My New Favorite Place

August 20, 2014 at 8:28 am (Dinosaur National Monument, fine art photography, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Night Sky, Photography) (, , , , )

Rainbow over Rainbow Park

Rainbow over Rainbow Park

I had my weekend (Mon-Tues) all planned out:  get my aging minivan serviced at the Ford place in Vernal, Utah, visit the nearby McConkie Ranch’s petroglyphs, then swing south through Nine Mile Canyon (really 70 miles long) to see more rock art.  Car muffler repaired, check.  Car engine problems – still ongoing.  (Sigh!)  Drive up Dry Fork Canyon Road north of Vernal, Utah to McConkie Ranch.  Scramble up to see a handful of unimpressive petroglyphs.  Climb a ladder over a fence to follow a trail that mysteriously ends at a gate to see the more impressive Three Kings petroglyphs.  Give up on that idea since there’s nobody to ask.  See a magnificent peregrine falcon.  Then head west and south through several miles of oil/gas fields with muscular turbo-charged diesel trucks impatient to pass on these tight turns.  Feliciana (my 2000 Ford Windstar) has already whined and complained about going down this road, and my gut instinct tells me I don’t really want to do this.  When the road turns to gravel I realize I don’t have the heart to deal with the oil field traffic for who-knows-how-many-dirt-miles.  I turn around and pick another destination from my long list of places I want to see before my job at Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado ends in six weeks.

Green River from Island Park Overlook

Green River from Island Park Overlook

I head to Rainbow Park, on the other side of Split Mountain in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah (yes the park spans two states).  I use the handout map the park gives out for that area and make sure I stay south so I don’t go to Jones Hole instead.  But the forks in the road before you get into the monument aren’t signed very well, so I go right where I should have gone left and then try the GPS.  Amazingly, it knew where Rainbow Park is, so I get back on the correct dirt road and soon I am treated to an amazingly beautiful landscape of rolling sage hills, and the unfamiliar fraternal twin of the Split Mountain I knew best.


I also get to see an amazing wall of petroglyphs I’ve been lusting after – the McKee Springs panel. (More in a later blog.)  I was the only person on the road, save a rancher towing cattle, who pulled off onto his property.  It was heavenly!  Even the most desolate desert landscape comes alive in the right light, and this was indeed the right light.

There was a wall of thunderstorms to the north and the south all afternoon, but as we often see on the weather radar, Dinosaur National Monument seemed to be in a rain shadow.  Fluffy cumulus clouds decorated the cerulean sky, and as I usually do, I drove with my windows down.

The small campground at Rainbow Park was vacant.  The sites all had picturesque views of the Green River.  Sweet!  I wanted to see Island Park before the sun went down, but I only made it to the overlook.  As you can see by the photographs above, it was a stunning sight.  The Green River had emerged from the white-water canyons to a placid, meandering river valley, presided over by the northern flank of Split Mountain.

I heard voices far in the distance.  Focusing my binoculars on a likely beach, I saw a group of rafters making camp.  As the setting sun tinted the landscape maroon, I felt kind of sorry for those folks far below who couldn’t see the sun rays emanating from an obscuring cloud.


When the dramatic light had faded I returned to the Rainbow Park campground and noticed lightning flashing to the north.  Photographs along the Green River bank were unimpressive, but then I noticed stronger flashes from the south.  I remembered the cumulus I had seen building earlier, peeking over Split Mountain.  So I went back to the Island Park overlook and made a series of images with the lightning tinting the undersides of clouds already colored pumpkin by the lights of nearby Vernal.  As you can see, the stars and a jetliner were also recorded in this 20 second exposure.



I knew the crescent moon would rise sometime in the early morning hours, and I just kicked back my car seat and nodded off.  I woke with a start around 2:30 am, with a spotlight in my face.  The moon!

Crescent moonrise over the Green River at Island Park

Crescent moonrise over the Green River at Island Park

It conveniently ducked behind some picturesque clouds for added drama.  Wow!

I noticed my thin shadow, and took a self-portrait looking toward the lights of Vernal.

Selfie and Vernal city lights

Selfie and Vernal city lights

Split Mountain and Vernal city lights

Split Mountain and Vernal city lights

Then I set my phone’s alarm to wake me at 5:30 for the sunrise to follow behind the moon.  5:30 – a little color.  Hit snooze button.  5:45 – a little more.  Snooze.  Finally at 6:30 it was eye-popping.

Sunrise from Island Park Overlook

Sunrise from Island Park Overlook

Not only that, but I was feeling a little mist on my skin.  The sky to the west was bruised and dark.  Then it happened.  A huge rainbow stretching over…Rainbow Park!   I had to hand-stitch the lead photo to show the entire thing as my 24 mm lens could not capture it all.

Then, remembering that “the road is impassable when wet,” and reciting the mariner’s adage “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning,” I headed out.  The magic was gone from the landscape.  It was just another flat, gray desert canvas.  I had a hearty Denny’s breakfast in Vernal, did some grocery shopping, and then went to the park’s Cub Creek Road for more exploring.  It had been an amazing change of plans.  I’m glad I followed my instinct (and Feliciana’s!)  And I saw first hand how Rainbow Park got its name.

Text and photographs copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share


Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

Original hand-painted BW photographs for sale:  Etsy

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  1. Alli Farkas said,

    Wow! Fab photos! And such persistence to pursue them! Nothing like dedication to get to the goal.

  2. Judy Bell said,

    This post brought back good memories of Dinosaur to me.

  3. mbkircusMarily Kircus said,

    I’m thankful that you were there with your skills and equipment to capture this fleeting beauty and then that you shared it.

  4. Deborah Jerome said,

    Cindy, you are an amazing talent.

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Sharon Chapman Cribbs said,

    Beautiful pictures!

  6. Pam Leonard said,

    Can’t wait to see those petroglyphs!

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