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Published: April 3rd 2018
During the drive from Park City RV Resort in Park City UT to Fossil Valley RV Park in Vernal UT on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, I made a stop at Jordanelle Reservoir where I found the Domínguez–Escalante Monument. Placards told me the Domínguez–Escalante Expedition was a Spanish journey of exploration conducted in 1776 by two Franciscan priests, Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, in search of an overland route from Santa Fe NM to their Roman Catholic mission in Monterey CA – just another interesting snippet from our amazing history. The remainder of the short trip (even for Uncle Larry) went without incident. Fossil Valley RV Park is located in downtown Vernal. Oh, my gosh – the traffic!!! Well, it sure was convenient to all the amenities.
There were two reasons I opted to spend a week in Vernal – Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument. The locals proudly call the tourism amalgamation “Dinosaurland
.” I’m not sure what happened, but for the first time in a long time, Uncle Larry awakened on Thursday, October 12 at about 4 AM. With my time in the Vernal area almost exclusively dedicated to scenic drives and leaf-peeping, I decided
to make Thursday my “housekeeping” day (previously scheduled for a “bad weather day”) and take a nap whenever the sand man came calling. I had some information on the area but also had a couple of questions so my first “housekeeping” stop on Thursday was the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park and Museum
in Vernal. This facility doubles (or triples as the case might be) as a visitor information center and is a must stop for the Vernal visitor. I was given a dozen scenic drive pamphlets, got some recommendations and some answers and began a tour of the museum. One cannot miss the huge skeleton of a Diplodocus carnegii in the center of the main exhibit hall, indeed, one has to pass the specimen to get to the park rangers’ desk. The folks in charge of tourism have done a yeoman job of developing a dozen brochures with most of the local attractions incorporated into day trip drives. Much to my surprise, the sand man never showed up until nighttime, and I awoke on Friday morning at 8:40. Now that the fire department no longer abruptly summons me into action, Uncle Larry doesn’t do much of anything without at least one cup of coffee. That
meant I got quite a late start on Friday as I headed for Dinosaur National Monument
(Day Trip 5
) near Jensen UT.
Dinosaur National Monument is unique in that the monument lies in both Utah and Colorado, has separate entrances in each state, has a visitor center in each state, has phenomenal scenery and hiking opportunities in each state but has dinosaur fossils only in Utah. My first stop was the Quarry Visitor Center, seven miles north of Jensen UT. There I viewed the self-imposed, requisite orientation video, got some questions answered and purchased my souvenir as well as the “Harpers Corner Trail Guide” and a guide to the “Tour of the Tilted Rocks.” Then I was off to nearby Quarry Exhibit Hall. This is one of the most extraordinary facilities I have ever encountered. Usually, fossils are found, well, exactly where they are found and at a saturation level that varies widely. Not so here! There happened to be a spot where the density of discovered fossils was so great that the National Park Service constructed a building around the site to protect the specimens and to accommodate visitors.
It’s a little hard to explain, so I’ll let the pictures speak
for the institution. The facility is unique and worthy of a stop for almost everyone and is a “must see” for natural history and paleontology buffs. From Quarry Exhibit Hall, I drove east on Cub Creek Road and stopped at each of the waypoints to read and look. Some waypoints contain petroglyphs, some contain interesting geologic formations and some display awesome vistas but only one is the site of the Josie Bassett Morris Ranch Complex.
Taking along their three-year-old daughter, Josephine (January 17, 1874 - May 1, 1964), the Bassett family moved west from Arkansas to establish a homestead around 1877. Comparatively wealthy and educated for homesteaders, they established a ranch in the Brown's Park region near the Colorado-Wyoming border. Herb Bassett was well known to many of the famous outlaws of the day as he did business with them often, supplying them with beef and fresh horses. Among those who visited the Bassett ranch were Butch Cassidy, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (Sundance Kid), "Black Jack" Ketchum, Elzy Lay, Kid Curry, Will "News" Carver and Ben Kilpatrick. Since these notable outlaws came to the ranch frequently, both Josie and her younger sister, Ann, were exposed to the outlaw life from
an early age. On the ranch, and also at a young age, she and her sister were taught to rope, ride and shoot. Both girls were sent to prominent boarding schools in their youth, but both chose to return to the ranching life by their teens.
