Rivers, Dinosaurs and Tracks & the Grand Valley, CO June 2015

17 Jun

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” This trip exemplifies what Eleanor was talking about, I think.

I flew to Grand Junction, CO on June 1 to stay with long time, good friend, Shirley Porter and began tasting life within an hour of landing. There are about 22 wineries in the Grand Valley wherein lies Grand Junction and we got to test only three that afternoon. That leaves a lot to be visited during a return visit.  (Don’t forget to click on the images.  You will be able to see more details on some pictures if you do)

This is looking from a winery with Mt. Garfield and the Bookcliffs in the background. The Bookcliffs are a range that goes west into Utah.

Looking toward Mt. Garfield and the Bookcliffs, a range that goes west into Utah. Taken from one of our three wineries. Fun!

The next morning, we drove to Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, CO that is one-third of the Museum of Western Colorado.

The next morning, we drove to Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, CO that is one-third of the Museum of Western Colorado.

There, we met Chris and Mitch, our delightful young guides (very young to us) who led us through our adventure for the next three days. (This tour was very special as Shirley and I were the only two people on the tour. So we received lots of attention and had all our questions answered to the nth degree). They took us to the Rimrock River Adventures where we met Steve, our boat driver. We floated/rowed and motored about 30 miles down the Colorado River through the Ruby and Horsethief Canyons all the way to Westwater, Utah. To me, it was sort of a mini-Grand Canyon rafting trip where we saw like rock formations (except some of the nomenclature is different, which confused me) plus dinosaur tracks and some pictographs as well as learning more about geology and paleontology. We loved it!

Mitch, Shirley and our boat driver, Steve when we began our journey together down the river.

Mitch, Shirley and our boat driver, Steve when we began our journey together down the river.

Chris was our other guide

Chris was our other guide

Mitch and Chris were both such nice guys and had tons of geological and paleontological info and puns. Steve also had many jokes and stories to tell us.

The first picture from the raft is of the FPA (Fruita Paleontological Area)(never heard of such a thing. I thought something with *PA dealt with Pale Ale) It is an area rich with fossils. As we moved on down the river, we began to see several more layers of formations.

The Fruita Paleontological Area

The Fruita Paleontological Area

Some of the many formations in the Ruby and Horsethief Canyons

Some of the many formations in the Ruby and Horsethief Canyons

We learned about the following formations:  Schist, Chinle, Wingate, Kayenta, Entrada, Morrison (THE major dinosaur bone layer which also includes the Tidwell, salt wash and brushy basin layers), and Mancos shale. To add more data and confuse you more, here are some more terms and time periods. The Mesozoic Era includes the Jurassic Period from 210 million years ago and lasted for 70 million years. The Cretaceous Period is described as the last period of the dinosaurs and lasted from about 144 to about 65 million years ago. Those are the two eras we were most interested in even though we saw all of the other layers. I know that’s confusing. I can show you pictures of these beautiful layers and formations, but I am unable to tell you which specific formation they are. I just couldn’t get it even after the “boys” explained it several times. So I’m going to tell you about some of the things that I’m fairly sure of.

The Great Uncomformity?  At the very least, it's a visible fault in the earth

The Great Uncomformity? At the very least, it’s a visible fault in the earth

I thought this picture was of the Great Unconformity (Occurring worldwide, the Great Unconformity juxtaposes old rocks, formed billions of years ago deep within the Earth’s crust, with relatively young Cambrian sedimentary rock formed from deposits left by shallow ancient seas that covered the continents just a half billion years ago), but now I’m not sure. I AM pretty sure this picture shows a fault that caused the disappearance of some layers.

You can see a lot of folding of layers in this picture. I think the Morrison formation is the top layer.

You can see a lot of folding of layers in this picture. I think the Morrison formation is the top layer.

Steve pulled over to the shore and we clambered up the steep slope to view some special formations as well as a few dino tracks.

