Viva la Vernal
When I was a kid a trip to “Dinosaurland” in Vernal was about the most exciting prospect for a Saturday imaginable. The sculpted dinosaur replicas at the museum there thrilled me as much as if they were originals.
Last weekend we decided to recapture some of that childhood dino magic with a group camping outing to Eastern Utah. Our friends the Bresees, Rowleys, and Ashleys all joined us. Now “camping” in this case shouldn’t conjure up images of a lean-to rigged together in some desolate wilderness 40 miles from anything. No, we weren’t exactly roughing it. We stayed at the Vernal KAO; the Rowleys brought their RV and Jason and I took advantage of the campground’s “cottage.” The cottage was an upgrade from the cabin that the Bresees and Ashleys shared because this baby had a small kitchen area and, most importantly, its own tiny bathroom. The plumbing alone convinced me that the extra cash for the cottage was a worthwhile investment even if that bathroom was so little I could only fit one of my butt cheeks in at a time. With a private restroom, microwave, fridge, stovetop, and TV, our accommodations may sound rather plush but, in my opinion, our plywood bed was practically worse than sleeping on the ground and definitely uncomfortable enough to justify that liberal camping classification.
Our trip was packed with excitement, education, and educational excitement but also chaotic disorganization. Our group was a bit too large and kid-laden for schedules and rendezvous to really work, which made our museum expeditions a little tricky. Still, unraveling the ancient mysteries of this corner of Utah kept me generally satisfied with my situation even if our crew had to make more bathroom stops than a bus full of prune eating contest winners.
Friday night we went to Red Fleet Reservoir with the Bresees to check out the trackway: hundreds of dinosaur footprints embedded in the sandstone near one area of the shore. Hunting around on the hillside for tracks was quite entertaining. It made me feel a bit like a paleontologist detective. (Note to self: you should never consider a career in paleontology. You can’t even tell the difference between a rock and an old acorn.)
Our Saturday was also filled with prehistoric intrigue. We started out at the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum. This is the place that dazzled me when I was a youngster. The museum had moved into a much nicer and bigger building since I’d last been there but they still had their life-size dino replicas outside, much to the delight of my youngish heart.
Next we were off to Dinosaur National Monument to check out their quarry wall filled with over 1,600 bones from hundreds of dinosaurs. Awesome! A hot hike on the Fossil Discovery Trail later we were more than ready to hit the murky waters of Steinaker Reservoir. Steinaker is located just a few miles out of Vernal and is touted for its nice sandy beaches. Despite optimistic accounts, we found more mud than sand on those shores but that didn’t stop us from jumping in. The kids quickly transformed themselves into filthy creatures and the adults willingly waded through sticky muck in order to hold cannonball contests off a floating platform. After all, a little lake slime never hurt anyone, at least not anyone outside a B-grade horror movie.
That evening our “camping” status compelled us to roast wieners and marshmallows around a roaring fire. Dang that camping for having such stringent terms of service! It was a yummy dinner and one of the highlights of the weekend. Chatting around flames + combusting marshmallows = one of life’s essential pyro delights.
Hooray for Vernal! After a twenty-year absence, my dino buddies and I were able to get reacquainted. Our weekend was occasionally eye roll worthy but all in all we had a pretty great stay. In another 200 million years we’ll have to do it again.