An Autumn Return to Jones Hole, Island Park & Rainbow Park
Friday – Sunday, October 15-17, 2021
A little while back Diane found out that she was actually going to have this Friday off from school, and she immediately let me know that she really wanted to go to Dinosaur National Monument over this three-day weekend for her birthday, so I also took Friday off from work and planned the trip. She didn’t have anywhere specific in the park that she wanted to go, she was just looking forward to getting outside away from school for a bit, so she left all the details up to me. I thought she would enjoy an easy overnight backpacking trip along the trail into Jones Hole since it happens to be one of my favorite hikes in the park, so back in September I called and reserved one of the campsites at Ely Creek for Friday night. The last time I had hiked into Jones Hole was in the spring when everything was lush and green, so I was looking forward to checking it out in the fall. I figured we could then spend the rest of the weekend hiking a couple of trails that we had not been on yet and maybe revisit some rock art sites, too. We were certainly looking forward to spending a long weekend in Dinosaurland together!
Over the days leading up to the start of the trip a strong cold front moved through the area dropping temperatures significantly and leaving snow behind at moderately high elevations. I wasn’t expecting it to be this cold so early in the season when I had originally planned this overnight backpacking trip, but thankfully it was a pretty short and easy hike, so we were able to carry our winter sleeping bags and quilts with us to keep warm. We left home early on Friday morning and headed north to Dinosaur National Monument. There was still snow on the road near the top of Douglass Pass in the Book Cliffs from the recent storms, so the road was a bit slick in places. Before heading up to the Jones Hole Trailhead, we stopped at the Split Mountain Campground in the main part of the park so we could hike part of the River Trail and visit some petroglyphs.
Split Mountain in the morning.
We quickly found the petroglyph panel near the campground, but most of them were heavily vandalized. This is one of the few that wasn’t.
There were a couple petroglyphs of large horses here.
Diane on the River Trail above the Green River.
The fall colors were looking nice along the river this morning. We hiked to the high point and overlook along the trail and then returned the way we came so we could get over to the Jones Hole Trailhead.
After driving around Split Mountain and then up onto Diamond Mountain, we descended into Diamond Gulch to the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery.
After having lunch at the trailhead, we shouldered our packs and started down the trail.
I think this sign means No Juggling Rocks Next to the Cliff?
Although I think we might have been a little bit late for peak fall colors since there were a lot of leaves on the ground already, there was still plenty of color around.
We stopped to check out the rock art of the Deluge Shelter along the way.
After setting up our tent at camp we hiked up Ely Creek to see the Ely Creek Falls.
Then we went exploring and searching for more rock art. We found a lot of faded and hard-to-see sites, but this was probably the best one we found.
Exploring ledges above the canyon…
Before it started getting too late I wanted to hike up the Island Park Trail to where it climbed out of the canyon. Diane wasn’t feeling up for the steep climb, so she found a place to sit in the sun at the base of a large sandstone wall and waited for me there. The Island Park Trail follows the historic route that rangers used to access the Jones Hole area prior to the construction of Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery and its access road. These days this trail does not see very much use and is hard to follow in a few places.
Here’s a view from near the top of the Island Park Trail looking back over Big Draw and Ely Creek.
From here you can see there is snow on Wild Mountain to the left of the large sandstone butte.
The hike didn’t take me terribly long and I was probably only gone for about 40-45 minutes, but when I returned Diane was excited to show me some petroglyphs she had found while I was gone. Apparently she had picked a good spot to wait for me as there was a wall of Classic Vernal Style petroglyphs nearby.
Broken concentric circles with a hard-to-see Fremont figure on the right.
Although there were a lot of petroglyphs on this wall, most of them were very hard to see and even harder to photograph. This is the one that stood out the best.
Before returning to camp for the evening we hiked a little ways into the Labyrinths to see what else we could find. I liked the black stripes on this wall.
Lost in the Labyrinths
Autumn Along Jones Hole Creek
We returned to camp, ate some dinner just before sunset and then went to bed early since it was getting cold out quickly. It was going to be a long and cold night!
