Habitat Restoration Trip to Dinosaur National Monument

On August 26 through September 3, 1999, a group of volunteers from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Habitat Restoration Team (that's the GGNRA's HRT for you acronym-savvy) went to Dinosaur National Monument.

The purpose of the trip was several-fold. We had fun. We removed non-native Tamarisk from an island on the Green River, in support of the Park Service staff from Dinosaur National Monument. We renewed old friendships and made new ones. We learned. We had fun.

We were helping with a University experiment (University of Colorado? someone help me here) on the effects of Tamarisk on the hydrology in the Green River. Tamarisk traps sediment, and appears to promote channelization of the river, causing the river to cut deeper and narrower than it otherwise would. This affects the availability of habitat for native plants and animals.

Our mission was to eradicate all Tamarisk from a particular island on the river. In the future, the island will be monitored as the flow of the river is changed. The flow of the river is controlled by a dam upstream at Flaming Gorge.

Thursday, Aug 26, 1999: Road Day 1

I met other trip participants at the Boomtown Casino on the California/Nevada state line. Most ate lunch there, while some donated money to the slot machines. From here, we had to decide whether to take highway 50 or I-80 across Nevada. I-80 is a fast interstate. Highway 50 is a more scenic two-lane road, and has a hot spring to camp at. Consensus goes to the hot spring.

We arrive at the hot spring near Austin, NV after a long day of driving. When we get there, it's incredibly windy! Maria assures us that the wind will calm down after dark, but I have my doubts. We cook a burrito dinner in my van, and retire for a sunset soak in the hot spring.

In the spring
Photo by Jaime

The full moon provides entertainment as it comes up partially obscured behind clouds. We find interesting patterns that probably reveal deep-seated things about our childhoods. Sure enough, the wind dies down as Maria said it would.

But the wind die-down was only temporary. About 1:30 am Jim D. and Lara come knocking on my van's door. They had tried to sleep outside without a tent, but a thunderstorm caused them to change their plans. I hear others scurrying about trying to secure tents against the incredible wind. I don't get much sleep that night.

Friday, Aug 27, 1999: Road Day 2

We wake up early in the morning. Jaime and I take a sunrise soak in the hot spring while the rest of the crew starts packing their things up. We notice a good thunderstorm coming our way from the far end of the valley.

We're camped a few miles from the nearest pavement, with lots of dry alkali mud between us and asphalt. If this coming storm gets the dirt really wet, the surface will get very slick. We decide that, in order to minimize the risk of getting stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, we want to pack up and drive to pavement ASAP. Once we get to pavement, we stop and make coffee on my van's stove. We finish coffee and hit highway 50 at about 8:00 am.

Today is a long day of driving, mostly on two-lane roads. We cross half of Nevada and all of Utah. We see some incredible thunderstorms. For area that's supposed to be desert, this seems pretty wet.

Finally, around sunset, we arrive in Vernal, Utah, and get to Gary's house. Gary was the original founder of our HRT group in the GGNRA, but he's since moved to Utah to work at Dinosaur. He's the reason we're taking this trip. Anyway, Gary's out at the moment, but we go to the local Wendy's and he catches up with us there.

We camp at Split Mountain campground on the Green River in Dinosaur. This will be the place where we finish our river trip and take out. We have the place pretty much to ourselves.

Saturday, Aug 28, 1999: Transition day

Today we drive to the river cache at the park headquarters, pack our gear into watertight bags for the boats, and meet our guides. Heath, our leader from Dinosaur, remarks that we seem to know each other pretty well already. We laugh at the understatement. People in our group can refer to in-jokes that provoke intense laughter by merely saying things like parquiro, albondiga, and chupacabra.

We visit the town of Dinosaur, CO to buy beer, and go for a scenic hike at Harper's Corner. This is an overlook where we get to see some of what we'll be rafting through in the next few days. Here's a view of the spot where the Yampa River meets the Green near Echo Park.

Canyon View
Photo by Jim C.

We drive up to our put-in site, at the Gates of Lodore. It's something like a two hour drive, but for most of the way, there's not another vehicle visible. This place is more remote than the San Francisco Bay area.

When we arrive at the Gates of Lodore, we promptly go to work. We take some dead Tamarisk that's been removed by a Boy Scout group, and drag it out to a sandy area where it will later be burned. Jim D. and Lara are working on one here.

Dragging Tamarisk
Photo by Maria

That evening, we do a little bit of star gazing. Unfortunately, it turns out to be pretty much the only clear night on the trip. But it IS clear, with no light pollution anywhere nearby. The just-past-full moon rises fairly early in the evening, and people enjoy staring at it through binoculars.

Next, the river
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©1999 Richard Cochran