Before I started today's adventure, I checked my email and found a note from the man known only as GNHN. A former Idaho resident, he provided a perfect excuse for the Wyoming/Idaho loop: a visit to Bear Lake, located half in Utah, half in Idaho, and very near Wyoming.
I checked the map and figured this loop would take at least five hours, probably more. While not completely ruling it out, I decided to wait until after visiting Dinosaur National Monument before making plans for the rest of the day.
I purchased a Golden Eagle Passport at the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. He couldn't take a credit card, but a personal check was no problem. This $50 pass will get me and a carload into anything run by the National Park Service for the next year. I should have it paid for in a week.
The quarry at Dinosaur National Park is stunning. It was discovered in the late 19th century. It is a former riverbed, now up at an angle, containing fossils of dinosaurs. Not just a couple, either. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. Even after years of digging, of whole skeletons being removed and taken to museums, you can still see bone fossils everywhere you look.
The exposed part of the quarry, like all good government projects, is enclosed in a building with lots of windows.
There are many educational displays, models, and other stuff, but the star here is the Wall of Fossils.
I bought some more postcards at the gift shop. I spoke briefly with the woman running it. She said that the Patron Dinosaur of Vernal has a name, but she couldn't remember it, and she'd lived her whole life there.
Dinosaur National Monument covers a lot more ground than the quarry, although that's the extent of the dinosaur things. I didn't have time to check it all out, but I did visit one dig site to view some thousand year old petroglyphs and a prairie dog town.
The excavation for the petroglyphs and pictographs was open and unattended. There were signs around to explain things and to ask nicely that the pictures not be touched.
I drove a little further and found a marked prairie dog town. These dogs were not as friendly as the ones in South Dakota. I found lots of holes, but I didn't see one for about ten minutes, and I only heard a few.
When I finally saw one I had to play a game with it to get some pictures. I would walk about ten feet closer, it would duck into the hole, I would stop, it would come back out, and we would repeat. After about six cycles of this I was close enough to get some decent photos. It started to rain just as I made my last approach.
It looked different than the South Dakota ones, so, no I wasn't wasting my time taking pictures of something I'd already seen.
It was 11:00 by the time I left Dinosaur National Monument and headed back for Vernal.
There is a private gift shop just outside the entrance to the monument. They have a life-sized model of a sauropod, green, with its neck bent down and a saddle on it.
This was my first opportunity to use the AR2 in the field. The Air Rammer II Wireless Remote Shutter Release System, or AR2, is so named because the Air Rammer II was the $10 Radio Shack RC car that gave its guts for my project. It still says that on the pistol grip trigger. I took the guts of the car, a case, a battery holder, a buzzer, a two-color LED, a relay, some connectors, some wire, and a cable and made a radio controlled shutter release for my camera. The amazing thing is that it works.
I am no longer restrained by how far I can run in 10 seconds. This gives me an incredible sense of freedom.
I bought a Apatosaurus T-shirt, some tilt pens, and some postcards here.
The dream of the girl behind the counter was to visit California. She'd never been on an airplane, and the drive to LA seemed like a great distance.
Back in Vernal, 11:30 by now, I decided I didn't have time to make the northern loop. I'd just head to Salt Lake City, then south from there.
The Sinclair station in Manitou Springs, Colorado, had a little dinosaur out front, but the one in Vernal didn't.
The drive to Salt Lake City was pretty, with very little construction and 65 mph speed limits. After Fruitland the road started climbing into the mountains again, where there was some remaining snow and lots of those same trees, although this time half the aspen had leaves and were quaking away. There was a gorgeous lake just before the top, at Daniel's Pass.
U.S. 40 is limited access between Heber City and I-80. It has several experimental deer crosswalks. There are fences that are supposed to funnel the deer to specific points on either side of the highway.
I hopped on I-80 west and, man, what a road! Six lanes wide with a 65 mph speed limit, I-80 was full of cars in the faster two lanes going about 70, and it was all downhill. It was like aroller coaster, with soft but constant turns. With the exception of a few carved hills, the descent looked like a natural valley. I just left the car in fifth gear and coasted.
