A bright and early departure from Duchesne, east through Roosevelt, where I first begin to see life-sized replicas of dinosaurs scattered about the town. One dinosaur is wearing a cowboy hat and eating a slice of watermelon. I wonder what his ancestors would have to say about him.
The abruptly upturned rock formations that the southwest United States is known for begin to appear more frequently as we head east toward Vernal. A hard turn to the left and a long, looping, zigzagging road up a steep mountain on Highway 191 to Flaming Gorge National Park, Utah. The road took us through more fossilized dinosaur bones, a sort of museum on wheels, where road-side signs described the different geologic eras and the wild-colored chunks of earth that now stood upright from out of an ancient sea bed. Soon we were seeing signs telling us to watch out for wild animals–elk, moose, bear–but I watched intently and saw none. What I did see that caught my eye before we passed over the summit of the mountain was quite slender and graceful clumps of aspen trees. To me they looked like wild animals. We don;t see many aspen forests back home. Spotted bark and leaves going yellow made them look, to me, like a cross between a giraffe and a leopard. In the morning wind they would sway together as if animated, while cattle hid in the shade.
We had some long discussion about the possibility of a cache of Spanish gold hidden somewhere in these mountains, based on an historical marker we stopped to read along the road. The mystery of hidden gold continues to fascinate all, but as we reached the summit of the mountain and slowly worked our way down the back side of it and down to the dammed-up river now known as Flaming Gorge Reservoir, we met perhaps the most unique and interesting character of our whole trip half way across American and back. When I pulled Rosie into the parking lot of the interpretive center by the reservoir, a woman approached me from behind and began to interrogate me as though she were a policeman.
“Did you just drive down that mountain, sir?”
“Well, uh, yes!”
“Of course you did! You know how I know?”
“I followed you all the way.”
“And did you put on your brakes when you went around the sharp turns?”
“Uh, yes, mostly, I think so.” By now, I’m looking her over more carefully. What is her gig? I notice that she is now pinning some sort of little badge on the front of her blouse or jacket. I see it has something to do with the national park service. I still cannot tell why she is asking me all these questions, and with such stern, icy, condescending directness, as though I am on trial for murder.
“And did you signal a turn, sir, when you turned into this parking lot?”
“Well, uh, yes, I believe I did that. I normally would, so most certainly this would have been no exception.” Was there no room for levity with this person? Is it okay if I joke and say something silly to make her laugh or smile? After all, she’s not sporting a gun.
“Well, I want to tell you something sir?”
“Yes” What? What? What?
“I watched you on every turn coming down the mountain, watched you make that left-hand turn, and watched you park here.”
Oh my goodness, I think I’m going to pop or snap. What does she want?
“I want to tell you, sir, that your brake lights are not working, and that you turn signals are not working.”
“Thank you for noticing!”
“I thought you would like to know this! You are quite welcome, sir!” She walks away from me, head held high, with such an air of pride that she had performed her civic duty.
I walked into the interpretive center after crawling around under Rosie and looking for a loose connection. The woman sat behind the visitor’s desk. I looked at her once, she glared at me, and looked away. I quickly walked out with the sense that I’d had all the interpreting I needed done to me.
We missed the sign for the campground we were trying to find because it had fallen off the post and the park service had not gotten around to replacing it. I wondered why, as we drove another twenty miles out of our way, over some rough gravel roads, before turning around and seeing the sign when coming in from the backwards direction of the main flow of traffic. My sister and I tried to re-enact the scene with the woman in the parking lot, but we could not duplicate her performance. “Did you not notice the missing sign on the road of your park, madam?” Oh well, we had to get busy and find this campground and get settled in for the day, as a massive black cloud moved over us and began hissing thunder and lightning, as though we were under attack from a giant, resurrected, Utah dinosaur.
Early the next morning we drove out of the park and back down to the town of Vernal, looking for help in troubleshooting the situation with my tail lights, but could find none available. We tried swapping fuses out of the fuse panel, but they all worked just fine. The problem would continue to haunt us for another day. We thought that maybe in Denver or in Kansas City we might find an expert who could get directly to the problem.