The white lines in this rock are mud cracks. They form in fine clay material that has dried out. As the moisture is removed, the surface will split into cracks that extend a short way down into the mud. Later sediments can fill in the cracks and are preserved. Geologists can tell what the original orientation of the rock was using mud cracks.

The white lines in this rock are mud cracks. They form in fine clay material that has dried out. As the moisture is removed, the surface will split into cracks that extend a short way down into the mud. Later sediments can fill in the cracks and are preserved. Geologists can tell what the original orientation of the rock was using mud cracks.

A dino track in the center of the picture. It might be a theropod.

A dino track in the center of the picture. It might be a theropod.

I think the picture with the red stone is cool. The wrinkles you see are ripples from a river or some water mass. The water lapped lazily on the shore and the little ripples were preserved. We saw several examples of this on our voyage.

I think the picture with the red stone is cool. The wrinkles you see are ripples from a river or some water mass. The water lapped lazily on the shore and the little ripples were preserved. We saw several examples of this on our voyage.

Some of the 17 bighorn sheep we saw

Some of the 17 bighorn sheep we saw

Right across the river from the ripples, we saw a total of 17 bighorn sheep. They were grazing close to the water and some were getting a drink. We also saw 3 bald eagles, many great blue herons, one eider, many ravens and no lizards (which seemed strange to me).

Look in the low center of the picture and you’ll see a peculiarly balanced rock. Steve said he had been watching it for years, waiting to see if and when it falls.

Look in the low center of the picture and you’ll see a peculiarly balanced rock. Steve said he had been watching it for years, waiting to see if and when it falls.

We ate lunch at Black Rocks or “deep schist.” That’s pretty old rock.   You can see that the hole was big enough to crawl into. There was a hole on the other side to spy on river travelers.

I was fascinated by the rock with the hole in it. Shirley and I thought it looked like a sculpted polar bear but others thought it was fingers pointing out to the river. I like our description better.

I was fascinated by the rock with the hole in it. Shirley and I thought it looked like a sculpted polar bear but others thought it was fingers pointing out to the river. I like our description better.

Shirley is checking out the bear

Shirley is checking out the bear

You can also see that the river is brown because it was filled with silt that was washed off the mountains due to some severe storms. We also saw limbs and trees as well as other debris floating in the water. The water was cold and very swift. I would not have wanted to fall overboard and try to get to shore or back into the boat.

Chris is standing on the schist and looking at quartz dikes that came up in cracks of the schist before it totally cooled.   It really does look like someone placed a dike in the rock. Another dike is by Chris’ right foot and goes perpendicular to the large dike.

Chris is standing on the schist and looking at quartz dikes that came up in cracks of the schist before it totally cooled. It really does look like someone placed a dike in the rock. Another dike is by Chris’ right foot and goes perpendicular to the large dike.

The spires in this picture are called hoodoos. It’s some picturesque erosion, whatever their names are. We saw several examples of hoodoos throughout our tour.

The spires in this picture are called hoodoos. It’s some picturesque erosion, whatever their names are. We saw several examples of hoodoos throughout our tour.

Steve. took us into a tiny creek mouth where we got out of the boat and hiked a distance to see a natural amphitheater and two spectacular pictographs (painted images on rock walls. Petroglyphs are etched into the rock).

 The figure on the left is a bear and the other is a shaman.

The figure on the left is a bear and the other is a shaman.

Steve told us that he heard a concert in this place and the acoustics were just about perfect. I thought it was a magical, spiritual place.

Steve told us that he heard a concert in this place and the acoustics were just about perfect. I thought it was a magical, spiritual place.

 Someone painted the borderline on the rock wall letting us know this particular fact. You can just barely see the white writing at the base of the wall

Someone painted the borderline on the rock wall letting us know this particular fact. You can just barely see the white writing at the base of the wall

Not long before we ended our journey, we floated into Utah. I thought it was cool that the Colorado River only has to go about 30 miles from Fruita to flow into Utah. I felt sort of like an explorer, not knowing which way the river would turn or what would be around the next corner.