Josie married in 1893 at the age of 19. In 1914, Josie and her husband established a homestead claim at Cub Creek near Split Mountain, 40 miles from the family ranch. Josie was a colorful local character – five times married, and four times divorced. She was tried and acquitted for cattle rustling in her 60s and made brandy and wine from local fruit and berries during Prohibition. She and her sister "Queen" Ann Bassett were known for their love affairs and associations with well-known outlaws, particularly Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. Josie Bassett was reportedly one of only five women who were allowed into the outlaw hideout called "Robbers Roost;” the others being her sister Ann; the Sundance Kid's girlfriend, Etta Place; Elzy Lay's wife, Maude Davis; and Will "News" Carver's girl, Laura Bullion.
Those outlaw relationships, as well as the supply of beef and horses to the gang from the Bassett
Akin to Sitting at a Railroad Crossing
Dinosaur National Monument - Jensen UT
ranch, helped the sisters in their time of need. In 1896, several powerful and wealthy cattlemen approached the Bassetts to sell their ranch. When the sisters refused, the cattlemen's association began hiring cowboys to harass the sisters by stampeding and rustling their cattle. Although the cattlemen's association threatened the sisters and tried to intimidate them into selling, the cowboys rarely followed through with any of the threats for fear of retribution from the outlaws. One legend indicates that Kid Curry, easily the most feared of the Wild Bunch gang, approached several of the cowboys known to work for the cattlemen and warned them to leave the Bassetts alone. That story cannot be confirmed, but what is certain is that by 1899, the sisters were receiving very little pressure to sell.
As time passed, the Wild Bunch gang eventually faded. By 1904, most of the gang members closest to the Bassett girls had either been killed or captured. Josie's former lover, Wild Bunch gang member Elzy Lay, reportedly visited Ann and Josie at the ranch shortly after his release from prison in 1906 before he moved to California, where he lived the remainder of his life as a respectable businessman.
Although Butch Cassidy is reported to have been killed in Bolivia, Josie claimed that he visited her in 1930 and lived in Utah until the late 1940s. Josie lived in the cabin for over fifty years until December 1963, when a horse knocked her down, breaking her hip. She died a few months later at the age of 90. She was the last remaining associate of the Wild Bunch gang as well as the last direct source of information about its members, their personalities and traits.
The Josie Bassett Morris Ranch Complex consists of a handful of buildings and was added to National Register of Historic Places on December 19, 1986. The National Park Service maintains an interpretive display at the site. The ranch house started as a low square log cabin, with a kitchen added later. The house is surrounded by dependent structures, such as a chicken house, outhouse, root cellar, sheds and a small barn.
I knew the trailheads for the Box Canyon Hike (.25 mi.) and the Hog Canyon Hike (1.5 mi.) were at the Morris Homestead and that one hike had better potential for fall foliage than the other but couldn’t remember which was
more forested. Old sleepyhead opted to give the shorter hike the first opportunity and was rewarded quite pleasantly. Indeed, along the trail are, presumably, remnants of the fencing Josie used to confine her cattle in the “corral au natural.” Then it was time to relax at one of the picnic tables on site and eat the lunch I had picked up in town.
There were a couple of additional short hikes I had planned to take but opted to omit because of the time constraints generated by old sleepyhead. I headed east on US 40, crossed into Colorado and made a quick stop at the Canyon Visitor Center near Dinosaur CO to confirm the road conditions. The small visitor center has a few animal mounts, including a bald eagle, several nice paintings and a knowledgeable park ranger. Since I really wanted to make the hike out to the point at Harpers Corner, the literal end of the road, and since I really wanted to drive down into Echo Park, I omitted most of the scenic vistas and left them for the return trip IF there was time.
