“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
? Jack Kerouac, On the Road
On Saturday August 23, 2014, armed with endless hours of Game of Thrones Book audiobooks and the new Angus & Julia Stone and First Aid Kit albums on repeat, I set off on the 1,099 mile drive back to California to hike the John Muir Trail. The drive along I-70 between Denver and Vegas is one of my favorite drives in the country – watching the landscape transition from the Rockies to the high desert of Utah is one of my favorite things to witness through my windshield. With plenty of tears I said goodbye to the menagerie and Michael, and was on my way.
I’ve been super eager to hike the Trail Through Time for a while now, and made a point this trip of making the stop to check out the short 1.5 mile hike (barely a hike..more like a walk on dirt) which is right off I-70 about 26 miles west of Grand Junction, CO. The trail is a part of the Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway, and travels through the Mygatt-Moore Quarry – an active quarry that has yielded over 5,000 bones of seven species of dinosaurs since its discovery in 1981 (and apparently they have also found dinosaur skin specimens here as well). I’ve been on a dinosaur-kick since moving to Colorado and discovering the plethora of paleontological wonders at my doorstep (technically, some dinosaur fossils in Moab spurred my fascination) – so I was excited to see what prehistoric surprises I might discover here.
The drive had been rainy off and on, and the skies weren’t very reassuring, but I still decided to risk the walk (and I don’t know why I was too lazy to just dig out my rain jacket from my backpacking gear…). There were no other cars at the trailhead, so I had the place to myself. The active quarry was immediately visible just after the start of the trail. From May to August you can watch paleontologists digging here, but I was too late to catch this spectacle. The thing that struck me about site was the huge thick layer of green soil deposit that they were digging in – which is typical of the mudstone seen throughout the Morrison Formation that indicates deposits from an ancient floodplain where dinosaur fossils are often found.
Walking a bit further up the trail, and moving along a gentle switchback up a hill I was surprised with some incredibly cool dinosaur fossils right there on the trail. Preserved in the sandstone ledge in front of me was the entire front half of a Camarasaurus spine,with a long obvious row of vertebrae embedded in the rock. I had never seen anything like it – I had seen dinosaur footprints, and dinosaur fossils that had been excavated and were in some unnatural display…but to see fossils like this, still embedded in stone alongside a trail, was awesome. Boulders containing large bone fragments were also scattered around the site.
The trail continued a gentle climb along the hillside with good views of Rabbit Valley, passing a few other dig sites, and then dropping back down again to complete the loop. At around 1 mile were the vertebrae of a juvenile Diplodocus embedded in a boulder next to the trail.
It then began to rain on me, and the last half-mile of the trail was me sprinting back to the car…fortunately, I didn’t seem to miss anything in my hustle. I hopped in the car and put on the perfect rainy-day soundtrack for one of my favorite drives on the the planet to one of my favorite places on the planet – onward to Moab to spoon with the Colorado River for the night.