At night we camp at the mouth of a small creek, which affords us a good supper of trout. In camp to-night we discuss the propriety of several different names for this canyon. At the falls encountered at noon its characteristics change suddenly. Above, it is very narrow, and the walls are almost vertical; below, the canyon is much wider and more flaring, and high up on the sides crags, pinnacles, and towers are seen. A number of wild and narrow side canyons enter, and the walls are much broken. After many suggestions our choice rests between two names; Whirlpool Canyon and Craggy Canyon, neither of which is strictly appropriate for both parts of it; so we leave the discussion at this point, with the understanding that it is best, before finally deciding on a name, to wait until we see what the character of the canyon is below.
Major John Wesley Powell,
June 21, 1869
Our warm winter sleeping bags kept us warm all night and we woke up with the sunrise on Saturday morning, although the sunlight wouldn’t be reaching the bottom of the canyon for a couple more hours. In order to stay warm while the canyon was still in the shade we though it would be best to start hiking down canyon to the Green River in Whirlpool Canyon, so we left right away.
Jones Hole Trail in the Morning
Diane hiking ahead of me through Jones Hole. The golden cottonwoods were looking nice in this part of the canyon.
Leaves On A Boulder
There were a couple deer on the trail that we passed by.
It was a lovely morning for a walk down the canyon and we stayed pretty warm.
Soon we reached the Green River in Whirlpool Canyon. There appeared to only be one river campsite that was occupied this morning.
The recent storms had turned the Green River muddy, so here you can see the clear water of Jones Hole Creek meeting the muddy water of the Green River.
The hike back to camp was pretty spectacular!
The Temple of Ely Creek
We arrived back to camp just as the sunlight reached the floor of the canyon. It was perfect timing! We packed up our gear and started hiking back out.
Yellow On Green
We returned to the trailhead at the Fish Hatchery and had lunch at one of the picnic tables there. Then we headed off to Rainbow Park and Island Park for the rest of the evening.
After setting up camp at the Rainbow Park Campground we explored a few of the side roads around Island Park.
Then we returned to a very cool petroglyph panel so I could try to get photos in better light. This is definitely one of my favorites!
We even found some new ones!
We had a good view into Split Mountain Canyon from an overlook near camp.
There are only four campsites at the Rainbow Park Campground and they are all pretty close together, so we were happy to have the entire place to ourselves this evening.
This was the view from our campsite as we ate dinner just after sunset.
Once it was dark out we got into the tent for another long and cold night and then fell asleep to the sounds of nearby elk bugling.
One, two, three, four miles we go, rearing and plunging with the waves, until we wheel to the right into a beautiful park and land on an island, where we go into camp.
An hour or two before sunset I cross to the mainland and climb a point of rocks where I can overlook the park and its surroundings. On the east it is bounded by a high mountain ridge. A semicircle of naked hills bounds it on the north, west and south.
The broad, deep river meanders through the park, interrupted by many wooded islands; so I name it Island Park, and decide to call the canyon above, Whirlpool Canyon.
Major John Wesley Powell,
June 22, 1869
We got up before sunrise on Sunday morning and it was even colder out than it had been on Saturday morning. As we packed up camp into the Jeep there was fog above the river and hoarfrost on everything.
A cold morning view from camp.
Shortly after leaving camp we were stopped by a large herd of elk crossing the road in front of us and then they climbed up onto this ridge.
We had gotten up early this morning so we could drive back around Split Mountain to the main part of the park for a hike before the crowds showed up, but with the fog above the river I made a last minute decision to drive up to the Island Park Overlook first, and it turned out to be an excellent choice!
River of Fog
Hidden Island Park
Trees & Fog
I absolutely love the loop of golden cottonwoods in the fog here. What a scene!
After taking a bunch of photos over the fog from the overlook, we hit the road again and made it to the main part of Dinosaur National Monument. There was still some fog hanging over the river when we arrived.
We made to to the trailhead for the Sound of Silence Trail just as the last of the fog was disappating.
Then we started hiking the Sound of Silence Trail, which is one of the few remaining trails in the park that I had not hiked yet.
The trail follows a narrow ravine for a while through these colorful badlands.
A nice view from the top of the Sound of Silence Trail where it crosses over a rocky ridge.
The Sound of Silence Trail
Land of the Tilted Rocks
Nearing the end of the loop trail.
Before heading back home we stopped by the Green River Campground so I could hike the other half of the River Trail that we had skipped on Friday morning.
View over the Green River from the highpoint of the River Trail.
Fall along the Green River.
The short hike took me less than 30 minutes and when I returned to the Jeep we started the drive back home. We had another amazing long weekend in Dinosaurland and I look forward to returning in the spring!