After visiting the diverse landscapes of Dinosaur National Monument once, national parks traveler Mikah Meyer knew he had to come back.
In addition to the site’s ancient land formations and dinosaur fossils, the massive park — which spreads across the states of Utah and Colorado — is also home to a river canyon made up of unique rock formations.
During his first visit this past summer, Mikah hiked along “some of the most diverse and expansive views of my entire journey so far," he said.
“It was incredible. I have never seen a river canyon this close to massive valleys that were shifted upward that looked like giant ski slopes of lush green grass that are also right next to white snowcapped mountains.”
After a year, traveling to 160 national parks around the country, that landscape was just one of the reasons he found the site so compelling.
Wall of bones
Another reason was the area’s vast deposits of fossilized dinosaur bones, many of which are still visible, embedded in the rocks.
Through a series of exhibits, visitors like Mikah get to see — and feel — just how massive the giant animals were. Examining a huge dinosaur claw, Mikah noted how sharp it felt to the touch.
"That would not feel good if that ripped into you," he said.
“They found tons and tons of dinosaur bones that are now in museums from New York to D.C. to my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska,” he added.
A river runs through it
After his experiences on land, where he had a bird’s eye view of the panoramic vistas, Mikah returned to the park a couple of months later, to see it from a different angle… rafting on the Green River.
“What really struck me the first time I came to Dinosaur National Monument was these impressive unique rock features. And now to be able to see them up close from the water was incredible,” he said.
“You’ll be rafting along and suddenly you see these layers, and they’re vertical. It looks like something that nature couldn’t have created because it’s perpendicular to what we’re used to seeing the earth layers look like,” he described.
Over the course of several days, he discovered a wide variety of formations to explore. He describes the geology at the intersection of the Green and Yampa Rivers for example, as “particularly awesome.”
Waves of rock
“You can see these kind of pancake-like features where these large maroon and brown boulders are all smashed together,” he noted. But as he continued on his river journey he noticed “a lot more varied geology,” with lighter sandstone formations.
Mikah was particularly intrigued by a series of rock ripples that he saw along the shoreline. He described the sedimentary structures as “deposits of rock that were upturned and now make this curve shape that we see shooting up from the river to the sky."
In addition to the park's natural beauty and historic artifacts, there was a surprising highlight to Mikah's river adventure. From the beginning of his journey, he and his tour group were joined by an unlikely fellow traveler... a wild goose that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere…
“I noticed there was this little goose that was hanging out on the beach... and then we got in the boat and we started floating down the river and this goose was swimming right up next to the boat,” Mikah explained.
“About five or 10 minutes later, the goose was still with us,” he said. “So my buddy Tom jokingly said, 'I think he's just going to come along for the journey. We should name him. Let's call him George.'”
George continued to hang out with Mikah and his group for several days. He followed them on water, on hikes, and even settled in with them at their campsite overnight.
“It became very apparent that George the Goose had attached himself to us; thought he was either one of our group or we were his new flock,” Mikah noted. “Wherever we went, George the Goose was going.”
Right up until the very end.
“We loaded up in the van, and we start driving away, and poor George the Goose starts to run after us. And eventually I saw him stop and just kinda look around and I think at that point he realized we had left him.”
“Without a doubt, all of us were touched and moved by George the Goose,” he added.
Dinosaur National Monument is now among Mikah's top five favorite parks. He wishes the site had an official national park designation so it would attract more visitors.
“It is a National Park Service site, but its official name is Dinosaur National Monument which I'm guessing people see the name and it doesn't sound as incredible as Rocky Mountain National Park nearby, or Arches National Park that are those big 59 ones that are recognized,” he said.
“It really is a special place that seems to be a hidden gem that I hope other people will get a chance to explore.”
With, or without a goose.