The drive to Harpers Corner Trailhead was uneventful and unspectacular. Only
a few feet into the 2.3-mile out and back trail, it began to descend. Overall the trail was shrouded by scrub oak and pinion pine, so vistas were far and few between. About half way to the trail terminus, I decided to save the remaining daylight for Echo Park and returned to the truck. At the turnoff to Echo Park, I stopped to take a picture of the panorama. The road in the bottom of the valley heralded a steep grade. The descent should be a no-brainer, but the ascent might be a challenge. Never fear, I envisioned nothing a diesel with 4-wheel drive couldn’t handle. Road conditions are quite subjective. For a city slicker, the Echo Park Road might have been horrific. For a country bumpkin, I found the road, overall, was in very good condition save a few spots where a nut or bolt might loosen enough to create a future squeak. Larry, it’s a truck – go do truck stuff!
The descent, as anticipated, was steep but manageable for a family sedan. Once in the canyon, the “eye candy” was no longer the distant vistas I had topside but, instead, the nearby rock formations. I entered
Sand Canyon and then veered left at the junction with Yampa Bench Road for a 5-mile drive to Echo Park. Veering right would have taken me through an extensive portion of Dinosaur National Monument and, eventually, back to paved roads and civilization, but that route is almost 30 miles with a suggested driving time of 3 hours. It looks interesting and, perhaps, someday on a dedicated one-day venture…. I passed the ruins of the Chew Ranch, stopped at some petroglyphs, tested the authenticity of the moniker at Whispering Cave and arrived at Echo Park only to find a huge herd of deer enjoying their evening meal. Had I arrived sooner, I doubt the deer would have been grazing, at least not in the numbers I enjoyed. I backtracked to Harpers Corner Road, returned to Vernal and enjoyed my evening meal.
The weather on Saturday, October 14, 2017 was, to be nice, blustery and overcast. My first destination was the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery
at Jones Hole UT (Day Trip 1
). The trip across Diamond Mountain Plateau was quite mundane by comparison to my Friday drive but took me to an interesting canyon where the hatchery is located. Being a Saturday, I held few expectations,
encountered a lone fish tender and had a nice, but weather-abbreviated, conversation about the hatchery operations. Indeed, the brisk winds were coming from a direction such that they were channeled directly into the canyon. Even though the hatchery building was open for self-guided tours (been there, done that at other hatcheries and had an ambitious agenda), I managed to wander the hatchery grounds long enough to take a few pictures before retreating to the protected environ of the Ram.
From the fish hatchery, I backtracked to Wild Mountain Road and turned right to embark on Day Trip 6
– Outlaw Country. When I reached Crouse Reservoir, I made a stop overlooking the reservoir where I ate the breakfast wrap I had bought in Vernal. Continuing on to the well-signed turnoff for Crouse Canyon, I ventured onto “the road less travelled” through the canyon instead of circumnavigating it. Sedan drivers, beware! Clearance is the biggest obstacle for the family station wagon, but, for those willing to endure the minor obstacles, the reward is very nice. The mouth of Crouse Canyon opened into the Browns Park
area. I say area, because there is no visible signage or other demarcation for Browns Park.
Browns Park Swinging Bridge UT
next stop was at Browns Park Swinging Bridge
. The information I had was that the 8-foot, 6-inch wide Browns Park Bridge was open to weight-restricted vehicular traffic; however, upon my arrival, I found that the bridge was open only to pedestrian traffic, with livestock specifically forbidden – yes, boys and girls, in the wild west this clarification is required! One source tells me the bridge will be under construction April 2 through August 1, 2018. Slightly disappointed that I couldn’t take the Ram across the bridge, I ventured there on foot – staying close to the railing I could grab just in case a gust of wind tried to blow me into the Green River below. LOL
I headed northwest toward John Jarvie Historic Ranch
near Dutch John, UT and enjoyed glimpses of the Green River along the way. In 1880, a Scotsman named John Jarvie built his ranch along the Green River and offered store goods to those that lived or traveled in the area. He chose the location due to a naturally occurring river crossing which had been used by Indians, fur trappers, travelers, and local residents. At its height, the Jarvie ranch operation included a store, post office, river ferry, and cemetery
It’s Probably a Good Thing that a Frontiersman’s Needs Were Few
The Jarvie Fall Festival – John Jarvie Historic Ranch, Dutch John, UT
and was visited by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The historic ranch house is a one-room, rectangular building that was built by outlaw Jack Bennett, using masonry skills he learned in prison. The museum contains displays that decorate the walls and features a video of the history of the ranch. A two-room dugout, where John and his wife Nellie first lived, was built into a hillside with a south-facing entrance overlooking the Green River. The blacksmith shop and corral were constructed with hand-hewn railroad ties which floated downstream from Green River, Wyoming during high water. Children get to “pretend shop” at the general store where Mr. Jarvie sold his goods – a replica of the 1881 original. The general store is furnished with many artifacts from the Jarvie period and also contains the original safe which was robbed by the men that murdered Jarvie.
