Driving through the Old West on Colorado's Byways

Echo Park Road

Colorado byways offer backcountry driving for the whole family, taking you along many of the Centennial State's most beautiful roads. GORP is proud to present some of the best of these drives, which offer not only spectacular scenery but also a glimpse into the state's and the West's history. From trips through amazing geological features to old mining towns, all present exceptional opportunities to get off the beaten path and explore a state that never fails to amaze visitors. Take the off-ramp to adventure and history and see for yourself. — GORP staff

Location: Dinosaur National Monument.

Highlights: The canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers are awesome. You also will see ancient Indian rock art (petroglyphs), historic Chew Ranch, and Whispering Cave. Echo Park is a beautiful oasis near the confluence of the Yampa and Green. This tour connects with Yampa Bench Rd. (Tour 3). Best September to early October.

Difficulty: Easy when dry, but impassable when wet even with four-wheel drive. Storms can occur in summer. The roads may be closed in winter.

Time and distance: 1.5 hours and 13 miles one-way.

Maps: TI No. 220 (Dinosaur NM). Get the park's flyer for Echo Park and Yampa Bench roads. The guide to Harper's Comer Scenic Drive, Journey Through Time, is useful, too.

Information: Dinosaur National Monument.

Getting there: From Dinosaur town, take U.S. 40 east 2 miles to park headquarters. Take Harper's Comer Scenic Drive for 25.9 miles to Echo Park Road, on the right.

Rest stops: Echo Park has a campground. The water there is turned off for the cold-weather season. Swimming is dangerous. Fuel, lodging, and supplies are available in Dinosaur, but not in the park.

The drive: Most visitors only see the dinosaur bone quarry north of Jensen. But the park's 210,000 acres in Utah and Colorado include spectacular geologic features, two great tributaries of the Colorado River, ancient rock art, and historic homesteads.

The Earth's crust here has been squeezed, warped, tilted, and cracked, then worn down by erosion. As you descend 2,000 feet toward the Yampa Bench and then to Echo Park, you'll see in the varicolored, multi-textured cliffs the pages of the Earth's history.

The layers of exposed sedimentary rock — the red Moenkopi Formation, the cream-colored Weber Formation, and the cliff-forming Wingate sandstone — record long-gone seas, mud flats, water courses, desert dunes, and dislocations of the Earth's crust over hundreds of millions of years. After driving down Iron Springs Wash, the road enters the monument at mile 3.4. At mile 4.8 it enters Sand Canyon, walled by Weber Formation cliffs and domes.

Things open up by mile 7.6, presenting a sweeping vista. Go left at the Y (Yampa Bench Road is right), following Moffat Co. Road 156. At mile 9 is Chew Ranch, worked from 1910 into the 1970s. Soon the road passes below walls of yellow-gray rock. At mile 10.7 is a pullout. On a cliff above the stream to the left, among the cottonwoods, are the elaborate Fremont-culture Pool Creek petroglyphs, figures pecked into the rock perhaps 1,000 years ago. Ahead is Whispering Cave, a crack at the base of a cliff.

Finally, you will arrive at a bend in the Green River and a tranquil flat dominated by massive Steamboat Rock. This is Echo Park. In 1825, a trapping party led by William H. Ashley became the first Europeans to enter Echo Park, which was named by explorer John Wesley Powell in 1869. In the 1950s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation proposed building a dam downstream, in Whirlpool Canyon. That would have inundated Echo Park and backed water up Lodore and Yampa canyons. Conservationists defeated the idea.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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