2015: Lake Powell

Coal Mine Canyon

April 4


We love finding off-the-beaten-track points of interest, and I'd found another semi-obscure destination for us to visit near Lake Powell: a remote ravine called Coal Mine Canyon near Tuba City, about a 90-minute drive from Page. The internet directions to this unmarked destination were a hoot. "Turn on the dirt track that leaves highway 264 between mileposts 336 and 337. This road leads to a new-looking two-story residence, but bear to the right on a side track that passes an isolated windmill and water tank, ending at a parking area." No, I'm not kidding.

House with cows. Where did THIS come from? The windmill.

Turns out the directions were quite good, and the landmarks were just as described. You'd never know what was hiding off the highway on this dirt road. The visible landscape is a nondescript plain populated by the described residence, the windmill, and a few cows. But oh, what's lurking just over the horizon! A real hidden gem that takes your breath away, practically in the backyard of the Grand Canyon.

We could only walk a short distance around the rim of the canyon, since it was fenced at points on both sides; but it was still a very worthwhile sight. I suppose it's possible to become bored with Arizona's stunning red-and-white strata, but I'm not there yet.

Oboy! Jurassic Park!

We made one other stop in the area to see the "Dinosaur Tracks" located on Navajo land near Tuba City. This is one of those hokey roadside attractions that you just can't pass up. You drive up to the ever-present jewelry stands where several Navajo "guides" stand around waiting for the next sucker patsy chump patron to arrive. Now, I had done my research, and according to this online article, there are quite a few genuine fossilized tracks in this location, but you can't believe everything the guides point out, such as actual bones or eggs or petrified dino poop. Sure enough, as soon as we opened the car doors, the next-on-deck Navajo approached us, volunteering to give us a guided tour. They don't actually charge anything, but of course they expect a tip. Our guide introduced himself as Sean (of the Irish Navajo, I assume) and asked where we were from. And we were off to dino-land.

Dinosaurus hydroponicus.

Just a few steps beyond the jewelry stands, we stepped onto some uneven pinkish stone and found the first fossils. Sean carried a water bottle and he kept spritzing the indentations so we could see them better. As the walk went on, I had to ask him not to repeat this process; I preferred my photos to be unwatered. Sean asked us again where we were from (the second of three times). This was one of several indications during the tour that Sean didn't have his oars all the way in the water.

There really were a LOT of tracks in this area and it was amazing to see them, but somewhat disconcerting that they were being trampled by scores of tourists. I was surprised that paleontologists hadn't tried to protect them. Maybe the Navajo considered them too lucrative a tourist gig to give up to science. Free enterprise, gotta love it.

Escargot, anyone?

At one point, Sean wetted a circular spot in the stone and mumbled something about a fossil of a sea creature. I have no idea if it was or if it wasn't, but the facsimile he drew with his water bottle was worth a picture all its own.

Now we come to the eye-rolling portion of our program, where Sean pointed out all the things I knew were a hoax. I didn't take a photo of the best one because I was trying so hard not to laugh: a series of four small oblong stones, fractured at each end, graduated in size and laid out end-to-end, introduced as "dinosaur tail bones." Snort! I'll let the photos of the other "fossils" speak for themselves.

Dinosaur 'eggs' (NOT). Dinosaur 'bone' (NOT). Dinosaur 'poop' (NOT). T-rex print (NOT).
One more pretty rock. Veloci-Rapper!

I let Sean keep his paleontological illusions, Mike gave him a generous tip, and we both bit our lips until safely inside the car. We were still snickering twenty miles down the highway when I forced Mike to pull over while I took yet another photo of an interesting formation.

When we got back to camp, Mike dragged his toe in the sand and exclaimed, "Look! It's a Jay-Z-Rex!" I sprinted for my camera.

Now that we've already shipped my new computer fan to Moab, Mike is really getting into the spirit. He's added a new computer battery and a couple of bags of Feline Pine cat litter to the pile. Hope they have a good UPS man there!