It was already mid-afternoon when we started Yampa Bench on the western end after doing Harpers Corner and Echo Park. The weather was perfect, and we were looking forward to seeing the rest of the eastern side of Dinosaur National Monument. It definitely didn't disappoint.
The trail was mellow and relaxing, just like the end of Echo Park we were just on. We got closer to the Yampa River and found a pull out. Monica pulled in and up onto the rocks at the end, and the rest of the group found spots to stop at. We got out to walk around, hoping to find Mantle Cave that we saw on the map. When we got close to the cliff edge we could see the huge alcove below us. We could even see an information sign at the base of it. We didn't realize the road we saw next actually headed down there, so we didn't go down to the cave or the old site of Mantle Ranch. Next time.
The next stop was at Harding Hole, and we were all speechless when we saw it. It was easy to get to with lots of parking, and we got out snacks to sit on the edge of the cliff and just stare with our mouths open. The river was below us, and we could see how it weaved around huge rock cliffs. This view was worth it, possibly the highlight of the day. But we kept going, eventually.
The stop at Wagon Wheel Point was nice, but nothing compared to Harding Hole. We were jaded. So, we didn't stay there for long.
There were some curves and switchbacks, and then the long section as we headed east and worked our way to the park boundary. When we started up the switchbacks, we stopped at the wide one to take some pictures of where we'd been. There had obviously been a forest fire there at some point, but it was coming back nicely. It was very scenic.
We didn't stop at the kiosk, and it wasn't long before we were out of the monument. We stopped at the intersection with County Road 14 and talked about what we should do next. We thought about taking Bear Valley Road west to connect back with Harpers Corner, but in the end we just did the rest of Yampa Bench. We passed the other trails along the way and planned to do them next time.
It wasn't long before we were back on Highway 40 and heading back to camp. Split Mountain Campground was amazing, and we were looking forward to an evening of relaxation and chit chat. It was a great day.