the canyon. There are also hot springs, heavily mineralized, that emerge from the walls of the canyon. At this point in Wyoming, the sedimentary layers are 20-25,000 feet thick. A paved road, Firehole drive, leads down into the hot springs area. Again, we had 2 reasons for not taking this road: Daniel's marginal health and the fact that a big thunderstorm is closing in on us. Nonetheless, the sagebrush covered landscape was so beautiful that we stopped at several of the pullouts simply to stand outside to feel the storm approaching, smell the damp sagebrush, and discover the wildflowers hidden among the larger plants.

Rain on the sage

After a couple of these stops, the rain drops begin to fall. While driving through these sagebrush covered high plains toward the Utah border, the lightning was playing all around us. In Utah, the road descends to the level of the dam which created the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We stopped at the store at Dutch John for gas and a rest break. We also wanted to take advantage of one of Kathy's axioms: the public bathrooms in Utah are always clean. But someone is taking their time in the ladies room. After a couple of minutes, the proprietor notices the problem and knows the obvious answer: make use of the men's room. He offers to make sure that noone walks in while we made use of that restroom and we took advantage of the offer. Meanwhile Rebecca checked out all of the postcards for something unusual. She found a few that she liked and Daniel found a pair of sunglasses which he knew he would need for hiking in Arches. With these essentials in hand, we were ready to resume our places in the Prev for the drive to Vernal.

As we leave Dutch John we cross the dam and begin to climb out of this part of the gorge, up the Precambrian rocks of the Uinta Mountains. After cresting the mountains, we begin a very steep descent, crossing the exposed sedimentary layers from older to younger rock layers. Along this stretch of road, there are signs indicating the ages of the rocks and their origin at regular intervals. In order to read the signs, your speed must be low enough to keep the car under control on this steep descent! Viewpoints have been placed along the road where possible. From one a large open pit mine producing phosphate can be seen. The mining company has placed exhibits here describing the operation and the planned reclamation of the land. From another pullout the mesas that have been cut out of the sedimentary overburden on the Precambrian basement by streams are clearly seen. As we near Vernal, Rebecca checked the motel listings and chose the Best Western. Billboards appeared directing us to the motel, which didn't seem to fit the description when we got there. Steve and Kathy checked out the rooms, leaving us in the car, bewildered about what was taking so long. The rooms seemed fine and we were able to get adjoining rooms again. We did a minimal unloading of the car before climbing back in for the drive east to the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument, our target for the next day and a half.

As soon as we were organized again, we drove east out of Vernal toward Jensen where we turned in to the park. Our first stop was the Dinosaur Quarry. Here the imagination of the kids was given free rein as they could see a wall of stone filled with dinosaur bones exposed to the eye. A glassed-in balcony viewing area with signs pointing out regions of the wall with bones identified allowed you to trace sections of individual skeletons. There are also exhibits that are much closer at hand. Small and large reconstructions of skeletons are available at this level and fossils of much smaller organisms, such as crinoids, can also be seen. We spent as much time as the kids wished here, letting their expectations adjust to the reality they encountered here. Of course there was a bookshop. We picked up copies of all of the trail guides and, again, the postcard and poster supply was closely examined by Rebecca.

When we left here we continued on the Tilted Rocks Tour. Our first real stop here is at the Split Rock Campground area where we walked down to the river to the boat launch. The swallows were making use of the availability of gnats and mosquitos to obtain their supper. While we were watching the water tumbled and taking in the spectacular cut through Split Mountain, I noticed that, on the wall just opposite us, there as a set of handprints well above water level. It appeared impossible that they could have been made from a boat; the water ws moving far too rapidly to allow a stable platform. But tens of handprints were there on the wall. Daniel seemed energetic enough to allow us to attempt the trail here, at least for a short way. We started off down the wash but Daniel was fretful; we went only a short way before we decided that continuing the auto tour was the best idea.

Because it was pretty late in the day, we first drove all the way to the end of the road and explored Josie's homestead, letting Rebecca imagine what it must have been like to live here as a woman alone, from the age of 40 to age 90, when she died, growing her own vegetables and managing her own livestock. It is hard to image a more beautiful place to live. Now we returned along the same road, but stopped to see the petroglyphs from the Fremont culture that are close to this road in several places. While Kathy, Steve and Rebecca scrambled up a steep slope to see some of the petroglyphs, on a hunch, I took Daniel on a tour of the rock wall near the base of the wall. We were lucky! There were some nice petroglyphs at child level around the corner from those which had been pointed out in the brochure. Daniel returned to tell the others to come and see what we had found. We checked out one other petroglyph site on the way back and then returned to Vernal for a late dinner.

We first went to the motel room to make a pit stop and take a few more items up from the car. Since we would spend 2 nights here, we took a few more items in than usual. We decided to go to the nearest restaurant, just up the block, for a quick dinner. It was pretty late, and the restaurant was almost empty. However, in the next booth was a young couple with a very young child, also in for a late dinner. We chose simple items and talked about what we wanted to do tomorrow while looking over the materials we had picked up. We decided that we would take the Harper's Corner Scenic Drive and, if Daniel was feeling better, take the hike to the canyon overview. When we finished eating, we went straight back to the motel and got Daniel ready for bed where he went right to sleep. The rest of us read for a while before turning out the light.

No rain tonight.


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See our map and guide reference section for trail maps and other useful information available from has over 3,500 maps.

Wyoming Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme Publishing.

Utah Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme Publishing.

Roadside Geology of Utah, Halka Chronic, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT

Roadside Geology of Wyoming, David R. Lageson & Darwin R. Spearing, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT

A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest, Alex Patterson

Images in Stone: Southwest Rock Art, Polly Schaafsma, David Muench (Photographer), Browntrout Pub.

Indian Rock Art of the Southwest, Polly Schaafsma, Univ. of New Mexico Press

Kokopelli: Fluteplayer Images in Rock Art, Dennis Slifer, James Duffield, Ancient City Press

Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region, Sally J. Cole, Johnson Books

Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Utah: The East and Northeast, Kenneth B. Castleton, Univ. Utah Press

Postcard-Images in Stone Southwest Rock Art, Browntrout Pub.

Rock Art of the American Southwest , Fred Hirschmann (Photographer), Scott Thybony, Graphics Arts Center Pub.

The Rock Art of Utah: A Study from the Donald Scott Collection, Polly Schaafsma, Univ. Utah Press

The Archaeology of Rock-Art, Christopher Chippindale, Paul S. C. Tacon (Editors), Cambridge University Press

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