The wind came up during our voyage and it seemed to blow in our faces for at least the last two-thirds of the trip. It wasn’t a hot wind but it seemed to suck the energy out of Shirley and me. We were close to exhaustion that evening and slept well.

The next day was the Big Dig day. We were excited to get to the Mygatt-Moore Quarry (some miles west of Fruita in Rabbit Valley), get instructions and dig down to find a new fossil. (Jerri had teased me that if I found a big bone, our local paper would have a headline of “An Old Fossil finds a New Fossil!”) Mind you, some big bones had been found in that quarry, so there was a possibility. It didn’t quite work out like that, but we had a little orientation and began to dig in our assigned spot of a small, layered mud embankment.  I found out later that we were digging in mud that was 150 million years old!

Our tools for the day

Our tools for the day

Shirley is carefully checking out some fragments.

Shirley is carefully checking out some fragments.

Shirley is carefully checking out some fragments.

They are real fossils!

We both found mostly plant fragments, but we were excited when we were able to properly identify bone fragments.   Neither one of us found a long bone, but right next to where we were digging, Mitch found a rib of something but he ran out of time and was not able to extract it from the earth.

Mitch is digging out a rib of some sort

Mitch is digging out a rib of some sort

Chris and I are discussing how to dig out the fossil I'd found.

Chris and I are discussing how to dig out the fossil I’d found.

The elongated black thing in the center is a bone

The elongated black thing in the center is a bone

Something that Shirley and I quickly discovered is that paleontology and digging for bones takes a great deal of patience, care and finesse. There is also the fact that one spends a lot of time on the knees. We were using little carpets for kneepads, but they didn’t help much after a while. We also found that there is a lot of consulting of each other as to what something might be. I found it good to have so much teamwork. Chris and I were discussing how to dig around a bone (that’s another patience stretcher because in being delicate about this, you might run into another bone and therefore have to expand your digging around area). That black thing in the middle of the picture is a dinosaur bone fragment. I spent the afternoon digging around it but like Mitch, ran out of time.

An interesting thing is that we could not leave the dig area open like you see it in the picture. We put carpets or some type of protective material over it and then shoveled dirt on top of it to make it look like nothing was there. The reason is that vandals and/or tourists can walk into the quarry, look around and take stuff. It is against Federal law to remove any artifact/fossil that one finds unless one has specific permission (like the museum has). No, Shirley and I did not take even one tiny fragment.

While we were busily digging in our little area, other volunteers were digging around a very large bone that had been uncovered and then casted and covered in 2008. No one knew why it had been forgotten but it was. So they dug out as much as they could and then discovered several other bones around the one they were trying to get at. So, again, they had to begin to dig around the “new” bones. They had hoped to extract the original bone by the end of this dig season, but they figure now it will be at least two entire dig seasons to do so.

Volunteers digging out a large bone buried since 2008.

Volunteers digging out a large bone buried since 2008.

If you look to the left of the orange cloth, you’ll see a round thing and that is one of the “new” bones.

If you look to the left of the orange cloth, you’ll see a round thing and that is one of the “new” bones.

That big bone, etc. was also covered up with plywood, carpets and dirt so as to protect it from the elements as well as people. They don’t dig every day and there is no security out there, so prevention is very important.

There is a popular “Trail of Time” just down the hill from the quarry where people can walk along a trail to see actual fossils sticking out of the ground/rock. Well-marked signs tell them what they are seeing and why such a critter might have been there. It is an informative trail for the average person and kid who are interested in dinosaurs.

Shirley and i at the end of the day.  Our digging area is all covered up.

Shirley and I at the end of the day. Our digging area is all covered up.

I found the volunteers working that day to be very dedicated to their work. The lead volunteer, Kay, had been volunteering for 30 years at the museum and the dig. Mitch and Chris consulted her as often as each other because she knew so much. Most of the other folks had been digging for 10 to 20 years. As I said, they are very dedicated. Carter, only 12, had been working at the museum in the lab for one winter and now he’s out at the dig being treated pretty as much an equal. Yes, he wants to be a paleontologist.

