My Return to Dinosaur and the National Park Service

May 30, 2014  •  2 Comments

Some of you may know I have worked for the National Park Service in the past. I started in the Tetons, then moved to Glacier, Carlsbad Caverns, and Denali until I joined AmeriCorps VISTA to attain my non-competitive eligibility. Now after 18 months away from the NPS I will we donning the “ol’ pickle suit” once again, this time at Rocky Mountain National Park. I will be doing interpretation and assisting with social media duties including managing the parks Instagram feed @RockyNPS (Make sure to follow us!). When I found out that I would not be starting until June 2, I immediately emailed Dinosaur National Monument to see if I would be able to organize a photo trip down the Yampa River. Last year, while with VISTA I visited many parks in the surrounding area and donated some of my photos to them. Dinosaur was one of those parks I visited and upon my first visit its beauty blew me away. The initial plan was to float me down the Yampa but it had already run dry for the season by the time schedules worked out. Alternatively, I was able to do a 4-day/3-night trip through Lodore Canyon. It was an amazing trip. I had a great time and the park extended me the invitation to return and do the Yampa the following season. Since high water for that river is in May, now seemed a great time to take advantage of the invitation, just before my summer season at Rocky.

To give you a little background on The Yampa, it is roughly 46 miles long, its waters come from Steamboat Springs, and it is the last large free-flowing tributary of the Colorado River System. Every year without a dam to stop it, the Yampa dumps huge amounts of woody matter into the Green, which is the starting point for all life in river systems. This woody matter feeds microorganisms and up the chain it goes to fish, fish to birds, etc. To put it another way, the Yampa is the lifeline of the Green River now that the Green is dammed. Yampa Canyon has been inhabited for more than 8,000 years and is evident in the form of rock art, prehistoric ruins, as well as historic ruins from late 19th century settlers.

These days, Dinosaur sees only about 12K boaters on the Yampa and the Green combined each year. To summarize, this park is an under-utilized and under-appreciated resource. Each time I visit I find out more about this amazing place and its spectacular diversity. So here is my attempt to convey how special a place Yampa Canyon is and how awesome of a time I had on my trip.

Arrival: I arrived to Dinosaur on the Quarry side and organized all my gear and food for the trip. I finished early and had a few hours to kill so I decided to go out for a walk around housing to see what sort of wildlife was in the area. I was surprised to find lots of birds including barn swallows, chipping sparrows, Say’s Phoebes, Western Meadowlarks, Spotted Towhees, and even a few new species for me; Bullock’s Oriole, Lark Sparrow, and a Western Kingbird. I also found out that the park has marmots, which is totally crazy to me because I am used to seeing them in alpine ecosystems, not in the desert. I hadn’t even started my trip yet and I was already finding lots of cool stuff to photograph.

Dinosaur SignDinosaur Sign

Welcome to Dinosaur

Barn Swallow (2) - Hirundo rusticaBarn Swallow (2) - Hirundo rustica

Barn Swallow

Eyes on the PrizeEyes on the Prize

Suspicious Siblings

Western Kingbird (3) - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird (3) - Tyrannus verticalis

Western Kingbird

Lark Sparrow - Chondestes grammacusLark Sparrow - Chondestes grammacus

Lark Sparrow

Lady and the TrampLady and the Tramp

Reminded me of Lady and the Tramp

Western Meadowlark - Sturnella neglectaWestern Meadowlark - Sturnella neglecta

Western Meadowlark

Gathering Nest MaterialsGathering Nest Materials

Mama Gathering Grass for Her Nest

Bullock's Oriole (3)- Icterus bullockiiBullock's Oriole (3)- Icterus bullockii

Bullock's Oriole

Day 1: We all met up at Park HQ made introductions, loaded the boats, and made for Deer Lodge. The two boatmen, Peter and Chris, have a combined 30+ years of experience in Dinosaur so I knew I was in for a great trip. The main purpose of the trip was to float me down and take photos of the Yampa for the park. In addition to the photos, the support team was keeping an eye out for leafy spurge, an invasive plant, so that they could pick it along the way.

Deer LodgeDeer Lodge

As we shoved off from Deer Lodge, the first stops we made were at the Henry Shank Cabin and “Fin” Chapman Dugout and 2-holer. They are both along the Yampa River before you enter the Canyon. I have seen some pretty great outdoor toilets in my life, and the 2-holer’s view is up there among the greats, but it is really special because it allows for a friend to join you.