I had brought my Kindle along. My sister had never put her hands on one, even though she is an ardent reader, and so she would open one of the ebooks and read some bit of inspirational thought to me. One of my daily favorites is Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom, as it usually speaks to me in some way that I know my troubled soul needs to hear. The reading she did this morning as we moved further east on Highway I-40 had something to do with connections, which caused us both to laugh because we thought for sure that something about Rosie had become unconnected. Cousin Cheryl had given me a walking stick that she had made, because I often stumble over uneven ground, and had much uneven ground ahead of me on this trip. I would put the walking stick between the truck and the camper, behind the cab of the truck, when I was not using it. Cheryl had emailed us and as an expression of her Mormon faith told us something to the effect that she was sending an angel to prevail over us for our safety. So the next time I put her walking stick back inside the bed of the truck, I looked down and found a big, fat loose wire. Sure enough, it was the missing connection we’d been stewing over for a couple of days. I plugged it in, never having seen it before when looking for things that might be unplugged, and we miraculously had our camper lights restored!
Near Jensen, Utah and the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers, we drove out to the Dinosaur National Monument and “wall of bones”, as we had been advised to do by a woman at a gas station who worked for the Utah tourist bureau. My Senior Pass, which I had bought earlier this year in Yosemite, allows old codgers and their fellow passengers to slip through the gates into national parks for free. We got into the park and rode a trolley up a hill side for perhaps a quarter of a mile to this wall. The wall is fossilized dinosaur bones that are embedded in a cliff and have been uncovered by paleontologists. The wall is enclosed inside a glass building to protect the fossils.
There is no other collection in the world as fine as this one. It seems that in a time long ago a large variety of living dinosaurs were grazing along the banks of a tropical river, when the river suddenly flooded and washed them away. The larger dinosaurs got stuck in a big pile together, like a log jam, only a dinosaur jam, and died in this big pile. Their remains became fossilized and became essentially a part of the stone in the mountainside until the fossil hunters discovered and unearthed them. I could walk the length of the glass building, perhaps a hundred yards, and view up close many different varieties of bones. I understand that there is no other such wonderful and diverse deposit as this anywhere in the world, so I spent some time looking and thinking over the spectacle.
Utah seemed so empty of people and of life once we left the few little towns that dot the highways, but the rocks and the bones we saw made me want to come back again and look over this unique scenery more carefully. But over another rolling range of empty hills and barren prairie and we arrived in Dinosaur, Colorado. We stopped and mailed postcards to kids back home, hoping they would notice where the cards were mailed from. Dinosaur was another dry and dusty little prairie town that looked neglected and forgotten. We’d already seen a few of these in Utah, so felt no urge to examine this one in any great level of detail. Rather, we had our eye set on reaching Steamboat Springs, Colorado sometime this day, a distance of 122 miles by Google accounting.
We had been told that we could camp in Steamboat Springs along the bank of the river and be within walking distance of hot springs, where we could go soak our road-weary, nearly fossilized bones. As we raced eastward the sun seemed to be lowering more quickly and we found a state park campground along the bank of the Yampa River in Craig, Colorado.
I suppose my career as a technical writer in Silicon Valley causes me to read things differently than others. It’s because of all the questions and what-if possibilities that engineers I have worked with like to add into technical documents. My mind has become accustomed to looking for missing information and adding it where I think it may be missing. This can make reading the camping fees in a campground, for example, more difficult than it should be. I may as well have been in a foreign country this day when trying to figure the right amount of money to put into the little yellow envelope to make the nice ranger people happy.
The information post where I needed to pay the camping fee had a long list of possible fees, and I was expected to pick and choose which of the possibilities might apply to me and then calculate the correct amount for my situation. After several minutes of reading and thinking over the consequences and variables of what this sign was attempting to express to us, we put into the little yellow envelope precisely what we thought was required.
Sure enough, within an hour or two a ranger came by and told us we had missed the amount by either two or four dollars, and told us we had to do another envelope with this extra money and do it before dark or the chief ranger would find out just where and how we had failed in our efforts, and we would then be subject to some other weird action from the chief. It was such a long song and dance for the two extra dollars that I wished I could send him back to the tail-light lady in Flaming Gorge, so that they might discuss it all with one another. But at least I now know why it is that I recently decided to retire.