After our dig, Shirley and I were given a “behind the scenes” tour of the paleontology lab at the museum. We had a chance to view the largest femur (6’7”) of an allosaurus that was discovered at the quarry where Shirley and I dug.

An interesting note is that Mitch is pointing to bite and claw marks on the femur.

An interesting note is that Mitch is pointing to bite and claw marks on the femur.

Shirley is checking out some microscopic material that will eventually be teased out of its encasement.

Shirley is checking out some microscopic material that will eventually be teased out of its encasement.

I  am standing beside the front leg bones of a brachiosaurus that stand over 18’ tall.

I am standing beside the front leg bones of a brachiosaurus that stand over 18’ tall.

Can you imagine an animal that would have been about 85’ long and 40 to 50’ tall? The cool thing about the brachiosaurus is that it was first described by Elmer S. Riggs in 1903 from fossils found less than a mile from where I am standing. Right there in Fruita! Didn’t I say the Grand Valley was rich in fossils?

This is Fruitadens, a tiny adult dinosaur found in the Morrison formation just southwest of Fruita. It only weighed about one pound. Compare that to the Apatosaurus, found in the same rocks, that weighed in at 75,000 pounds!

This is Fruitadens, a tiny adult dinosaur found in the Morrison formation just southwest of Fruita. It only weighed about one pound. Compare that to the Apatosaurus, found in the same rocks, that weighed in at 75,000 pounds!

The Greeter

The Greeter

I loved the Dinosaur Journey Museum as it was clean, interactive, entertaining and informative.  Kids and adults were loving it!

Our third and last day was spent in the Moab, Utah area checking out dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs. It was a very fun day with again, seeing some spectacular colorful country.

shot of the Colorado River It was a gorgeous day looking toward the La Sal Mountains.

shot of the Colorado River It was a gorgeous day looking toward the La Sal Mountains.

Those little spires in the background are called Fisher Towers. The Towers are named for a miner who lived near them in the 1880s and are world renowned as a subject for photography and for its classic rock climbing routes.

Our first dino track was in some sandstone beside the highway. A spring was running nearby and people were stopping by to fill their water jugs with the spring water. Apparently, the water was polluted but they didn’t seem to care.

The track, to the left of the marker, is not large, maybe six inches. I think it was a small therapod.

The track, to the left of the marker, is not large, maybe six inches. I think it was a small therapod.

We next drove to Poison Spider, a well known place to take a trail to see some prints and petroglyphs.

The white marks on the rock are dino tracks. They are white because someone tried to cast them and left plaster marks in the tracks. That is a big no no.

The white marks on the rock are dino tracks. They are white because someone tried to cast them and left plaster marks in the tracks. That is a big no no.

The photo below is indicative of a fossilized dried lake bed. You probably can relate when you look at a dried up mud puddle with the cracked mud. This is the same principal. The bigger cracks are more toward the center.

The photo is indicative of a fossilized dried lake bed. You probably can relate when you look at a dried up mud puddle with the cracked mud. This is the same principal. The bigger cracks are more toward the center.

Julia, the museum curator, was describing the scene to us. Boy! Does she ever know her stuff! (They all did, but she was a good teacher)

Julia, the museum curator, was describing the scene to us. Boy! Does she ever know her stuff! (They all did, but she was a good teacher)

About 30’ above Julia was a rock face with many petroglyphs. They were etched onto the rock face by first the Fremont Culture and then the Utes.   The Fremont people tended to use triangular forms and I did not get a good picture of them. I believe that the Utes did the following pictures.

Ute petroglyphs

Ute petroglyphs

After lunch, we drove to a place called Mill Canyon where we saw an ancient crocodile tail marks as well as tracks. I could see it in real time but it didn’t come out well in the photo. The next track is by a medium sized theropod. The tracks we saw were from 7 to 14 inches long, which indicated a dinosaur about six feet tall at the hip. It lived about 112 million years ago.