As I approached the Historic Ranch, numerous cars were departing. I learned that I had stumbled upon The Jarvie Fall Festival. Numerous participation activities such as rope making and candle making were winding down and the campfire under the Dutch oven hanging from a tripod was almost extinguished. I spent half an hour wandering
I Learned to Make Rope in Boy Scouts
The Jarvie Fall Festival – John Jarvie Historic Ranch, Dutch John, UT
the grounds, examining the exhibits and photographing the festivities. The John Jarvie Historic Ranch is definitely worth a stop when driving the historic/scenic byway; however, it receives only a lukewarm recommendation for those needing to make the 22-mile detour (on a very good gravel road, I should add) from US 191.
I had learned that the Red Canyon Overlook Visitor Center in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area was closed for renovation but that the overlook was still accessible so I decided to stop to see what paint a setting sun might cast on the vista. As I neared the overlook parking lot, I had to slow for a number (herd, flock, covey – I didn’t know just yet) of critters standing on/near the roadway. I drew closer to see a dozen or so mountain goats, some of whom were interested and others mostly oblivious to my truck. Shortly, the entire group, I think goats make for herds, moved to the same side of the road – the passenger’s side. I got a few less-than-stellar pictures and drove to the parking lot. In the 30-60 seconds it took to arrive, I decided to forego the vista and return to the
goats as the group would be on the driver’s side, and more photogenic, when I returned. The impromptu scenario played out, and I got some great shots of the goats. I can’t remember heretofore ever seeing mountain goats in the wild – even in the distance, let alone 12-15 feet away. Deer yesterday, and mountain goats today. What might tomorrow hold?
Monday, October 16, 2017 found me out for another scenic trip. My first stop was Fantasy Canyon
, an isolated, but very unique geologic feature located about an hour south of Vernal. There are no scenic drives that venture even remotely close to the attraction, but it does merit its own color brochure (published by the Bureau of Land Management) and was recommended as “worth the drive” by the folks at the visitor center. On my drive south, I saw a small group of pronghorn antelope grazing near the road, but they had scurried up over a hill before I had a chance to take a picture. Irene, my GPS, did another fine job of directing me to a remote location. Personally, I would describe Fantasy Canyon as amazing and pondered just what kinds of processes had been at work
to create such interesting formations. The link above has an explanation and more photographs. Although I spent twice as much time getting to Fantasy Canyon as I did viewing the formations, I would agree that Fantasy Canyon is “worth the drive” for those with some extra
time. As I was leaving the parking area, I had to pause to allow the remainder of a herd of a half dozen or so pronghorn to pass. They seemed quite nonchalant about my presence. Three consecutive days – deer, mountain goats and pronghorn. Pretty cool!
My next stop was the McConkie Ranch Indian Petroglyphs
(Day Trip 2
). I made the stop at McConkie Ranch, primarily, since I was driving within a mile of the attraction and because I do enjoy looking at the historic artwork. I had read that getting to the cliff face where the art was carved “requires some fairly steep climbing on a thin, rocky trail,” that “the trails to these are NOT National Park quality” and that the trail is “rugged and hilly in spots” but, conversely, that “we saw wonderful art works which were easily accessible.” Trail quality is definitely subjective. I also had read that the “1,000-year-old rock art is a
religious experience, akin to visiting the great cathedrals of Europe” and that “the best cave art is definitely along the second half of the trail.” I believe the first three statements about the trail quality are kind and generous understatements while the statements about the rock art quality will have to be left unevaluated. Since I enjoy rock art and am not an enthusiast, I abandoned the trail after I had seen a very small selection of art. Cost/benefit analysis is a wonderful tool.
