Flaming Gorge

You may not have heard of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and neither had we. Several RVing friends recommended it, so Celia and I decided to check it out. This area is so large that it spans two states, Utah and Wyoming. A large reservoir was created by building a hydroelectric dam on the Green River near the small town of Dutch John, Utah. The 42,000 acre body of water extends over 90 miles into the State of Wyoming.

While we really enjoyed Dinosaur National Monument, the temperatures were climbing and we were camping without hookups. So it was time to move to higher elevations and the Ashley National Forest just south of Flaming Gorge was the perfect spot to do some boondocking. At over 8,000 feet in elevation, the nights and even the days were nice and cool. The added benefit was our spot had a great view with some mountains with lingering snow cover.

In the spring of 1869, John Wesley Powell and others navigated the Green River during an exploratory trip. Powell is credited with naming the area Flaming Gorge after seeing the sun set on the red rocks in the gorge. This expedition is most famous because of this group’s journey on the Colorado River through the entirety of the Grand Canyon.

In Flaming Gorge, one of the more scenic spots is in the Red Canyon area. There is a Visitor Center perched atop the gorge and offers trails to additional viewpoints. It was built on a rocky point some 1,700 feet above the reservoir. The Rim Trail follows the edge of the gorge for over a mile. The best view from this trail is near the Canyon Rim Campground which has an elevated viewing spot at a bend in the river.

The volunteers at the Visitor Center gave us several ideas of places to visit during our stay in the area. One of their suggestions was to drive the four mile dirt road to the Dowd Mountain Overlook. I agree with others that this might be the most spectacular viewpoint in the gorge. We took a long while to just take in the view and enjoy the solitude.

One day during our stay, we packed a picnic lunch and visited the site of the Flaming Gorge Dam. There are plenty of places to view the river from this vantage point and eat some lunch. There is even a BBQ food truck in case you forgot your meal or you just want smoked meat. Unfortunately, the dam is not open for tours at this time. There is, however, a walkway to the best view of the dam itself and of course the gift shop is open.

The reservoir is well known for its large trout. There are 30 plus pound fish caught in the reservoir each year. The Utah record is a 53 lb. 15 oz. catch in Flaming Gorge! In addition to trout, there are kokanee salmon and small mouth bass as well. Especially on weekends, there are many boats on the water trying their luck.

Several people had recommended taking the long dirt road to Spirit Lake, a high elevation lake near the gorge. I thought we would never get there and given all the wonderful views we had seen in the last few days, we were somewhat underwhelmed. There is the Ute Fire Lookout Tower on the way to the lake but it was not open due to a lack of volunteers to man the building. We were told that a volunteer will be available in August to open the historic fire lookout.

An adjacent road to the one to Spirit Lake, turned out to be the highlight of the day. It is called the Sheep Creek Geological Loop and it is an absolutely beautiful drive. It is currently open only on weekends, due to ongoing construction, and our timing was perfect. There are no buildings or structures on the entire drive except for a small campground near the entrance. What is there are tall cliffs and rock spires on both sides of the road. It took us a while to drive the loop because we frequently were stopping to take photos.

One of the popular spots to visit in the Flaming Gorge area is the historic Swett Ranch. This ranch, made possible by the 1906 Forest Homestead Act, was built by Oscar Swett starting in 1909. This site is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It is here where Oscar and Emma Swett lived and raised nine children. Even today this ranch seems remote, it is hard to imagine how independent they must have been to survive as homesteaders.

Over the years, the ranch expanded to 13 buildings including a corral, milk barn, meat house, and blacksmith shop. Oscar used man and horsepower for years even after trucks and tractors were available. He even collected discarded iron and steel and forged his own tools.

Most of the buildings remain in their original location in this example of an early pioneer homestead. In fact, electricity and a modern bathroom were not added until 1960. In 1972, the Forest Service purchased the ranch to prevent its destruction.

On Thursdays though Sundays, during summer weekends, volunteers open the ranch for visitors. At least on the day we visited, many folks were coming to see where a homesteading family lived years ago. The docents had wonderful stories of how the family descendants still visit the property and share their memories of the Swett Ranch.

Next, we head north to one of our favorites, Grand Teton National Park.

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