We got to Vernal and found the Holiday Inn Express with no trouble. There are 10 or so hotels in Vernal, and all of them were full except for this one. It turns out that the natural gas industry is booming in Vernal, so all of the hotels are normally full. This Holiday Inn just opened, so they had a few rooms left for about double the normal price of rooms at other hotels. Since the alternative was to sleep in the car, we checked in then met Brandon and Celeste. Brandon’s now working for an oilfield services company, and Celeste is a schoolteacher during the school year and a forest-fire crew dispatcher during the summer. We only saw her for a few short intervals during our visit because this is the height of fire season, with several active fires in her region.
Our first stop was the Utah Field House of Natural History, a beautiful museum with some fantastic dinosaur models. There’s a lot of detail on how fossils are formed, along with some excellent fossils and a number of partial and complete dinosaur fossils. After the Field House, we went on to the Monument proper, passing Brandon’s former ranch and a gift shop that has a dinosaur that you can sit on– this was quite popular with the three dinosaur wranglers in the back seat.
At the Monument, we saw a number of fossils, plus a neat cave that contains a number of ancient petroglyphs. Almost every 60 seconds, Matt would exclaim “Look! I see a dinosaur bone!” or something along those lines. We drove down to the bank of the Green River and skipped stones for a while, then made our way back to Vernal for a short break / rest period. Then we went to the Johnsons’ house for a barbeque featuring beef from their family herd. David and Tom rode four-wheelers. In fact, I took Matt on a short ride down the street, so everyone except Arlene had a turn. When the boys weren’t riding, they were hitting golf balls or playing Guitar Hero II with Brandon’s little brother. The steaks and company were great, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Friday morning we had breakfast at the Lamplighter, then picked up Brandon’s boat and went to Red Fleet Reservoir, which I’d never heard of. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen: 650 acres of lake nestled between stunning multi-colored cliff walls. No one was there, so we had the lake all to ourselves. One of Red Fleet’s claims to fame is its set of fossilized dinosaur tracks, which we got to see up close. This sent Matt to new heights of dinosaur-spotting ecstasy (well, to be fair, the other two were just as excited). Then we fired up the boat and went tubing. Matt and Arlene wanted no part of it, but David and Tom loved it. Brandon and I took turns driving for about an hour. We had just broken out the kneeboard when we noticed a big squall line moving in from the west; Tom got in one kneeboard ride (in which he got up, no small accomplishment for a boy his age), then we had to take off. We made our way back to Salt Lake uneventfully, then ate dinner at the Melting Pot, a first for the male members of the family. If you haven’t been there, it’s essentially a fondue restaurant: you get a cheese course, an entree, and dessert, all of which you dip in various sauces, cheeses, and so on. It was quite good, and even Matt, who has recently decided that he’s a picky eater again, was able to find stuff he liked.