Dinosaur, Colorado I knew my first trip to Dinosaur National Monument was going to be cool when I passed the entrance of a ranch in western Moffat County that was adorned with an iron cowboy roping a hungry Tyrannosaurs rex chasing a herd of cattle.
The gateway to the monument's stunning canyons is a town that names its streets after dinosaurs and has a giant stegosaurus guarding its town hall.
How cool is that?
After a quick pit stop in Dinosaur, I queued up Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and started driving into one of the most beautiful but hidden outdoor playgrounds in the state.
From the highway, you can't really see the grandeur that awaits.
But as you get deeper into the canyons, you quickly realize it's a place to forget the stresses of everyday life, explore caves, marvel at 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and watch shooting stars from the comfort of a tent without a rain fly.
Yes, many locals around here have great memories of rafting the Yampa River and surviving the tricky rapids as they float through the labyrinth of canyons deep in the monument.
But with an SUV, a tent and a camera, a trip here can be just as memorable.
Turn onto Harper's Corner Road just east of Dinosaur and enjoy all the pullouts that offer views from as high as 2,500 feet above the Yampa River.
Then, turn onto the bumpy dirt road that will lead you down to Echo Park.
Passenger cars are not recommended on this route, and the road easily becomes impassable when it's wet. But I did see a Honda Accord at the remote campground 13 miles from the start of the rough road.
Be sure to stop at the historic Chew Ranch and marvel at where this family was able to make a living from 1900 to 1949. Today, it is a place of solitude.
Just a few more minutes down the road, stop in the Whispering Cave, which offers visitors a place to cool off from the afternoon sun.
Echo Park is the real prize. There, the Yampa and Green rivers come together and wind around a giant monolith dubbed Steamboat Rock.
From campground No. 10, you can start a hike along the rock wall and get great shots of rafters floating the Green.
If you're lucky, peregrine falcons will scream above you.
For another hike, go east of Steamboat Rock past a ranger station to find the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers.
This place truly is wild.
It reminds me of my favorite camping trips I take with my dad in the remote Caprock Canyons in north Texas.
These are the places you can drive for 20 miles and not pass another soul.
These are the places you close your eyes and think about when the hustle and bustle at home is grinding you down.
These are the places that remind you there is plenty of land left to explore.
Just pack the car and go.
If you go
How to get there: Take U.S. Highway 40 west to Dinosaur, a two-hour drive from Steamboat Springs.
Turn right at Harper's Corner Road, just 2 miles east of Dinosaur. There is no entrance fee here.
After driving 25 miles, make a right at Echo Park Road. Go down the switchbacks and drive for about 10 miles until at a fork. Go left for a few miles to the campgrounds.
Camping: The Echo Park campground has 22 sites and rarely fills up. The cost is $8 per night. Park the car and access a hike from campground No. 10 that offers great views of the Green River.
Before going, plan your trip here
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com