In the 1954 hit comedy film The Long, Long Trailer (1), newlyweds Nicki Collini (Desi Arnaz) and Tracy Collini (Lucille Ball) want to save money to purchase a house. So they buy a new (1953) 40-foot New Moon trailer and a 125 HP V-8 Mercury Monterey convertible to tow it with and travel around the USA on their honeymoon. As might be guessed, there are misadventures and the trip turns into a series of slapstick disasters. But don’t fret -- everything ends happily with Nicki and Tracy hugging and kissing.
Among their many stops are several National Parks. What is of interest to us, constant reader, is the drive over an 8,000 foot mountain pass. This is a very steep road and although the new and powerful car is capable of the job, Nicki is really concerned that the altitude and the weight of the trailer may prevent him from getting to the top of the mountain. He’s also worried that the car’s breaks may fail coming down from the pass. So he gets prepared the night before in the trailer park.
Nicki takes Tracy back into the trailer, sees numerous large rocks on the floor, and tells her she must get rid of them. He heads to the garage to have the car checked out and the trailer park attendant, Mr. Ludlow (played by Oliver Blake), helps Tracy by carrying the rocks out of the trailer and putting them on the ground.
Watching Mr. Ludlow carrying a block out the trailer door, Tracy suddenly asks “What was the name on that one?” Ludlow reads the label taped to it “Dinosaur National Monument”. “Oh that’s one of my favorites” Tracy moans, “I just can’t let that go. Bring it back in again, please”. With a “Yes, ma’m” Mr. Ludlow obliges her wish.
The block is about 24” x 20” x 10”, light brown in color, and shows several sedimentary levels weathered to various depths. As best I can tell using the freeze command on my DVR, there is no bone on the surface. Given the color and the marked bedding, it does not appear to be a piece of the Carnegie Quarry sandstone. It doesn’t even look like any of the Mesozoic formation here. It most resembles something from the marine Paleozoic Formations, of which there are many in Dinosaur. Of course, there is the outside chance that the block is actually fabricated …….
The next day they head up the pass via the Whitney Portal Road. It is a rough go, with vehicles coming in the other direction, rockfall, precipitous drops, and getting the car’s tries stuck at a turnout. Shortly after making the summit, Nicki stops the car to take a break. While stopped the springs break with a crash on one side of the trailer and it suddenly leans steeply to one side. A suspicious Nicki storms back into the trailer and goes ballistic when he finds large rocks on the floor. Ignoring Tracy’s pleas, Nicki picks the blocks up and, one by one, throws them out the trailer door and over the cliff. One of the first blocks to go airborne is the easily identifiable rock from Dinosaur!
Why did Dinosaur National Monument figure so prominently in this movie? It is not because of a new Quarry Visitor Center --- that was not built until 1958.True, at this time one could visit the Carnegie Quarry and see some test excavations being conducted, but that did not have a high national profile. It is almost certainly related to the great dam controversy swirling around Dinosaur in the early 1950s.
After WWII the US Bureau of Reclamation planned to build a series of hydroelectric dams on the rivers of the western United States. Several of those were scheduled for Dinosaur and one would have flooded the spectacular Echo Park in the middle of the Monument. Echo Park, with its majestic 1000 ft canyon walls is where the Green and Yampa rivers join. Under this plan Echo Park would have been filled with water to a depth of 900 feet!
The Echo Park Dam proposal became the first battle between environmentalists and developers and was a watershed moment for the environmental movement (2). Ultimately, a compromise was reached in 1956 (two years after the movie was released). The Dinosaur dams were dropped from the plans and other sites, such as Glen Canyon, were substituted.
The Echo Park battle made national headlines in the early 1950s and is probably the reason why Dinosaur is in The Long, Long Trailer. I hope Lucy wasn’t so busy stealing rocks from Dinosaur that she didn’t get a chance to see some dinosaur bones while she was here.
(1) The Long, Long Trailer was released on DVD on May 2, 2006 by Warner Home Video. It was released as a single disc and as a part of a 3-DVD set featuring two other Ball/Arnaz movies, Forever, Darling and Too Many Girls.
(2) Harvey, M.T. 2000 A Symbol of Wilderness: Echo Park and the American Conservation Movement. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97932-1.