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Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal, UT

Louise Speaks:  After getting a bite to eat, we once again crossed state lines into Utah to find the Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah side.  This park contains over 800 paleontological sites and has fossils of dinosaurs including a nearly complete skull, lower jaws and first four neck vertebrae of the specimen DINO.  The park was declared a National Monument on October 4, 1915.  Visitors from all over the world travel to Northeastern Utah to see the vast stretches of visible evidence that these monstrous creatures once roamed the earth.


Dinosaur National Monument spans more than 200,000 acres.  Thousands of fossils were discovered here in 1909, and 80 acres were declared a protected national treasure in 1915.  The huge expansion came later, in 1938, to protect the site’s extensive natural history.  In addition to dinosaur fossils and dinosaur footprints, this part of Utah is home to many ancient petroglyphs  and pictographs.   As stated in a previous post,  the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument is an excellent destination for accessing deep canyons along the Yampa and Green Rivers. The Colorado side offers some glorious river views, but doesn’t say much about dinosaurs.


We were more interested to see dinosaur fossils and footprints, which can be found on the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.  This is where the world-renowned dinosaur quarry is located, where dinosaur digs have uncovered a wealth of prehistory.  More than 1,500 fossils are still embedded in the cliff face here.  During the summer you can take a shuttle bus  between the Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall.   However, since it is October we were only able to tour the Exhibit Hall and Visitor Center.

Although almost all visitors come for the  main attraction, which is a steep cliff face, now enclosed within a large building, covered by hundreds of large fossilized dinosaur bones.  Some visitors choose to see a few dinosaur bones  viewed on a nearby trail.  For 50 miles north and east, the land becomes mountainous, and a large area of colorful canyons and ridges is protected within the monument boundary.  We chose to stay at the Exhibit Hall and see the bones from an air conditioned building.  The famous quarry building is located a quarter of a mile from the entrance road at the edge of the Split Mountain foothills.  Not sure if the Quarry was even open as it is October, but the Quarry  protects the source of the largest single collection of bones from the Jurassic period ever found.

As we left the Visitor Center there is a scenic drive, still within the Dinosaur National Monument, that leads to the Josie Morris Cabin.  The Josie Bassett Morris Ranch Complex comprises a small complex of buildings where Josie, a small-time rancher and occasional accused stock thief, lived until 1963.  The ranch,  was established by the Bassett family in the 1870s.  Josie grew up there, and through her family came to know a number of outlaws, including  Butch Cassidy,  who frequented the area.   From her mother’s example and from growing up on a cattle ranch, Josie learned the skills of riding, roping, shooting, cattle raising, and strong-willed independence. She was tried and acquitted for cattle rustling in her 60s and made brandy and wine from local fruit and berries during Prohibition.

A succession of five husbands made Josie notorious.  She divorced four of them, a scandalous process in those days, and was widowed once.  That husband died, most likely of acute alcoholism, although some claimed Josie had poisoned him.  She was never free from rumors.  In 1924 she built a new cabin.  While clearing brush for her new gardens, Josie became very frustrated by her long skirts which got in the way.  So, she switched to wearing pants, almost unheard of in those days.  For work she wore bib overalls; for trips to town she donned western-cut twill trousers.  Skirts were reserved for funerals and weddings.  One day while working her long, curly red hair, which she coiled on her head, became entangled in the thorns. She cut herself free with an axe and then finished the shearing job with scissors.  From then on she wore her hair short. Josie had broken with convention once again and created her own distinctive style.

Josie continued living in the cabin for over fifty years until she fell on ice and broke her hip in 1963.   She died the following year at the age of 90.   The ranch house started as a low square log cabin, with a kitchen added later.  The cabin now has 4 bedrooms.  The house is surrounded by dependent structures, such as a chicken house, outhouse, root cellar, sheds and a small barn.  A bridge provided access to the root cellar, located across the creek.  The Morris ranch complex was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 19, 1986.


We spent more time at Josie’s cabin than we did at the Dinosaur bones.  The fall colors, the location, the nearby creek, was just the cutest place.  On our way out of the cabin area, we passed Turtle Rock along with other rock formations.  Quite an interesting day.

Originally I would give the Dinosaur National Monument a C rating…the bones didn’t do much for me, but after spending time at Josie’s Cabin, I would recommend coming here and it now gets a B rating...especially in October because of the fall colors.


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Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur, CO

Louise Speaks:  While trying to complete the state of Colorado, we discovered that we missed going to the Dinosaur National Monument.  The area actually crosses state lines and is also in Utah.  We are seeing them both but I’ll blog about the Utah part separately.  I love coming this way in October because both Colorado and Utah have incredible fall colors at this time of the year.  October is a great time to as the weather is at its best.

Driving to the National Monument on the Colorado side, you literally have to go back and forth between Colorado and Utah at least 3 times, so we kept crossing the state line every couple of hours.  The drive however was just beautiful.  By the time we got to the Monument I was a bit disappointed.  There was nothing there.  The visitor center had been closed for the winter but we did find a map for the dinosaur loop.  We took the map and back in the car we went.  However, after 10 miles and three pull out points we looked at each other and said…”what are we looking at?”  This by far is and was a waste of time.  I would not recommend this destination to anyone.  However, as we left the monument and went thru the town of Dinosaur,CO there are many metal dinosaurs throughout town.  If we had kids with us, these could have been fun stops, but for us it was just a photo op.  The National Monument in Colorado gets a D rating.  Even if the Visitor Center would have been open, this would not be worth a stop.

