Friday, November 2, 2012


The Whoa Moment.  A time where you want to yell WHOA, back it up and let me see that again.  A moment when you get a rush, feel goose bumps, a moment that you would like to preserve “forever”.    How many of those moments have rock hounds experienced in their lives?  The first time you faceted a piece of glass and it came out looking like a Tiffany jewel?  Whoa, let me savor that moment again.  What about the first time that you viewed Longs Peak from “up close”—a rush of adrenalin?  One of the great joys of my life is coming around the corner and, Whoa, there it is, play it slowly.  The first time that one of my students found a really nice shark’s tooth on a field trip—a Whoa Moment to a teacher as the student’s eyes lit up and all of a sudden they “understood” what it was all about.  A Whoa Moment is a serendipitous moment, something completely unexpected, but pleasant, happens when you least expect it.  I was in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago and the clouds parted and there was Mt. Hood—completely unexpected.  In about five minutes it was gone. Play that again--please!  It didn’t.  So, this is what makes life interesting for me (and probably you)—what is coming around the corner?  When will the next Whoa Moment arrive?  That certainly is one of the reasons that I am a rock hound and have retained my interest in geology through the decades.  There is always a chance for a Whoa Moment.

Colorado is fortunate to have, in its geography/geology, a thousand places where one could experience a Whoa Moment; maybe even ten thousand or more.  One of those places is the Gates of Lodore in far northwest Colorado, actually a part of Dinosaur National Monument (DNM).  Probably very few of the readers have visited this locality since it is far off the beaten path--- northwest of Maybell (west of Craig on U. S. 40) on CO 318.  However, it is well worth the trip if you are in the vicinity.
 Most visitors to DNM are there because of, well, the dinosaurs.  However, there is much more to the Monument (211,000 acres) than fossils but most people are in a hurry and tend to ignore the back country.  I am often reminded of the movie Vacation where Chevy Chase stands looking at the Grand Canyon for about 30 seconds and then states “let’s go”!  Most visitors to DNM are just passing through the area and therefore miss out on half of the fun.  Let’s go.

The back country of DNM is dominated by canyons of two rivers—the Yampa coming in from Colorado and the mighty Green flowing south from Wyoming.  Both have cut spectacular canyons and both are accessible to the traveler via private or personal river running (permits required), or back country hiking.  Although the scenery in both canyons is almost beyond words, and I was spellbound during my first float with a Whoa Moment that almost took my breath away—the Gates of Lodore where the Green plunges into, and through, the Uinta Mountains.

Any story about the Gates of Lodore would be incomplete without entering into a conversation about John Wesley Powell and his river expeditions of 1869 and 1871 down the Green and Colorado Rivers and finally through the Grand Canyon.  These trips, although not the first through the canyons of the Uinta Mountains, were the first scientific explorations of the Green River.  Powell’s account of the trips was published in 1875 as Report on the Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries and then reprinted and republished in 1895 as The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, and in several later editions. 
 The Gates of Lodore exposes the red quartzites, shales and sandstone of the late Precambrian Uinta Mountain Group (~740 Ma to ~850 Ma). The walls are steep, the canyon narrow, and visitors must look down from above or ride the rapids down below.  Either way, a Whoa moment is at hand, 

How does the Water
Come down at Lodore?"
My little boy ask'd me
Thus, once on a time;
And moreover he task'd me
To tell him in rhyme.
From the Cataract of Lodore by Robert Southey.