Pt 1, Flaming Gorge...
Sep 26, 2016
|Today we drove the beautiful Flaming Gorge–Uintas National Scenic Byway (Wyoming 530, SR-44 and US-191), punctuated by signs noting the years of geologic history embedded in the layers of surrounding rock: home to fossilized squid, graveyard of the dinosaurs, petrified forests, and sand dunes. This recreation area in southwestern Wyoming and eastern Utah comprises some 201,000 acres of scenic land surrounding the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir, fed by the waters of the Green River, is 91 miles long with approximately 375 miles of shoreline ranging from low flats to cliffs more than 1,500 feet high.
Petroglyphs have been found, giving evidence that American Indians lived in, or passed through, the area hundreds of years before the first Europeans arrived. To these natives, the Green River was known as the Seeds-ka-dee-a, the Crow Indian word meaning prairie hen.
Prior to 1848, part of the Flaming Gorge area in Wyoming belonged to Mexico, but was annexed to the United States after the Mexican War. Other parts of the area have been claimed, at one time or another, by France, Spain, Britain, Mexico, the early state of California and the Mormon state of Deseret.
John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Army major and professor, mapped the area initially and named Flaming Gorge and other land features on his way down the Green and Colorado Rivers. On May 29, 1869, Major Powell began the last great exploration of unknown territory in what later became the continental United States. The explorers made their way down the Green River past Flaming Gorge, which they named, to the confluence with the Colorado and into the Grand Canyon. Almost starving to death in the process, they somehow survived the Colorado River and made it back to civilization.
The entire region is fascinating to both the amateur and serious geologist. The sedimentary rock formations of the Flaming Gorge area resemble layers of a cake, one stratum upon another. The formations accumulated from silt and mud on the bottom of a great fresh-water lake, which occupy much of what is now Wyoming. Fossils of flora and fauna from prehistoric times are frequently found in the area.
Flaming Gorge has become nationally known as the "fishing hot spot" of America. The reservoir offers quality trout fishing year 'round. A fishing license from either Wyoming or Utah is required, and a special-use stamp is available for fishing both states. Flaming Gorge is one of the best lake trout waters in the US, with fish occasionally going over 40 pounds. The Utah record lake trout (51 lb 8 oz) was caught at Flaming Gorge in 1988, and there may yet be a bigger one swimming in the reservoir now. Flaming Gorge also produced Utah's record brown trout (33 lb 10 oz) and rainbow trout (26 lb 2 oz). Now that's what I call fishing! Boat launching ramps, located close to campgrounds, are provided at convenient access points along both sides of the reservoir. Boat rentals, marina supplies and food are available at Buckboard Crossing and Lucerne Valley.
Kaleidoscopic defines the awesome coloration of this desert/reservoir area, for it is truly a land of living color with the many rock formations sculptured through the centuries by wind and water, changing colors and perspective with the varying sun.
One of the most awe-inspiring scenes in the region is Firehole Canyon, south of Rock Springs off US Highway 191. The canyon features chimneys and pinnacles reflecting in the blue water of the reservoir. The view of the reservoir & the dam is great at the turnout & they do offer a tour of the dam. We're pretty spoiled having Hoover Dam right in our own backyard in Nevada so we passed on the tour today.
There are many recommended overlooks on this scenic byway but perhaps one of the best is the Red Canyon Vista. As you head down 191 south you eventually have to make a decision on whether to turn left to head to Vernal, Utah, or to turn right to view the Red Canyon overlook. The Red Canyon Vista is found a short distance from the highway on a spur road seven miles south of the Wyoming border. You then travel a one way road back 3 miles & take a short walk for this fabulous view. Well worth it!
Sheep Creek Canyon has been designated a special geological area by the Forest Service because of its dramatically twisted and upturned rocks. A 13-mile, mostly paved loop road offers an hour tour of a beautiful, narrow canyon, a process that began with the uplifting of the Uinta Mountains years ago. We were lucky enough to encounter a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as we wound our way through the spires. This loop begins 15 miles west of U.S. Highway 101/Hwy 44 intersection & returns to Hwy 44 5 miles south of Manila. Not to be missed!
Passing through the lovely green Lucerne Valley you eventually reach Wyoming Highway 530 which begins its south end at the Wyoming-Utah State Line. From the state line you head north, paralleling the west side of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Green River. Continuing north you emerge from the badlands, and the terrain opens up. The route then travels through the desert, with frequent side roads leading to the shore of Flaming Gorge Lake.
As you continue on, the cactus and sagebrush-filled Devils Playground badlands and the rock formations of Haystack Buttes are off to the left. To the east is the reservoir, and as you continue north, the reservoir diminishes. By the time the river enters the city of Green River (upstream), it is a river and not a reservoir.
Well, that's about it. I hope you enjoy seeing the pics of this lovely scenic byway, we certainly enjoyed spending 4+ hours exploring the area. If you are ever traveling I-80 between Green River & Rock Springs, Wyoming I highly recommend you take the time to see this natural wonder. It's impressive & beautiful!!!