A medium sized therapod track almost in the center of the picture

A medium sized therapod track almost in the center of the picture

An interesting fact is that the newer signs at that site and at the museum show feathers on the dinos. There is much recent evidence that many had feathers.

This is a dromaeosaur. It was about 4’ tall. Note the sickle like claw that must have been used for tearing the flesh of its victim.

This is a dromaeosaur. It was about 4’ tall. Note the sickle like claw that must have been used for tearing the flesh of its victim.

What amazed Shirley and me and made us marvel at paleontologists’ skills was that these tracks were out in the middle of a desert under several feet of dirt. What made them dig where they did to find such a treasure trove of tracks in that old lagoon-type pond? And then that led me to wonder if mankind will leave stuff/fossils that will be found millions of years hence. I wonder if Pampers fossilize.

Our last track site was at Copper Ridge where we got to see the huge tracks of a Camarasaurus made about 150 million years ago. This critter was a sauropod that topped the scales at about 50 tons and was about 75 feet long. It was a plant eater. An Allosaurus, a hunter capable of traveling up to 30 mph made other tracks in the area.

A Camarasaurus footprint.

A Camarasaurus footprint.

Our tour was a great success and Shirley and I enjoyed it to the utmost. We both learned a lot and can remember many terms, but we still find it difficult to identify the formations with their proper names. Perhaps someday…

Check out the black line and you’ll see why it’s named Serpents Trail.

Check out the black line and you’ll see why it’s named Serpents Trail.

Another activity that we did was to hike Serpents Trail in the Colorado National Monument. Called the “crookedest road in the world,” it had 20 switchbacks in 1.75 miles and gains 770 feet in elevation. When it was completed in 1921, most cars had no fuel pumps and had to back up the steep road to use gravity to make the fuel flow. It became a hiking trail in 1961.  It has gorgeous views of the Grand Valley, the Grand Mesa, Grand Junction and the beautiful formations within the National Monument.

This picture shows a switchback in the middle center, the Grand Valley with the Bookcliffs in the background.

This picture shows a switchback in the middle center, the Grand Valley with the Bookcliffs in the background.

On the trail

On the trail

Shirley took me out to see the Hanging Flume somewhere southwest of Grand Junction. We drove through the scenic and geologically unique Unaweep Canyon. The canyon goes uphill and then downhill (You say, of course it does, you ninny!) But at the Unaweep Divide, two creeks (East and West) flow…one to the east and one to the west. Unaweep is a Ute name that means “canyon with two mouths.”

Thimble Rock is impressive behind the Driggs Mansion, home of a pioneer in the early 1900s.

Thimble Rock is impressive behind the Driggs Mansion, home of a pioneer in the early 1900s.

The Hanging Flume was really impressive. It hangs out over the Dolores River. It was part of a 13 miles long canal and flume to deliver water from the river to gold mining operations. It literally hangs to the canyon wall for the last five miles of the flume. It gave me the jitters just to look at it and try to take a picture.

You can see the flume as a dark line about one third down on the smooth rock

You can see the flume as a dark line about one third down on the smooth rock

This trip was filled with spectacular sights, exciting adventure, and lots of good conversation. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do this and spend some time with Shirley and the Grand Valley.  Thank you, Shirley, for such a great time!

Shirley’s bee in a prickly pear blossom

Shirley’s bee in a prickly pear blossom

Shirley's back forty.  It's pretty with many blossoms and sometimes friendly rabbits and quail.  A deer even visited her neighbor's yard while I was there.

Shirley’s back forty. It’s pretty with many blossoms and sometimes friendly rabbits and quail. A deer even visited her neighbor’s yard while I was there.

One Response to “Rivers, Dinosaurs and Tracks & the Grand Valley, CO June 2015”

  1. Ruth Siebers June 17, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    I really enjoyed this (or these) I intend to forward to my son in law and Evelyn

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