San Francisco to Denver Road Trip | Day 7: Dinosaur & Steamboat Springs, CO

In May 2014 we drove 1,950 miles through 6 different states (California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado). We went to 5 national parks/landmarks, went to 4 museums, took 2 factory tours, rode a train through the Rockies, went on a boat cruise of Lake Tahoe, took a walking tour of San Fran, hiked the tallest peak in Salt Lake City, saw real dinosaur bones in Colorado, survived the highest altitude we’ve ever been at (11K feet), ate countless memorable meals, and had one Guy Fieri sighting. Check out our route:

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Day 7 began with getting the heck out of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Our hotel was crappy, the food options were very limited, and there was only one grocery store (that didn’t have bags of ice). Also, apparently the entire town of Rock Springs doesn’t have 3G/4G/LTE/wifi service so we were offline while road tripping, which is not good. Needless to say, we were up and out early.

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Day 7 was another planned driving day with only two stops on the agenda – Dinosaur, Colorado (3 hours drive from Rock Springs) and Steamboat Springs, Colorado (our final destination for the day, another 3 hours drive from Dinosaur). We knew we’d be basically in the middle of nowhere for the day – starting in Wyoming, cutting across the northeast corner of Utah, and then west into Colorado – which is why we stopped at the grocery store in Rock Springs to pack a cooler with meals for the day.

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The views were more of the same we had experienced during this road trip – flat valleys, lots of sagebrush, hills and snowy mountains off in the distance. But for some reason this felt different. The weather was clear and perfect. we were rising in elevation, the earth tones around us grew deeper and richer…

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At this point in any road trip I start to feel a profound sense of gratitude for the freedom we have to just up and drive. To be on the road and to experience what feels like an infinity away from real life. To see the differences, and the similarities, all around us. To harness a sense of understanding and intimate appreciation for our country and the place we call home. There is truly nothing like it.

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Just after crossing into Utah we came across an overlook for the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We stopped and snapped some pictures of the gorgeous views.

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As we traveled the windy road down into the little town (named Dutch John, by the way – how apt), we wondered if we would cross the dam that created the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Well, we did! We also realized there was a little visitor’s center on the dam where we could stop, stretch our legs, and use the restroom.

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Of course the story doesn’t stop there. As we perused the visitor’s center, the desk clerk let us know there was a free tour of the dam starting in 15 minutes. John’s eyes lit up immediately (his love of dams is well documented). Because we were on a schedule and hadn’t factored in an hour for a dam tour, I was reluctant to stay. But that is the spirit of a road trip – to happen upon things that simply must be experienced – so I agreed and we took the tour.

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The Flaming Gorge Dam is a concrete thin-arch dam on the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, that was built in 1963. Flaming Gorge Dam forms the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which extends 91 miles into southern Wyoming. The dam is a major component of the Colorado River Storage Project which stores and distributes upper Colorado River Basin water. The dam is 502 feet high and 1,285 feet long.

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The dam’s hydroelectric power plant is located at its base. It consists of three 50,650 kilowatt generators, powered by three Francis design turbines of 50,000 horsepower (37,000 kw).

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The cold water from Flaming Gorge has transformed about 28 miles of the Green River into a “Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery.” We saw tons of trout at the base of the dam – there is a little feeding area for them where you can toss fish food into the water and watch the feeding frenzy.

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The tour was excellent, our guide was a lifelong resident of the area and a second generation dam worker. One of the biggest things she talked about was the difference between the manual labor of the dam when it was built versus how automated its’ operations are today. It’s so fascinating how new technology (whether it’s a dam in the 60’s or social media today) can create labor booms and completely transform one area of the country.

From the dam, we drove on into Ashley National Forest on our way to Dinosaur, CO.

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We figured it was as good a time as any to pull over and eat our picnic lunch.

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How could we not with these views? This was our overlook as we ate. The elevation here was about 8,300 feet.

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An hour drive later, we arrived in Dinosaur, CO at the Dinosaur National Monument. The monument is home to dinosaur fossil beds discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the site as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915. The monument boundaries were expanded in 1938 from the original 80 acre area to its present day expansion of over 200,000 acres.

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In order to reach the dinosaur fossil quarry, there is a tram provided to all guests. No cars are allowed which makes sense, the land is quite delicate and security is tight.

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The views of the surrounding Green and Yampa River canyons are spectacular as you climb up to the quarry.

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The Quarry Exhibit Hall houses a wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones and is built around them, rather than the paleontologists excavating each individual piece.

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The hallmark of the Exhibit Hall is The Morrison Formation. The Morrison Formation is a rock unit from the Late Jurassic (155 million years ago-148 million years ago). It extends throughout the western United States and contains fossils of many dinosaurs in one place. The Morrison Formation is named after the town of Morrison, Colorado.

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The remains include numerous different species of dinosaurs that lived in the Morrison environment during the late Jurassic period, including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus.

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The Quarry Exhibit Hall has a lower floor where there are several exhibits of specimens excavated from the rock. The lower level also allows you to get really close to the Morrison to get a more detailed look.

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The lower level also offers a few places where you can touch real 149 million year old dinosaur fossils. Our inner nerds were freaking out!

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The lower level exhibits were amazing – including a real Stegosaurus plate and Allosaurus fragilis skull.

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After a thrilling visit to Dinosaur, we got back on the road to finish the last 3 hour leg of driving to Steamboat Springs.

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Steamboat Springs is a lovely recreation/ski town located 3 hours northwest of Denver. It is lush, green, rustic, and very charming. We checked in to our hotel and headed out for dinner.

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We had an exquisite meal at Laundry, a delicious New American restaurant that reminded me of home. I wish it was closer!

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Stay tuned for Day 8 where we explore Georgetown and Denver, Colorado!

About Domestocrat

I'm a lady who enjoys photography, football, cooking, long drives with the windows down, This American Life, kettlecorn, hot yoga, pop punk, my nephews, my cat Reggie, and my home: Boston.
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3 Responses to San Francisco to Denver Road Trip | Day 7: Dinosaur & Steamboat Springs, CO

  1. Pingback: San Francisco to Denver Road Trip: A Full Guide | Domestocrat

  2. Katharine Audus says:

    Thank you so much for all of your wonderful information! I’ve really enjoyed reading it all, bearing in mind we’ll be doing some of this trip with three young children, it’s been extremely helpful. Thank you.

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