Dinosaur National Monument: Road’s End

Split Mountain

Our 2021 roadtrip to Colorado (and Utah) was sixteen full days and fifteen nights on the road. For a National Parks trip that was somewhat born of circumstance—buying a car, strategizing a post-lockdown COVID-era trip—this trip would have a huge influence on the year to come, both for Sean’s and my Park trips and for the shape of Bold Bison’s business travel. It has also reoriented us—or me—a bit to thinking about the continent. Our first taste of the Ancestral Puebloan world at Mesa Verde would inspire Sean and me to visit four more Ancestral Puebloan sites in the year to come, culminating in a May 2022 sojourn to Chaco Canyon. I would return to Great Sand Dunes National Park by myself—solidifying my infatuation with the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristos—only a little over two months after this trip. We would return to Denver twice more. And flirting with the Colorado Plateau would lead to a February 2022 trip to Arches National Park (and a planed return to Moab in 2023).

But all that is to come. First, it’s time to wrap up this adventure.

We ended our time in Dinosaur National Monument on the afternoon of Friday, September 3 (2021) and began a holiday weekend journey home to Chicago that was itself an adventure. But first we had one more hike—stroll really—out at the end of Cub Creek Road before breaking camp and heading out.

It was already a bit after one in the afternoon when we pulled into the dirt parking area at the end of Cub Creek Road. We were on what had been the homestead of Josie Bassett Morris before it was incorporated into the Monument. After marrying five times and divorcing four, and after being romantically involved with Butch Cassidy and several of his gang’s members, Josie homesteaded along Cub Creek just beneath the long eastern end of Split Mountain. She lived on her land—mostly alone—for fifty of her ninety years.

Before looking at the remnants of Josie’s cabin, we walked up into Box Canyon, which Josie had used as a livestock corral.

Over eons of rain events, the canyon has slowly been cut into this flank of Split Mountain.

Water also percolates slowly through the rock itself, much like it does at Zion, which allows this corner of an otherwise arid landscape to support tall Fremont Cottonwoods.

This brief stroll at least gave us a hint of what the twisting river canyons must be like.

After our stroll, we had a quick look-see at Josie’s cabin. Although she originally occupied the land and built a cabin here in 1914, the current cabin dates to 1935. After breaking her hip at age eighty-nine and dragging herself back to the cabin alone, she departed her home and died in a hospital several months later in 1964. To the end, she lived on this plot without running water or electricity.

Contemplating Josie, Sean determined that he would not like to live alone in a cabin for fifty years.

It was time to go.

Image: Sean M. Santos

We noted the low clouds building in the west. Rain was forecast for that evening in Dinosaur, so perhaps it was best all around that we were starting the trip back.

We returned to Green River Campground and dismantled our campsite while we cooked up hotdog and bean dip burritos for lunch before our drive.

Image: Sean M. Santos

On the way out we made one last stop at Quarry Visitor Center for gifts and souvenirs.

Instead of going back down to Grand Junction and crossing the mountains on I-70 we took the northerly I-40 route. Running for a long while parallel to Dinosaur, we got a sense of how huge the Monument actually is.

Then we crossed the high, rolling steppe of northwestern Colorado. Sean played with Sirius Radio (which we had for free for a few months with the new car) and found that the Beatles station was playing the complete studio recordings in order with historical commentary. Neat. It took us from Revolver to Let It Be to drive from Dinosaur to Denver.

Image: Sean M. Santos

We reached Steamboat Springs and then climbed over the Park Range. We left US-40 and headed down CO-9 between the Gore Range and the Front Range before reaching I-70 and the pellmell dash down out of the mountains and into Denver.

We rolled up to the Hotel Born at 8:30. It was really nice. It has become one of our favorite hotels. (Spoiler: I’ve now stayed at the Born three times. But those stories are yet to come.)

Sean had ordered ahead a prix fixe dinner from Tavernetta adjacent to the hotel. Negronis, burrata, lamb rigatoni. Ice cream.

Settling into our room with some new friends, we caught up on Star Trek: Lower Decks before going to sleep.

Next morning, Saturday, September 4 (2021), we were up and dressed at 7:30. We grabbed some complimentary coffee in the lobby before getting the car from the cute valet. We drove out to the Safelite AutoGlass in suburban Arvada, whom we’d spoken with the day before. On the way we stopped in a park to dump the water and ice from the cooler.

There was some question of the warranty and insurance, which delayed us. But the really great attendant made a bunch of calls. “We can’t have you stuck here over Labor Day. We’ll get this figured out.”

After everything was squared away, we hopped a Lyft back to the hotel.

We showered, dressed, and walked over to Carbon Cafe Five Points to meet up with Erik and Rick for brunch. The best part of having to cut the camping part of the trip short was getting to spend the afternoon with these guys.

Yes, there was a wardrobe change.

After brunch, we stopped at their place to pick up their pup, June, and then went to Colorado Campfire for a couple drinks.

Hi, June.

Afterward, Sean and I wandered back through downtown toward our hotel. It was Taste of Colorado on the 16th Street Mall, which was a little overwhelming as our first street fest post COVID lockdown.

Back in our room, Sean turned on Law and Order and took a nap.

It was getting on into the late afternoon, and I hadn’t heard from Safelite, so I decided to hop in a Lyft and head back out to see what the situation was. For some reason I apparently hadn’t been getting any calls or texts because on the way a flurry of them came in. The car had actually been done since shortly after noon.

Everyone at Safelite was great. And technician Ryan and I even got into a chat about Indiana Dunes National Park. Happy and relieved, I drove back to the Born and handed the keys to our Crosstrek to the valet.

Up in the room, we had a couple glasses of wine from the complimentary happy hour in the lobby and relaxed before dinner.

We dined on this final evening of our trip at Citizen Rail, the hotel’s restaurant. We were a little nervous about dining indoors. But it was fine, and the food was lovely. Sean had the steak special, and I had the rabbit.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Back in our room, we each had a bath in the soaking tub before bed.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Sunday, September 5 (2021) dawned cloudless in Denver, although smoke from the West still tinted the sky.

Our alarm went off at 7am, and reluctantly we got up, showered, and gathered our things for the drive home.

While I waited for the valet to bring the car, Sean trotted over to the Whole Foods a block away to get some snacks. We hit the road around 8:15.

Back we drove across the Great Plains. We listened to podcasts, I read to Sean from Desert Oracle, we listened to music. After fighting a surprising amount of traffic on the Eisenhower and Lake Shore Drive, we made it home at 11:20pm. We were tired, but we had the whole next day, Labor Day, to unwind from our two-week adventure.

And after yelling at us, Elsa was very happy to see us.

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