Echo Park Ride

It was time to leave Green River Campground on Sunday morning, but I wasn’t finished exploring Dinosaur National Park yet. I had a plan to explore Echo Park Road, the rough 4×4 dirt road that I’d had to bypass the previous day due to time constraints. I woke up, had coffee, let Lister roam a bit, made preparations for warp speed, and drove out of Green River Campground. I made my way to the town of Dinosaur, finally bringing the van into Colorado for the first time.

At the corner of US 40 and Harper’s Corner Road there’s a small visitor center. I parked the van and trailer in one of the super long RV parking spaces, unloaded the bike, and made my way up the road on two wheels once again. This way I was already out of my campsite, and the ride would simply take as long as it took, with no pressure to get back like the previous day. Rangers have previously encouraged me to leave my rig at a visitor center while I go explore the area on two wheels. It was no problem then, or now.

The ride to Echo Park Road was much the same as the previous day, except this time I made the turn down the route less traveled. This sign greeted me. There was absolutely no way I’d ever take the van down this, nor the trailer. I’d also seen pictures of stuck 4×4 vehicles that tried to get through when it was wet. A brief thunderstorm had come through overnight, but the road seemed dry. I would, of course, proceed with caution, and I wouldn’t hesitate to turn around if it started to get sketchy.

The trip started with a steep, rough descent into the canyon through several switchbacks. Like my exciting dirt ride back to camp the previous day, I stayed in first gear and gently eased my way down. It was a challenge, but one well within my capabilities. (I wasn’t worried about the bike — its capabilities are far beyond my own.) The road leveled off, then took me through the canyon. Aside from that first descent, it was a pretty easy ride, which allowed me to simply relax and enjoy it.

The terrain did vary a bit. I actually left one canyon and made a fast blast across a prairie before reaching one of the few intersections on this trip. To the right would be my all-day trip down Yampa Bench Road to Elk Springs. I had Lister to get back to, so I took the left to Echo Park, only another four miles away.

Along the way, I stumbled into the Chew homestead, which a family built from the ground up starting in 1910. They farmed, raised cattle, and later sheep as well. In the 1940s, the family began spending winters in the nearby town of Vernal so that the kids could attend school. Finally, in 1966, the Chews sold their 1,900-acre homestead to the National Park Service, which would add it to Dinosaur National Monument.

Although abandoned, the homestead has also been somewhat preserved. You can walk around the whole place, and even inside the remaining outbuildings. The root cellar has collapsed, but it’s obvious where and what it was if you know about having a root cellar instead of a refrigerator since the homestead had no electricity. The house itself was locked, but it’s still easy to look inside and see what it was like when abandoned in 1966. Some initials are even carved into a concrete step, as well as the year 1940 when this larger house was built for the growing family.

Soon afterward, I came to a water crossing. I took heed of the warning sign at the beginning of the road and stopped to investigate. I’d turn around if this was soft. I was surprised to find the crossing itself to be solid concrete, but the same color as the surrounding dirt and mud. It was rock solid, put here to allow traffic as well as the stream to pass without everything turning into a muddy mess. I splashed through a few of these throughout the rest of my journey.

A saw a sign for petroglyphs, so I stopped to take a look. These were 35 feet straight up a rock cliff. How did they get so high? Back 1,000 years ago when they were carved, they were actually at ground level. The artists didn’t have to do any wacky climbing to get there. The stream has eroded 35 feet worth of dirt away since then.

Then I reached the end of the road, Echo Park Campground. It’s a dispersed camping area, with pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Camping here is free, which I figure is only fair if your rig can make it down the road to get here. The only campsite occupied had a sign saying that it was reserved for National Forest Service researchers. Everywhere else was vacant. If you have a sweet overland rig that can make it down this road, this would be an excellent place to camp out and enjoy the area.

On the way back, since it was occupied on the way in, I stopped at Whispering Cave. It doesn’t go very far or deep, but it was a good 15-20º cooler inside than just a few feet away from the entrance. It was getting pretty hot as the day went on (I knew Lister was safe a few thousand feet higher in elevation back at the visitor center), so I took off my riding gear and enjoyed a break to cool off a bit.

My pace was much faster on the ride back. At this point I knew the road was passable all the way back, so I didn’t need to be as cautious for wet areas, and I knew the water crossings were all safe. Even the steep, rough climb back to Harper’s Corner Road was easier, and soon enough I was back at the visitor’s center.

I hung up my riding gear, strapped my bike back into the trailer, then checked out the visitor’s center. It was very small, with only a few tiny exhibits and a relief map of the area inside. I was about to leave when I overheard a couple of mountain bikers asking the ranger about Echo Park Road. He knew the basics, but since I was literally just there, I was able to give very specific information about the current conditions. We had a nice chat, and both the cyclists and the ranger thanked me for my input.

Lister had been very patient waiting inside the van, so I made myself some lunch and brought it, and him, over to a picnic table. This way he could get some time outside while I ate, and before we moved on to our next overnight stop. Dinosaur National Monument had been great to us. It’s very much worth checking out if you’re ever in the area, whether you’re interested in dinosaurs, road rides, or dirt rides like this one.

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