Rowing quietly past “Tiger Wall” on the Yampa River
Rafting and dinosaurs
—Barb and Ty Belknap
The floor seemed to move under our feet as we walked through the museum at Dinosaur National Monument. Here were some fifteen hundred dinosaur bones exposed in a hillside where they were fossilized 150 million years ago. The museum is a unique structure built right over the world-famous quarry discovered by Earl Douglass in 1909.
The Age of Reptiles lasted about two hundred million years. A display at the monument reminds viewers that the "Age of Man" had lasted only a paltry couple of hundred thousand years. We had spent the last few nanoseconds of geological time floating the Yampa and Green Rivers through the entire monument that extends from northwestern Colorado into Utah.
The museum floor, suspended by steel cables, actually was moving under foot. We thought at first that the sensation resulted from being inside for the first time in a week, or maybe from too much time afloat in the sun, or from dehydration, or from consuming the dwindling beer rations while rigging down the rafts. The visit to the museum was brief. It was closing time, and we wanted to cross Douglas Pass through the mountains to Grand Junction before dark.
You'd have to really be into dinosaurs to drive the twelve hours from Sandoval County to the park just to look at the bones, but the National Monument offers much more to campers and hikers who come to enjoy the natural splendor. Some of the best sights on the river can be hiked into. You can drive to Echo Park to have a look at the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers where the nineteenth-century explorer John Wesley Powell was rescued by a pair of long underwear dangled down to the ledge where he was trapped on Steamboat Rock. There is also evidence of six thousand years of occupation by prehistoric people.
Manuevering through Warm Springs rapid with a dinosaur-sized load
Much of the 330-square-mile monument is a desert, so our little group of rafters and kayakers preferred to do the touring by boat. It's a great way to leave the crowds behind and reserve the best campsites. This way you can select people with whom to share all the natural wonders, and load up all the food, refreshments, and comforts of home. We even have several of rafters with banjo, fiddles, guitars, and mandolin. Every night brings another hootenanny and sing-along. Rowing one of the loaded-down rafts is like rowing a dead dinosaur down the canyon to be deposited in the quarry below.
Every day on the last free-flowing river in the Colorado River System brings more loading and unloading, pitching tents and taking them down, cooking, washing dishes, and constant conversation. Sometimes it was more like a week-long party than a wilderness experience, but every time you looked around, there was another spectacular view and an opportunity to climb around in multicolored geologic formations displaying a billion-year-old record of changes in the earth's crust.
The water level was high, but offered few serious challenges to a reasonably competent oarsman. Most of the rapids were just big waves to punch through head-on. Everybody gets excited about Warm Springs Rapid, the site of Boy Scout fatalities some years ago when a rock slide created the rapid in previously calm water. It's not easy to negotiate the big drop and miss the recirculating hole at the bottom. We watched one large raft flip, but its passenger’s somehow stayed out of the hole.
After the confluence with the Green, the river doubles in size and flows through Whirlpool Canyon, where crazy eddies and whirlpools flipped some of our kayakers and provided great excitement as we made the the dramatic narrow passage through steep dark walls. Finally, the last nine miles from Split Mountain was a roller-coaster ride through numerous rapids.
Permits to float the Yampa are obtained through a lottery system and are greatly prized by rafters. Commercial river trips ranging from several hours to several days are available if you don't have a group of rafting buddies. For more information, visit the Dinosaur National Monument web site at www.nps.gov- /dino, or 970-374-3000, or write to Dinosaur National Monument, 4545 E. Highway 40, Dinosaur, Colorado 81610.