Henry Shank CabinHenry Shank Cabin

Henry Shank Cabin

Fin Chapman Dugout and 2-HolerFin Chapman Dugout and 2-Holer

Fin Chapman Dugout and 2-holer

Fin Chapman Dugout and 2-Holer (2)Fin Chapman Dugout and 2-Holer (2)

​Fin Chapman Dugout and 2-holer

Once we entered the Canyon high canyon walls immediately surrounded us. Our camp for the evening was at Anderson Hole and we arrived in time to go on a short hike up one of the drainages. Along the way we were finding lots of fossils including crinoids, brachiopods, and ammonites. After the crew finished picking spurge, we headed back to camp just in time for a great along the river. We were even joined by a Western Grebe, which is also a new bird for me.

Fossilized Brachiopod (3)Fossilized Brachiopod (3)

Brachiopod Fossil

Fossilised CrinoidsFossilised Crinoids

Crinoid Stem Fossils

Fossilized AmmoniteFossilized Ammonite

Ammonite Fossil

Western Grebe - Aechmophorus occidentalisWestern Grebe - Aechmophorus occidentalis

Western Grebe

Anderson Hole SunsetAnderson Hole Sunset

Sunset at Anderson Hole

Day 2: The next day we got up and it was spitting rain, but cleared up by late morning. From Anderson Hole Campground there is a small Cabin in disrepair called Stubbs Cabin. If you stick your head in you can see the original stove and cabinets etc. It even had biological soil crusts growing on the roof, which means its pretty freaking old. From there we hit the river and we made our first stop after Teepee rapid and hiked to the Matt Rash Cabin. Along the way there were lots of cool wildflowers and great views of the shape of the Canyon.

Stubs CabinStubs Cabin

Stubbs Cabin

Inside Stubs CabinInside Stubs Cabin

Inside Stubbs Cabin

Wood's Rose - Rosa woodsiiWood's Rose - Rosa woodsii

Wood Rose

Scarlet Globemallow - Sphaeralcea coccineaScarlet Globemallow - Sphaeralcea coccinea

Scarlet Globemallow

Silvery Townsendia - Townsendia incanaSilvery Townsendia - Townsendia incana

Silvery Townsendia

Nuttall Larkspur - Delphinium nuttallianumNuttall Larkspur - Delphinium nuttallianum

Nutall's Larkspur

Desert Paintbrush - Castilleja chromosaDesert Paintbrush - Castilleja chromosa

Desert Painbrush

Matt Rash CabinMatt Rash Cabin

Matt Rash Cabin

Matt Rash Cabin InteriorMatt Rash Cabin Interior

Inside Matt Rash Cabin

Then we headed to Big Joe where we would grab lunch, scout the rapid and hike up the side canyon. As we made our way up the canyon we were greeted with great views of the river and some pretty impressive geology. After Big Joe we stopped and hiked up to Signature Cave, whose name is obvious once you make it in. The walls are covered in signatures and pictographs of all the people who had made their way to the cave before us. The cave also doubles as a hanging garden and we found some shooting stars, which are one of my favorite flowers. If you ever see one be sure to take a smell. One of my coworkers in Denali told me they smell like grape kool-aid and I was surprised to find out that they indeed do.

Mud Cracks Near Big JoeMud Cracks Near Big Joe

Giant Mud Cracks

Rafting Below Big JoeRafting Below Big Joe

Floating Below Big Joe

Johnson Canyon Rock Art and GrafittiJohnson Canyon Rock Art and Grafitti

Johnson Canyon Rock Art and Grafitti

Hiking to Signature CaveHiking to Signature Cave

Hiking to Signature Cave

Shooting Star - Dodecatheon pulchellumShooting Star - Dodecatheon pulchellum

Shooting Stars

Hiker in Signature CaveHiker in Signature Cave

Looking Out Signature Cave

Signature Cave PictographSignature Cave Pictograph

Rock Art in Signature Cave

We pulled into Mathers Hole campground where it was my turn to make dinner. As we were sitting under the Box elders eating delicious dinner, we were surround by little yellow birds singing and darting from tree to tree. I was able to grab a nice shot and figured out that they were Yellow Warblers, which is another new bird for me. By the time I made it up to the campsite it was already dark so I didn’t have an opportunity to see how cool of a spot we were in, but I would find out soon enough.

Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechiaYellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia

Singing Yellow Warbler

Day 3: My personal philosophy when shooting is that you only need to get one “keeper” any day that you shoot. Once I get that photo, the pressure is off for the remainder of the day and any additional keepers I get are icing on the cake. One of my favorite things is to wake up and immediately get that shot out of the way, and this was one of those days. I awoke to the sounds of birds and the sight of an awesome sunrise about to happen. Adrenaline kicked in and I jumped out of my bag and grabbed my camera. It was so awesome to watch the sun slowly creep down this massive overhang, continually changing the scene. After taking a few shots up by the place we slept I ran down to the river just in time for me to take my favorite shot of the trip.

Mathers Hole CampgroundMathers Hole Campground

Mathers Hole Sunrise

Mathers Hole AbstractMathers Hole Abstract

First Light on the Overhang

Sunrise at Mathers HoleSunrise at Mathers Hole

Light Breaks the Ridge on Mathers Hole

After the great sunrise we jumped on the river and pulled over to hike to a beckrock metate while Pete did a Tamarisk Leaf beetle test plot. For those of you that don’t know what Tamarisk is, it is an introduced plant species that has exploded in the last 50 years in the Desert Southwest. Without any predators, it has outcompeted the native species and now chokes off access to river ways for wildlife as well as recreational uses. Researchers had the idea to study the beetle and see if it could help with the containment of this tamarisk explosion. After 20+ years of study they found that it only eats the Tamarisk and they eventually released it into Dinosaur among other places. This park has been on the forefront of studying the effects of the beetle and most of the information about the beetle comes from the park.

Mano and Bedrock MetateMano and Bedrock Metate

Mano and Bedrock Metate

Peter Williams Recording Tamarisk Beetle DataPeter Williams Recording Tamarisk Beetle Data

Pete Recording Bettle Data

The next stop was for lunch and a quick hike up to Pat Lynch’ Cave. Then we jumped on the boat, floated to the other side and hiked to Mantle Cave where we found some great Fremont ruins and granaries. Our last stop before entering Outlaw Park was to some pictographs overlooking the river.

Hiking to Pat Lynch' CaveHiking to Pat Lynch' Cave

Hiking to Pat Lynch' Cave

Pat Lynch' SignaturePat Lynch' Signature

Pat Lynch's Historic Signature

Pat Lynch' CavePat Lynch' Cave

Looking out from Pat Lynch' Cave

Lunch on the RiverLunch on the River

Lunch on the River

Mantle Cave RuinsMantle Cave Ruins

Mantle Cave Granary

Mantle CaveMantle Cave

Mantle Cave

Fremont GranariesFremont Granaries

Fremont Granary

Lower Laddie Park PanoramaLower Laddie Park Panorama

Lower Laddie Park

Downstream View of Outlaw ParkDownstream View of Outlaw Park

Looking Downstream into Outlaw Park

Pictographs Above Outlaw ParkPictographs Above Outlaw Park

Fremont Pictographs

Once we made it into Lower Yampa the Canyon the light was just amazing. We were greeted with amazing canyon views around each corner and as the water grew still I knew that we were nearing the rapids. We were now on Warm Springs “lake.” It was the calm before the storm. Eventually we made it to the rapids where we got out to scout. After a good 20 minutes Pete and Chris had their lines scouted and we made our game plan. Both boats made near perfect lines past Godzilla, over Ledge, and past Maytag. It was the crux of our trip and we were out of it barely even wet. It was a huge relief since a few boats had already flipped there earlier in the season. Once we were out of the rapids we pulled over at our campsite and were greeted with amazing afternoon light. After a nice dinner it was off to bed so we could take an early morning to hike at the Confluence (Green and Yampa), now only a few miles away.

Rowing along the Tiger WallRowing along the Tiger Wall

Floating by the Tiger Wall

Rafting in Lower Yampa CanyonRafting in Lower Yampa Canyon

Lower Yampa Canyon

Rafting in Lower Yampa Canyon (4)Rafting in Lower Yampa Canyon (4)

​Lower Yampa Canyon

Rafting in Lower Yampa Canyon (5)Rafting in Lower Yampa Canyon (5)

​Lower Yampa Canyon

Rafting in Lower Yampa Canyon (6)Rafting in Lower Yampa Canyon (6)

​Lower Yampa Canyon

Scouting Warm Springs RapidScouting Warm Springs Rapid

Scouting Warm Springs Rapid

Warm Springs RapidWarm Springs Rapid

Warm Springs Rapid

Warm Springs Camp (3)Warm Springs Camp (3)

Warm Springs Camp

Warm Springs CampWarm Springs Camp

Warm Springs Camp

Warm Springs Camp (2)Warm Springs Camp (2)

Warm Springs Camp

Day4: We hit the river early and made it to the confluence around 9am. We decided that we were going to hike the Outlaw Trail to the ridgeline where we would be able to look down on Lodore Canyon and the confluence. This is when having experienced people like Pete and Chris with us REALLY started to show. Pete is also a photographer and a history buff. One of the cool projects that he has taken upon himself is to do repeat photos of early explorers that came to Dinosaur. This hike was to one of those spots. Needless to say it was breathtaking, in more than one way.