The turnoff for the McConkie Ranch is, essentially, the beginning of the Red Cloud Loop Scenic Backway
(Day Trip 3
). Related to this zip code, overviews of three scenic byways in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest – Flaming Gorge-Uinta National Scenic Byway, the Red Cloud Loop Scenic Backway and the Sheep Creek Scenic Backway – can be found on the National Forest web page, Scenic Byways and Backways
. I continued the ascent and made a stop at Dry Fork Overlook, quite an unspectacular panorama I must admit, and then turned off for Ashley Twin Lake
. I had happened upon the feature as I was planning the day’s adventure and found several hits when I Googled the name. As I was travelling the Red Cloud Loop, I spotted
the road sign for Ashley Twin Lake. The first 0.7 mile is a well-groomed gravel road, but I encountered a gate. Another road, however, intersected from the right. I decided to take the road less travelled, but it soon became EXTREMELY rough so I decided to forego Ashley Twin Lake and turned around. I’m confident the lake is beyond the locked gate.
My next stop was at Oaks Park Reservoir where I found a young family enjoying a day of fishing. They had just arrived and had had no luck so far. I noted that I was merely stopping to enjoy the view while I ate my lunch and would be on my way shortly. I passed through several meadows or parks and skirted a couple of lakes to complete the loop. Heading back to Vernal, I instructed Irene to take me to Moonshine Arch (Day Trip 12
). I couldn’t believe my ears when I was told to turn right on North Molly’s Nipple Road! I suppose if Molly were lying on her back in an east-west orientation, she would have a north nipple and a south nipple. I definitely would like to have Paul Harvey give me “The Rest of
the Story” on that one!!! On Monday morning, this quarterback learned that there is, however, a geologic feature called Molly’s Nipple
(you really do need to see the picture) located 26.5 miles east of Kanab UT – a long, long way from Vernal.
Even with my descriptive brochure in hand, Moonshine Arch was difficult to find. In the brochure, there are 9 directional changes in the final 1.7 miles, and, with waypoints given in tenths of a mile (528 feet), there is a lot of room for slight errors that could find the truck mired in loose sand. Therefore, Uncle Larry decided to follow the instruction set for “non-high-clearance vehicles,” and walk the final 0.9 mile. After descending into (and therefore out of) two coolies or gullies or washes or dry streambeds (it’s a regional thingy) and visualizing at least two more between me and the arch, I took a couple of distant pictures (not worth inclusion in the blog) and returned to the truck. On the return to the RV park, I was informed that I had low pressure in the left front tire.
Indeed, when I awoke, I found the tire sitting on the ground. That’s part
of the cost of doing business, but I had to abort Tuesday’s agenda which included a loop around Flaming Gorge Reservoir (279 miles and 5 hours and 26 minutes) with an additional side trip to see Sheep Creek Canyon and Spirit Lake (Day Trip 8
), about 50 additional miles. I also opted to forego a couple of attractions and two scenic drives that could have occurred on another day and would have easily combined into another long loop. The Indian Canyon Scenic Byway
and a drive through Nine Mile Canyon
would combine for a 154-mile, 4-hour, 29-minute loop plus however much time and distance from your point of origin – in my case, 80 miles and 1 hour and 32 minutes. A cost/benefit analysis concluded relaxation, the MLB playoffs, the NASCAR playoffs and the NFL regular season were of greater value; and my “previous channel” button got a hellofa workout!
I did, however, have a great time in the Vernal area and hope to return some day. On each of the first two days of my stay, I ventured into two of the most rugged landscapes I have encountered since The Great Adventure
kicked off in 2010 but was rewarded with some great scenery and some
awesome albeit sporadic fall colors. Vernal is a clean, small town with virtually everything the average tourist needs. I would suggest taking a full day to explore each side of Dinosaur National Monument if one wants to leisurely hike and enjoy all the hidden treasures this diamond-in-the-rough-has to offer. To hike and explore the nearby byways, one could spend an entire two-week vacation without any possibility of becoming bored. If one is fortunate enough, as was I, to have the fall colors decorate the landscape, well, you’ll just have some gravy on your tatters!
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