Wildfire at Dinosaur National Monument

“Hmm, wildfire,” I assumed as I looked before me as nature itself was being engulfed in flames. Billows of smoke stretched across the sky. “I should be fine,” I concluded and continued on my adventure. I was in Dinosaur National Monument, maybe the greatest underrated gem in the National Park Service. Straddling the border of northern Utah and Colorado among swirly canyon walls, Dinosaur National Monument boasts a landscape of twenty-three layers of red, grey, white, and beige rock, composing enormous formations looking like they bubbled up from the earth’s core. Along with that are gigantic plateaus overlooking the convergence of the Yuma and Green Rivers, along with forests, deserts, and savannah. Today it had the added feature of long stretches of traveling smoke from wildfire. 

The monument initially consisted of eighty acres set aside by president Woodrow Wilson in 1915 but then was expanded to 210,000 acres by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. It preserves the habitat of a once dinosaur metropolis. The National Park Service informs in their visitor center that it is believed the dinosaurs of the Jurassic period died here in drought and then a great rapidly ascending flood jumbled up together the bones of over five hundred dinosaurs representing ten species. The abundance of congregated fossils remains preserved in the sandstone. Paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered the first fossil remains here in 1909 and soon it was recognized worldwide as one of the sites of the most complete assemblage of dinosaur fossils.

Before I encountered the wildfire first hand, I found myself standing in the visitor center learning such facts and marveling at the enormous rock wall in front of me preserving over 1,500 individual dinosaur fossils. This was the exact site of Earl Douglass’ first excavation and now it is enshrined and preserved in the visitor center for all to enjoy. 

I had arrived the previous night to a reserved campsite at the Green River Campground in the park, and this morning I got up early to begin my exploration of the park. My first stop was this Quarry Visitor Center. Outside of the sleek 1960s visitor center stands a sculpture of a stegosaurus, popularized by the 1964 World’s Fair (the same one where Walt Disney debuted “It’s a Small World”). After of course not passing up the opportunity to get my photo with a stegosaurus, I walked into the visitor center dressed suitably for the occasion. I had bought myself a tank top on Amazon, specifically for visiting this park, with dinosaurs all over the front of it in neon colors of a 1990s retro style. Throughout the day, nearly everyone I came across complimented me on my dinosaur attire. In the exhibit I had obtained a pamphlet guide which explained which dinosaurs many of the fossils were of. After touring the exhibits, I went back outside to explore this strange land.

I was on the Utah side but left the park to get on highway 40 and cross over into the Colorado side. I passed through the town appropriately named Dinosaur and then re-entered the park at it’s other entrance. I wanted to get the full overview of the park by driving Harper’s Corner Road, the main stretch that runs through the park and incorporates numerous lookout points as it ascends the  mountainous plateau and ends at the peninsula which the road is named after. At the Colorado entrance there is another visitor center along with the park headquarters. As I looked around I heard a ranger on a walkie talkie talking about a wildfire. I thought very little of it, since wildfires are commonplace in the West, but I’d later see exactly what he was referring to. When I reached the first overlook I looked out upon a burning expanse. Many thoughts were in my mind. First I was reveling in the novelty of being able to witness such a marvel of nature, second I considered my safety, but then I concluded that I was probably in safe hands with the National Park Service. If there was a threat, the rangers would have closed this road or forced evacuation. Furthermore I’d be traveling away from the fire. So I got back in my car, eager to take in the next view point. 

Next I arrived at Escalante Overlook where I looked out from the plateau to see it curving around in the distance. In the middle of it’s beige cliffside, a banner of red rock streaks across the landscape where shrubs and pines burst up. The slide of rocks eventually rolls down to the canyon floor, which is neither level nor consistent but clumsily squeezes itself into whatever crevice the immense landscape provides. 

From here the road ascends higher above the plateaus to the mountains, where the landscape opens up to some wild grassland where one can look below and see a valley of grassland among spotted buttes and can so vividly imagine dinosaurs trampling and traversing the land. We as humans are so far removed from Dinosaurs that they almost seem like science fiction. This landscape is the world that has escaped the imagination. To be immersed in it is almost to escape reality for a moment.

After thirty-one miles I reached Harper’s Corner, the highest point in the park at 7,580 feet. I got out of my car for a short and windy hike to the overlook. The view was unparalleled to any other view in any National Park. Strikingly unique, one can gaze down upon a landscape that swirls every which way around the canyon of the Green River. It almost looks alive, like you can imagine just how it would go about moving. Right in front of me was what looked like a giant rock wave frozen in time with ripple after ripple, color after color, and twenty three layers of history. It is undoubtedly an epic view, among the best in the nation. I know that is a bold statement.  

As usual, when I am faced with something strikingly unique, I asked, what does this mean? I believe beauty is not wasted. It is designed to speak to us truths about God and life. But nothing. I got nothing. I praised God for his beauty, but I felt him silent. There was a reason for this. The silence of God, the blankness of my thoughts would hold meaning. I would learn about this soon enough. 

When I returned to my car the wind was really whipping and I could see a storm brewing in the distance. Rain is what we needed to quench the fires. When I opened my car door, the wind ripped it from my hand, and with my keys still in my hand, I uncontrollably keyed the side of my drivers door. This was not good. Not only did I have the dented hood from the rock falling down at Davis Mountain, but now I’d keyed my car. I was concerned what these damages were going to cost me when I turned the rental back in. It was one more thing to add to my list of misfortunes. 

When I got back to my campsite, I noticed a kind neighbor had partially disassembled my tent to shield the top opening from the rain, for the rain had indeed come through the canyon. I was thankful the inside of my tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress were all still dry. 

After checking back in at the rained on camp, the thoughts of forest fires had left my mind.  I went for an evening hike, the most meaningful of my trip. God would speak to me, a paradigm would shift, a wildfire would be set in my soul that would spread throughout my life, and a great peace would find me because of it.

Read the previous entry “Valles Calderas and the Land of Enchatment,” here: https://joshthehodge.com/2020/09/10/valles-calderas-and-the-land-of-enchantment/

Check out my book Canyonlands: my adventures in the national parks and the beautiful wild here: https://www.amazon.com/Canyonlands-adventures-National-Parks-beautiful/dp/1711397873

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