Part 31: Flaming Gorge, WY to Echo Park, UT


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The Trip

Our remote camp on the shores of Flaming Gorge reservoir was good.  Consistent with the National Weather Service's prediction, the wind blew hard until sunset.  We had steady winds of 35-40 mph at our camp which blew dust, sand and spray from the lake onto the camper.  The good news about the wind was that 1) it kept it cool; and 2) it blew the bugs away.  After sundown, the wind died down and the bugs came in force so we retired to the camper.  But thousands of the little creatures managed to find their way inside resulting in a frenzied kill-fest with our electrified bug paddle.

The photos below are what we saw.

Next morning as I was preparing to exit the camper I spotted this rabbit attempting to eke a subsistence from the barren terrain.  Note the notches in its ears; it appeared as if it had been in a tussle with something.

There was a gaggle of geese that had been feeding on the lake shore grasses the previous night and they returned with several marine birds: a pelican and a seagull.

The story here is not the stark barrenness of our camp but rather the poor air quality.  During the night, we awoke to the smell of fire.  Not a camp fire but rather a brush fire.  Most Californians are attuned to the smell of burning grass and that is what got our attention.  We felt that we were safe and that since the wind was coming from the west (over the lake) and there were substantial expanses of open ground between us and any grass, we noted the situation and went back to sleep.  The next morning when I went outside, the pall of smoke was apparent.  We never did determine the actual location of the fire but it must have been rather large as the poor air quality persisted for many miles south of our camp.

Since it was now light, I took a photo of the hillbilly repair on our bike rack.  It is ugly but it is robust.  This patch should get us back to San Diego without further incident.  Besides, what do you want for $40?

We broke camp and continued south along Flaming Gorge road which follows the eastern shore of the reservoir.  From one of the high points we got an expansive view of the lake but the smoke in the air degraded the quality of the scenery.

After many miles of dirt, Flaming Gorge road finally intersected US-191 and we turned south toward Dutch John, UT.  Along the way, we could see many hogbacks that were the result of faulting, uplifting and erosion.  These hogbacks expose layers of rock that are normally hundreds or thousands of feet underground.  In addition to being visually appealing they make it easier to explore for buried minerals.

From an overlook near Dutch John, UT we got a nice view of Flaming Gorge reservoir close to the dam.  Note the bridge in the upper left of the photo above.

The bridge on US-191 was built as part of the dam project.

Flaming Gorge dam is almost 500 feet tall and is used as part of the Colorado River Storage Project.  In addition to water storage the dam produces hydroelectric power.  The inlets for the turbines are the 3 square boxes in the center of the dam.  There are tours that take you inside the dam to the turbine gallery and control rooms.  After nine-eleven security was beefed up.  Back in the 1990s Kathleen and I visited the dam and while looking at the control room I noticed some flashing indicator lights.  But, there were no personnel in the control room.  We waited several minutes and still no personnel.  Finally, when a person appeared, I was jumping up and down and waving my arms to get this fellow's attention to point out the alarm.  He saw me and came out of the room to see what was wrong.  When I told him about the alarm light he replied "Oh, that.  Yeah, it does that sometimes.  Do you know anything about this stuff?"  I replied "Yes, a little, but you are not going to ask me to debug your system are you?".  He stated "No, but I thought that you might like to see inside the facility".  Hell yes!  He took us through the entire control room, through the turbine gallery and below the gallery to the turbine bearing room.  At that point, we were below the bottom of the lake and the turbines were above us rumbling away.  The entire dam was vibrating from the rotation of the massive turbines.  I asked him about the vibration and he told me that balancing the turbines was a big deal.  They have to be balanced or the vibration will damage the bearings, the mounts and the dam.  I wondered how such a feat was accomplished on a massive chuck of metal and he said that there was a fellow that worked in Denver that did this for a living.  He comes to the site and spends weeks there getting things just right.  He was very old-school and used a network of piano wires to do his job.  The worker added that the fellow has since retired and now they use laser measuring equipment.  He further added that the old guy did a better job; the lasers are quicker but the manual method produced a smoother result.  He also made a comment about lubrication used in the turbine bearings.  He stated that the "enviros" forced a switch from petroleum-based lubricants to vegetable oil and that no good came from that.  The bearings now wear out regularly at great cost both to repair/replace the bearings and from the turbines not producing electricity during the maintenance interval.  Water quality tests never showed any contamination due to the lubricant, but the change was made anyway.  And, if petroleum contamination was a concern, why are power boats allowed to use the reservoir?  That is why they are called "enviro-mentals" with the emphasis on the "mental".

