Dinosaur National Monument is one of the most unique places on earth, partly because it is home to one of the richest known fossil beds. There are bones from over 500 dinosaurs and ten species entombed in ancient river sediments called Morrison sandstone. The remains date back to the Jurassic Period 150 million years ago. While the fossils, including over 1,500 bones embedded in the great wall in the Quarry Exhibit Hall are the main attraction at Dinosaur, there’s so much more. Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Colorado-Utah line. The canyon side is in Colorado and the fossil rich land is in Utah. If you’re looking for remoteness, the deep canyons of the Green and Yampa Rivers will wow you on the Colorado side. My favorite hike there is Harpers Corners. It’s worth the 31-mile drive to get to the trailhead. If it’s your first visit to Dinosaur, I recommend doing the auto-tour on the Utah side to see petroglyphs, the unusual topography of Split Mountain and the lush riverbed of the Green River. I find Dinosaur magical. If I’m road tripping to see dear friends in Heber City, Utah, I almost always take the Highway 40 route just so I can stop in Dinosaur.
I had hiked into the wash on the Sound of Silence trail but hadn’t hiked the entire 3.2-mile loop. That changed on my recent visit, which happened to be the fourth time for me to explore Dinosaur. I was road tripping back to Denver and started hiking late morning. I had only hiked a few minutes when I stopped to take a couple of pictures and encountered the only person I would see. I offered to take her picture with the stunning backdrop, and she took one of me too. We chatted for a few minutes exchanging hiking stories before she headed to her car to drive back to Salt Lake City and I headed deeper into the Sound of Silence, considered one of the quietest places in the West.
The first quarter of a mile across the valley floor is very easy. As you enter the wash, or intermittent stream bed, there’s a beautiful giant Fremont cottonwood tree.
I decided to hike the loop clockwise following the trail guide I paid a dollar for at the trailhead. This takes you in and above the wash first. I stopped to admire the rounded mounds of Nugget Sandstone. They formed 200 million years ago when wind-blown sand dunes moved across the desert. There are 23 geologic layers exposed in Dinosaur National Monument. The Nugget Sandstone was just one layer I’d hike through on this trail.
After 0.3 miles in the Red Wash, the trail goes up and out of it. I started noticing wildflowers in the desert vegetation of greasewood, sagebrush and junipers hiking along this stretch paralleling the wash. I came up to an interesting rock overhang made up of two large rocks. It’s one of the only shady spots on the trail. I hiked about another 50 yards and the trail went back into the wash.
After about five minutes, the trail turned to right into a narrow path winding through weathered hills. This area was part of the Moenkopi Formation. 250 million years ago it was a shallow, watery environment. It looks inhospitable, but I delighted in seeing my favorite desert wildflower, the vivid red Indian Paintbrush.
I weaved my way through the Moenkopi Formation and climbed up to the high point on the trail. As I walked along the fairly flat part of the trail, I got an incredible view of Split Mountain and its anticline, the upward fold of rock which was compressed and wrinkled when the Rocky and Uinta Mountains formed 70-40 million years ago. I thought the colorful landscape look like an artist’s palette with colors ranging from burnt orange to aquamarine.
The trail then climbed up to a rock outcropping. I slowly spun in a circle taking in the 360° view before I started my descent. The landscape briefly changed to slick rock, tan sand and scrub trees before switching back to a red sandstone just before I came upon an unexpected short steep incline. From the top, I had a great view of the red rock formation called “The Racetrack.” Its banked “lanes” are made up of the Triassic-aged Moenkopi and Chinle Formations.
As I hiked down from the red rock ridge, I noticed some cairns, or small rock piles marking the trail. You need to follow those as the trail quickly turns into a huge swath of slick rock. You can climb all the way up for a panoramic view. I opted to not do that since I was hiking solo. Instead I enjoyed the stripes in the slick rock as I carefully walked down it. This is the northern edge of the Colorado Plateau and the area commonly called “Red Rock County” extending to the Four Corner region. There are 27 national parks and monuments in the high desert region of the plateau with Dinosaur being the northernmost one.
Shortly after the swath of slick rock, I encountered a short rock scramble. It’s not that difficult but using your hands helps navigate the steepest section of the descent.
Once back in the sand, I knew I was close to the end of the loop. As I stepped back into the wash, I stopped to enjoy the giant Fremont cottonwood one more time before walking back to the trailhead to complete the 3.2-mile hike and savoring the Sound of Silence as I listen to the birds sing, lizards scurry and wind rustle the desert vegetation.
Make sure you have lots of water and sun protection on this hike. There is very little shade. In summer, it’s best to do this hike early in the day.
On my way out I stopped to see the petroglyphs in what’s called Swelter Shelter. Like I said, there’s a lot to explore in Dinosaur National Monument.
Author Jennifer Broome has hiked extensively in Utah. Check out some of her other blogs including hiking and road trip gems in Utah, Overlook Trail in Zion and Foreman Hollow Trail near Heber City.
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