Dinosaur National Monument: Above Echo Park

Echo Park

After our morning visiting the Dinosaur Quarry and early afternoon checking out the paved portion of Cub Creek Road, we spent the remainder of the afternoon of Thursday, September 2 (2021) driving into the center of Dinosaur National Monument’s canyon country, just across the state line in Colorado. Our ultimate destination was the hike out to Harpers Corner, high above the Green River near its confluence with the Yampa River.

From Green River Campground on the Utah side of the Monument, it’s about thirty-three miles to Canyon Visitor Center at the main Colorado entrance to the Monument. From the entrance, it’s another 31 miles or so to the end of the road at the trailhead for Harpers Corner.

After a relatively dramatic rise past Plug Hat Butte, most of the drive is through sagebrush steppe tableland.

At some point along this two-land highway, a pickup headed the other direction kicked up a rock that hit our windshield just right to crack it. The crack grew almost imperceptibly through the rest of the drive that afternoon. On the one hand, it was disappointing that our new car, barely two months old, now had a cracked windshield. On the other hand, we were glad we had opted for the additional windshield coverage in the warranty.

The road veered back to the west and into Utah before we stopped at the first overlook approaching Echo Park.

Iron Springs Bench Overlook had a killer view east into Colorado and the twisting canyons of the Yampa and Green Rivers.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Pearl Park

The world here dropped away in a series of steps: the tableland we were on, a lower broad bench, and the the drop into the canyons themselves.

Canyon tracing the course of the Yampa River

Even with wildfires smoke from California muddying the air, the views were stupendous.

Echo Park

Differential Grasshopper

Pearl Park

Pool Creek

Yampa Bench

Canyon of Lodore

At the edge of the overlook, Sean declared, “It’s so big,” of the landscape.

Then he curled up on a bench.

We continued on, reentered Colorado, and pulled over at Echo Park Overlook. Here we gazed east/southeast toward Echo Park, the canyons, and Yampa Bench.

Pearl Park

After briefly taking in the view, we drove on and reached the end of the road, the parking lot for Harpers Corner Trail.

Harpers Corner Trail is a two mile (one mile out, one mile back) trail that goes out to the very tip of Harpers Corner, a narrow ridge high above the Green River.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Piñon Pine

Clark’s Nutcracker in Douglas Fir

Near the beginning of the trail, where the ridge is widest, we spotted a Clark’s Nutcracker cracking a nut in a Douglas Fir. The Douglas Fir itself is rare in the region, but here on this high ridge, the species can survive.

Clark’s Nutcracker

Between the Piñon and Juniper on the southern side of the ridge, we got increasingly better views of the canyon country below.

Sagebrush. Image: Sean M. Santos

Steamboat Rock

Eventually, Echo Park proper, the area along the Green River near its confluence with the Yampa came into view, along with imposing Steamboat Rock.

Echo Park

Green River, Whirlpool Canyon, and Hardscrabble Mountain

On the other side, the Green River wound its way toward Split Mountain.

Green River

Green River, Whirlpool Canyon, Jones Hole, and Hardscrabble Mountain

The trail guide pointed out round rocks made of Uintah Mountain Quartzite, which possibly rolled here (or were deposited in some way) before the Green River carved its canyon since they also occur down by the river.


Echo Park

Echo Park

Echo Park

Far, far below we spotted some folks enjoying the water.

It was one of those basically level hikes that affords the hiker just stupid views.

Near the end of the trail, the route hugged some very steep drop offs on the northern side of the ridge. The wind was a bit blustery, and between the wind and the drop off, I began to feel my fear of heights overtake me. It’s much rarer walking than driving, but when it comes on it’s physiological, so unfortunately, I had to stop.

Harpers Corner

I handed Sean my big camera and encouraged him to go on and enjoy the views at the end of the hike.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Green River. Image: Sean M. Santos

Whirlpool Canyon. Image: Sean M. Santos

Wild Mountain and Green River. Image: Sean M. Santos

I am envious that I didn’t get to see the sweep of this view firsthand.

Wild Mountain and Green River. Image: Sean M. Santos

Wild Canyon and Green River. Image: Sean M. Santos

All of this and more is what would have been flooded and destroyed had the scheme gone forward to place a dam here.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Harpers Corner. Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

Utah Juniper. Image: Sean M. Santos

It turns out that we were quite close to the end of the trail, and that the viewing area at the very end had guardrails. But still, when Sean got back and told me that it wasn’t bad, I had already had to suppress a mild panic attack (I’d begun to worry that he’d fallen), so I declined to go and have a look myself.

Juniper. Image: Sean M. Santos

On the one hand, it feels silly as I sit here in my apartment writing this that I didn’t just go and have a look. But I can still recall how I felt in the moment, and I made the right decision. Still, I think I would likely go to the end on a return trip.

We returned to the car and began the drive back out, stopping briefly at Island Park Overlook for a quick look.

We did make one more, longer stop at Canyon Overlook before driving out of this part of the Monument.

Pearl Park

Echo Park

It was nice to get a different vantage point on where we’d just hiked.

Harpers Corner

The sun was setting and it was almost six, so we started the drive back to camp.

Back on US-40 on the Utah side, we pulled over at a Bureau of Land Management viewpoint to see the dusky mountains.

Back in the Monument, we again stopped above the campground to catch the end of the light on Split Mountain, the Green River, and the general area.

Split Moutnain

Split Mountain

Split Mountain

Split Mountain

The crack in our windshield had grown longer, so we suspected that this would be our final night camping. In the morning we would try and figure out how to get the windshield fixed before having to drive across the Great Plains with a crack now lengthening into the driver’s field of vision.

We had some negronis and tidied up a bit before climbing into the tent fairly early.

When I woke up at 4am to use the toilet, I saw a beautiful sliver of moon and the constellation Orion.

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