Looking north from the dam site, we could see a bald stripe on the hogback.  I thought this was the result of a natural gas pipeline but I learned the following day that it is a liquid phosphate pipeline that runs from Vernal, UT to the Union Pacific main line at Rock Springs, WY.

A view of the face of Flaming Gorge dam.

From Flaming Gorge, we headed south on US-191 over the Uintah Mountains to Vernal, UT.  We spent the night in an RV park in the town, did a re-supply action including food, diesel and propane and did laundry.  Next day, we headed out to Dinosaur National Monument.  DNM is on the face of a very large monocline, see above.  The "up and to the left" curve of the terrain is due to the monocline and subsequent erosion has exposed large faces of sandstone.

Visible on the face of the exposed rock are sections that reflect a marine environment in the distant past.  The ripples in the sandstone are visible in the photo above.

The more durable strata that were exposed in the monocline result in hogbacks.  The less durable strata are eroded away.

The fossil quarry at DNM is on the exposed face of one of these hogbacks.  The discovery of the bones, like most great discoveries, was happenstance back in the early 1900s.  But once the discovery happened men of science came west and revealed the true wonder of the discovery.  The bones above about 4 feet in length.

This section of the hogback is rife with specimens.  The claim is that this was once a river bed and that the dinosaurs had died due to drought.  But, a flood came and washed the carcasses downstream but they settled in a bend in the watercourse.

Some of the bones were scattered, some were still attached to carcasses.  Above is a spinal column.

Two femurs.  The head of the femurs are pointing down.  Looking at these, being a curious person, several things come to mind.  First, is to note that the morphology of a femur bone has not changed all that much from the Jurassic period.  Second is to wonder about the bearing surface of the head of the femur.  The shafts of the bone were very well preserved, but the rough surface of the head of the femur makes me wonder if these animals had a disease that eroded the joints; something similar to arthritis in humans?

A complete fore-limb segment.

A smattering of bones from various species.  Note part of a rib cage in the upper right.

A segment of tail that has been indexed.

This intact head is about 2 feet long, complete with gnarly teeth.

From the quarry at DNM we decided to head east, then north.  We left the are on US-40 and got another view of the large monocline.  The curvature of the bedding is dramatic and the forces required to accomplish this are almost unimaginable.

We decided to go to Echo Park on the Green River.  Our route took us over a 7800' plateau and then on the north side we had do descend into the Green River canyon.  From the plateau we got a great view of a portion of the valley to the northeast.  The road was steep and narrow but the exhaust brake on Thor did it's job well.  The descent into the canyon from the plateau took a full hour.

Down the face of the plateau and past the flats we again descended into deeper layers of sandstone.

Along the way we passed an abandoned ranch and corrals.

Now here is some HARD LIVING.  These folks lived in a log cabin with a mud roof.

We got our first view of Echo Park on the Green River.  The canyon walls are perhaps 1,000 feet tall, maybe higher.

It was about 1830 when we arrived so the shadows were starting to overtake the canyon floor.

A view of the canyon walls from our campsite.  A sense of scale can be obtained from the outhouse at the bottom center of the photo.

The southern rampart was just as imposing.

Thor settled in the trees with the canyon walls on the opposite side of the Green River in the background.

This was a very pleasant segment of the trip.  We both liked the remote camp on Flaming Gorge, high winds notwithstanding. Flaming Gorge is one of our favorite areas and we have been here several times in the past.  We will surely return.  Echo Park was a pleasant surprise; we decided to go there without any knowledge of what existed at the other end of the trail.  The trip to the canyon floor was long and slow, but not rough.  Just steep.

Tomorrow, we will head south to points unknown.

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