The Confluence and Bedrock MetateThe Confluence and Bedrock Metate

Bedrock Metate Overlooking the Confluence

The Confluence PanoramaThe Confluence Panorama

Overlooking the Confluence Wide

The Confluence Panorama (2)The Confluence Panorama (2)

Overlooking the Confluence

The Confluence (3)The Confluence (3)

Overlooking the Confluence Zoom

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensisRed-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis

Calling Red-tailed Hawk Seen From the Ridge

Pete Looking Down on Lodore CanyonPete Looking Down on Lodore Canyon

Pete Overlooking Lodore Canyon

Looking Down on the ConfluenceLooking Down on the Confluence

Overlooking the Confluence from the Ridge

After the hike we stopped at the confluence to visit with a friend that I used to with in Carlsbad, had lunch, and then went for a short hike in Lower Echo Park. On the way to find some rock art we came across some huge elk sheds that appeared to be from the year before, 8 in total. After getting back on the river we came across a family of Canada Geese, a Desert Bighorn ewe and lamb, and another new bird for me, the Lazuli Bunting. Then the wind started to pick up so we pulled into camp and hunkered down for the remainder of the night. Since this was the last night, I was really interested in getting some night photos.  All the other nights had been somewhat of a bust. So I woke up at about 2am to clouds and rain, but I decided to wait it out a little and I am glad that I did. Since there wasn’t a great foreground I decided to make one with my tent. I just set my camera on my pillow and started shooting away until I got the shot that I was looking for.

Elk ShedElk Shed

Chris Holding an Elk Shed

Lower Echo Park PictographsLower Echo Park Pictographs

Pictographs and Approaching Storm

Canada Goose and Goslings - Branta canadensisCanada Goose and Goslings - Branta canadensis

Canada Goose and Goslings

Ewe and Lamb on a ledgeEwe and Lamb on a ledge

Desert Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

Lazuli Bunting - Passerina amoenaLazuli Bunting - Passerina amoena

Lazuli Bunting

View from the TentView from the Tent

View From the Tent

Day 5: Today was the day that we would be taking out. It was a cold and rainy morning and I was not looking forward to sitting on the boat. We pushed on and wouldn’t you know it, the sun decided to make an appearance and it turned out to be the hottest day of the trip, which was great because we had a few rapids in Split Mountain to go through. Along the way we stopped to see the bison petroglyph and to look at a bald eagle’s nest in Island Park. It is actually the first document nest in the area. We made pretty good time through Island Park and geared up for the last rapids of the trip. With the water running pretty high it made for some fun splashy rapids and some great photo ops.

Ogre MiteOgre Mite

Orge Mite

Common Merganser - Mergus merganserCommon Merganser - Mergus merganser

Common Mergansers

Cliff Swallow Nests - Petrochelidon pyrrhonotaCliff Swallow Nests - Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Cliff Swallows and Nests

Bison PetroglyphBison Petroglyph

Bison Petroglyph

Pete Rowing in Island ParkPete Rowing in Island Park

Pete Rowing Through Island Park

Beaver in Island ParkBeaver in Island Park

Beaver in Island Park

Split Mountain PanoramaSplit Mountain Panorama

Rowing Towards Split Mountain

Floating Moonshine RapidFloating Moonshine Rapid

Moonshine Rapid

Moonshine RapidMoonshine Rapid

Moonshine Rapid

Floating S.O.B. Rapid (2)Floating S.O.B. Rapid (2)

S.O.B. Rapid

After Getting to do Lodore last year and Yampa this year, I would say that this place is quickly creeping up the list of my favorite parks. It has world-class geology, amazing human history, amazing rivers, opportunities for wilderness experiences and solitude, diverse wildlife, amazing hiking, oh, and dinosaur fossils. If you get the chance to visit I can’t recommend it enough. Even if you cant get on the river, just get away from the paved roads. I guarantee you won’t be sorry. And be sure to tell them Jake Frank said “Hey.”


Comments

3.Kelly(non-registered)
Awesome shots! I just ran the Yampa/Green last week and it was one of the best adventures of my life. Cool to see it from someone else's perspective.
2.JG(non-registered)
Thanks for the wonderful photos!
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