Dinosaur National Monument along the northwest border of Colorado is one of America’s best kept secrets. If you like beautiful views, wildlife, being in a remote area, and seeing the brightest stars ever, this is the place. You can drive from the east side entrance to Echo Park on the Yampa Bench Road and take in the scenic wonders and wildlife. A few years ago we took a friend down the Yampa Bench Road. His summary of the trip was “I don’t know why anyone thinks they need to go to the Grand Canyon, this is fantastic!”
One of the best ways to see the wonders of the monument is to backpack into some of the more remote areas that can not be reached by a vehicle. All winter we had talked of and planned a 3 day backpacking trip. Backpacking in the monument requires a considerable amount of planning because of the terrain and lack of water. All water has to be packed in. At 8.4 lbs per gallon, most of the weight in your pack is water. Because of the weight of the water we did not take a tent, extra clothing, any cooking utensils, or the camera. We each had 1.5 gallons in our packs and Karl carried an extra gallon to a place at the halfway point of the trip out. We both drank approximately 2 quarts of water before we started the trip thinking that would alleviate one gallon that had to be carried.
We had perfect weather, clear skies and temps in the upper 80’s. We started hiking at an elevation of 6500 feet and camped around 5800, with many ups and downs in-between. After scaling several hills just to find we have to go down and then up again to get to our destination I soon got discouraged. The only thing worse is to reach what you think is the top of the mountain and find it isn’t the top, you just couldn’t see the top from where you started. Into about our second mile the sole separated from my shoe. With a tie from Karl’s backpack and a little ingenuity the shoe was soon ready to continue.
We ended up hiking eight miles that first day. By the time we arrived at our camp it had become very clear that we were not going to have enough water for 3 days of hiking. We had consumed a full gallon each before the sun had gone down. With the dry air, increased exertion, and the heat, it was evident we had miscalculated our water needs. We would hike out tomorrow.
After blowing up our sleeping pads and arranging our bags we spent the evening taking in the views and absorbing the peace and quiet.
Before we dozed off, I mentioned I was kind of disappointed that the sky was cloudy and had looked forward to seeing the “super moon” tonight. Sometime during the night we both awoke just in time to see the clouds thin out and show us the most fantastic moon ever. I laid there for sometime watching the clouds slowly drift away, taking a mental picture that I can pull up and view anytime anyplace.
We slept amazingly well. That is the advantage of being exhausted. We had a light breakfast, packed up and headed back the same way we had arrived. Along the way we explored areas, watched birds, and discussed the local fauna and rocks. We walked a long distance in an old dry stream bed that had the most incredible flat rocks, many full of tiny fossils. By the time we got to the halfway point, where we had left the water in a small cave, we were thirsty. The water was cool from the 45 degree night and tasted so good. To have the water restrictions lifted was a big relief. Everyone needs to backpack so you appreciate running water anytime you wish, a soft bed, and access to groceries.