Finally the road turned up one side, I-215 splitting to the left, and the valley opened up onto Salt Lake City, with big mountains off in the distance.
I drove through Salt Lake City on I-80, past the airport, to Great Salt Lake State Park. There's a cheesy looking auditorium there, a descendant of ones that have been there for a hundred years.
The Great Salt Lake is stinky. It smells brackish, which is to be expected, I suppose. I took many pictures. In the gift shop I got some postcards and some salt water taffy.
I passed on the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Eggs. Sound familiar?
I spoke to the girls behind the counter about the history of the building, the salt, and other things. When I mentioned the Bonneville Salt Flats, one said that she had heard they were drying out.
I had noticed before I came here that Wendover, at the Nevada state line, was only about 100 miles away.
They mentioned the casinos in Wendover, Nevada, and I decided to go that way.
As I was leaving the Saltair complex, I passed a couple just coming in. They were staring at the lake. "Isn't it great?" I asked.
About 40 miles before the Bonneville Salt Flats the highway passed through, well, salt flats. I noticed that all along the edge of the road people had used patterns of dark stones to write things in the salt. I couldn't read many of them, but they seemed to be initials or names, with the occasional picture (heart-with-arrow, star, pentagram, etc.). This must be what the local kids do for fun. There were hundreds of them over the next 30 miles.
There is a sculpture in the salt off the interstate. It's out in the middle of nowhere. It consists of a beige stalk at least sixty feet tall with a few short branches. Huge striped balls are at the end of the stalks. On the ground around it are parts of a hollow sphere, either representing the seed from which this thing grew or a ball that fell off and broke.
I saw a big storm ahead of me, so I decided not to take chances and to get my photos at a random spot beside the road. We'll see how they turn out. The range on the AR2 turned out to be much greater than initial testing showed. In never got far enough out on the salt that it didn't work; I did get far enough out that someone could stop, grab the camera, and be gone before I could stop them. That's what limited the experiment.
I passed through the storm and out the other side before I got to the Bonneville International Speedway. This site is at the end of a five mile causeway running out into a huge, massive salt flat.
When I got to the end of the causeway, there was nothing except a sign telling about the speedway. The salt here was still under shallow running water. Every year the Bureau of Land Management rebuilds the speedway, because every spring it gets flooded.
If I may digress here, I knew that the salt flat would be wet because I had called the Bureau of Land Management office in Salt Lake City. I knew that they were in charge of it, and what their phone number was, from a web page about the salt flats. Without the World Wide Web, how long would it have taken me to find this information?
Back on the highway, I entered state #42 (seventh on this trip), Nevada. I stopped at the visitor center. I intended to get a bite to eat, lose a little money, and head back to Salt Lake City. I was dreading spending two hours retracing my steps, but that was the plan.
The visitor center was closed, but the woman running it invited me in, anyway. She talked to me about the area while one of her sons whacked the back of my leg with his plush bunny.
She explained that U.S. 93 Alternate, which later ran into U.S. 93, had absolutely nothing on it for a hundred miles, and that it was rarely, if ever, patrolled. She showed me how cheap and plentiful the lodging was in Ely, and how I could maybe see some elk along the way, then cut back over into Utah tomorrow.
So that's that I did. The drive was terrific and under two hours. The road ran down the middle of a wide valley between two mountain ranges. There may have been some trees up on the mountains, but there were none across the broad, flat bottom of the valley.
For 100 miles there were no side roads, no houses, no fences, or even any power lines. There were several signs warning that this was Open Range. Each had a silhouette of an animal on it, sometimes a longhorn steer, sometimes a sheep, sometimes a horse, and even once an elk.
There were times that I could see the road ten miles ahead. I passed two cars during the 120 mile drive to Ely and was passed by one.
I'm in Ely now, at the Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall (sic). My $19.95 room is on the third floor of this historic six story hotel. Through my open window I can see flickering neon lights.
I forgot my notes after I'd brought my things to my room, so I took $5 worth of quarters with me to spend on the way out. I came back with $9.75! That's just more money I've got to spend in the casino downstairs after I get this sent.
Tomorrow I am off to the Grand Canyon.
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