Monday, May 29, 2017

The Stars and Dinosaurs of Moab

In the Land of the Dinosaurs

In the original Ute language, "Utah" actually means "Land of the Dinosaurs."

Ok... No it doesn't. I just completely made that up.

It doesn't mean that, but...

Our time in Utah did take us through many prehistoric landscapes that are a vivid reminder of the intense geologic forces that shape our planet. While driving on the high-elevation plateau between Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon, you’ll often see large fields of black igneous rock and the telltale outlines of cinder cone volcanoes in the distance. We saw the canyons shaped by millions of years of erosion, and the arches, and the unique monocline of Waterpocket Fold. Perhaps most dramatically, there’s also Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands, evidence of a massive impact event a long, long time ago.

But at none of our stops was the past more visible and “alive” than the little piece of BLM land outside of Moab: The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite.

There’s only one of those brown BLM signs to mark the spot where you turn off the main (paved) road onto a semi-maintained unpaved road. You drive along for a while, until you reach a large parking area.

Educational sign at Moab's Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite

Standing in front of some of the fossilized algae beds

You walk along the sidewalk until you see these... Lots of these:

A long, long time ago this now bone-dry area was swampy and temperate.

Some of the tracks are more obvious than others, but signs helpfully explained the origins of the tracks and pointed out which tracks belonged to which dinosaurs (or crocodiles, in one case.)

Further along the road there’s apparently a spot where you can see fossils embedded in the cliff side. Unfortunately, the trail got dustier and dustier, and eventually my little rental car couldn’t make it any further.

As in, I got stuck.

Fortunately, in spite of the fact that it was nearly dark at this point, a pickup driver was coming back along the same road and the driver was able to push us out of the deepest dirt, giving us enough leverage to turn around and head back out the way we came (as quickly as possible.)

I just like this picture.

Dark Skies

We came back to Arches after nightfall to try our hand(s) at star photography again.

It’s impressive how much quieter (and even slightly creepy) the park gets after dark (though there are still just enough cars driving by on the road below to mess up most extended shots.)

I got bored waiting for the Milky Way to rise...

Ok, so most of my photos didn't turn out all that well - but from looking at dinosaur tracks to looking at the galaxy. I'd say it was a pretty good day. 

In Summary

One frustrating aspect of a whirlwind trip of an area as large as Southern Utah is all the places we have to miss along the way. We’re able to hit all the national parks—but then there are all the smaller spots we don’t have time for: various slot canyons in the Zion area, numerous stops along Route 12 (especially Calf Creek Falls), Grand Staircase National Monument, Goblin Valley, Dead Horse Point, Scenic Highway 128 out of Moab (which runs along the Colorado River), and so on.

Plus, I would have liked to take a 4x4 tour deeper into the heart of Capitol Reef.

And even outside the parks and monuments, Utah is filled with strange and memorable landscapes. One area that particularly stood out to me was the section of I-70 between (approximately) Richfield and the interstate’s beginning (or end) in Cove Fort. You drive up mountains, and past strange and twisted canyons and ravines that sometimes seem to stretch far off into the distance. It’s alien and remote, but beautiful. I want to go back and pull off at all the scenic overlooks and take lots of pictures.

But I guess that’s what “next time” is for.

1 comment:

  1. Another great post. You did a lot more exploring in your week and a little over than we've done in 17 years. Sure would like to see some of the sights you did but will probably never get to. Especially since dad prefers international travel. You did get to see some pretty good stars too.