We were told the Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah side is much more detailed and more worthy of visiting.  So off we went as that was our next stop.

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Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Bowie, AZ

Louise Speaks:   As well as visiting all the State Parks in Arizona, we are also planning on visiting all the National Parks and Monuments.   A National Monument is a protected area that is similar to a National Park,  but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government. Under a proclamation by the President of the United States, it is labeled a National Monument. National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: including the National Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act  of 1906.  This trip was to include two National Monuments but one was not accessible by RV so we will have to come back and visit Ironwood by car.  However, Fort Bowie Natinal Historic Site is on our agenda.

Following directions from Catalina State Park in Tucson, led us in the middle of nowhere.  Then we hit freeway construction and of course our exit was closed.  That made us take the next exit and enter the town of Bowie from the back side.  Luckily for us there was a sign showing us which way to go to reach the fort.  We drove along this very narrow highway until we saw a road that we think we were suppose to turn on.  See just another adventure.  Anyway, we turn on the road, and it’s a dirt road.  Did I mention we are in a motor home?  A fairly large motor home?  Traveling with Thelma and Louise is not always about the destination, it is almost always about the adventure.  So we continue on this dirt road with the dirt in our rear view mirror.  Finally we come to a sign and it says straight for trail or left for handicap and Fort.  Not sure which way to go, we go towards the Fort.  Now let me back up.  We were already informed that this was a “hike in Monument”.  We were told that you had to park and hike in a mile and a half to get to the Visitor Center.  Of course that means you have to hike a mile and a half out and back to your car.  We weren’t sure if we were going to do that, but we knew we had to at least get a picture of the sign.  So now we are headed off to what we think is the fort.  We drive at least 5 miles, still on a dirt road and we see a turn off…up a hill…and it says “Park Residence”.  Well that’s not where we’re headed but we knew we couldn’t go straight as that was through a very small gate and there is no way we would fit.  So up the hill we go.  At list this part was paved, but it was nothing more than a driveway.  We get to the top and there is a very small parking lot…room for maybe 3 cars.  So we just park as best we can and we take up at least two spaces and most of the driveway but it does appear that we are the only ones here so we’re not too concerned.  We look around and see no one.  We do see a building that bears a sign “maintenance”.  We walk around looking for someone or something to let us know where we are.  Finally there is a piece of wood, with painted on writing that says “Visitor Center 500 feet”.  It points up a dirt stairway up a small hill.  Not really sure where it leaves, we head up the hill.  At the top is…well we are shocked.  It is the Visitor Center.  The one that we were told was a 3 mile round trip hike to reach.  Right in front of the Visitor Center is Fort Bowie in all it’s glory.

Fort Bowie was a 19th-century outpost of the United States Army.   This particular location was picked due to the water supply available.  The remaining buildings and site are now protected as Fort Bowie National Historic Site.  Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862 after a series of engagements between the California Column and the Chiricahua Apaches.  The most violent of which was the Battle of Apache Pass in July 1862.  The fort was named in honor of Colonel Bowie  commander of the 5th Regiment Infantry  who first established the fort.  The first Fort Bowie resembled a temporary camp rather than a permanent army post.  In 1868, a second, more substantial Fort Bowie was built which included adobe barracks, houses, corrals, a trading post, and a hospital.  The second Fort Bowie was built on a plateau about 500 yards  to the east of the first site. For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass  were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahua Apaches.  The fort was abandoned in 1894.

The Fort Bowie and Apache Pass site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station.    The mile and a half hiking trail to the old fort passes other historic sites such as Apache Spring, Siphon Canyon, the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Stop and Bascom’s Camp.  We missed these sites because we found this short cut and we are happy we did.  We still didn’t find a sign and were told the only sign is by the parking lot where you park and take the trail to the fort.  So we managed to get out of that small parking lot and head back to where we made the original turn and headed for the hiking trails.  We found the parking lot and the Fort Bowie sign and then continued down the 8 mile dirt road to the Freeway.

Some interesting facts.  In 1958 a Western entitled Fort Bowie was made, starring Ben Johnson.  This was before it was declared a National Monument.  The film charted one of the disputes between the US Cavalry based at the fort and the Apaches.  The Chiricahua Apaches were first sent to Fort Marion in Florida, then Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, and finally Fort Sill in Oklahoma.  If you go to our Ft. Sill Blog you will see Geronimo’s Grave site.

As I have mentioned many times before, I’m not that much into history, but setting out a goal to see all the National Monuments is giving me a history lessen whether I want it or not.  There is a small museum in the Visitor Center and you are able to spend as much time as you want walking around the fort and seeing what remains of the various buildings.  The fort is pet friendly so Gracie was able to join us on our adventure.  There really isn’t much here but remains of the fort.  They have done nothing to perserve the fort, but I guess that was history.  If you are out this way, when the weather is good, NOT in the summer, it would be an interesting stop.  But the trouble to get here, I’m not sure it’s worth the time.  Fort Bowie gets  a C rating.  It’s okay, because we stumbled on it by accident, but I wouldn’t have made the 3 mile round trip hike to see it.