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Flaming Gorge National Monument - Utah

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This superb national landmark straddles a state border -- with most of Lake Flaming Gorge to the north in Wyoming and the Flaming Gorge itself below the Utah border. This is a truly outstanding place to visit, and remains as one of my major memories -- months after completing my tour of the Rockies.

The "Gorge" is the Red Canyon of the Green River which carved this deep chasm through brilliantly colored rock layers. The lake stretches north from the gorge for 91 miles and is one of the nation's largest reservoirs. The lake was created from the river as part of the huge Upper Colorado Project, by a dam across this Colorado River tributary.

What to See & Do

There are two ways to reach the recreation area. From the south, take State Highway, from Vernal, Utah. This route leads to the Flaming Gorge Dam and Reservoir after a short but fascinating drive up the side of the plateau.

Another highway route -- south from Green River, Wyoming through the recreation area to Vernal -- leads along Highway 530, running near the western shore of the lake. Another route, via Highway 191, leads south from Interstate 80 near Rock Springs, skirting the lake but providing access to Firehole Canyon. You can do the complete circle route within a day but I advise a more gentle exploration of the recreation area. There are campsites and even a lodge at Flaming Gorge and this is one natural wonder which shouldn't be rushed through.

The recreation area is comprised of several separate attractions, linked by Highway 44 which runs along the south rim of the Gorge, Highway 530 which runs north from Manila, Utah near the west shore of the lake and Highway 191 which leads north from Vernal, past the Flaming Gorge Dam to Firehole Canyon. To get to the recreation area from Vernal, take Highway 191. The Hwy. 44 junction (with access to the central part of the Gorge) is 35 miles north of Vernal.

The Red Gorge, seen from the dam and several rim viewpoints, is truly magnificent. There are vistas with parking areas at Red Canyon, with a summer information center, campground and lodge. You can walk along the rim for wonderful views of the red rock walls and the very dark green river below. The flooding of the canyon has obviously slowed the river down and raised the water level, hut your imagination takes hold when you peer down the steep walls .

The section of Highway 44 running through the recreation area provides several additional viewpoints, of the Uinta Mountains and the forests which cover the slopes. Early September is a perfect time to visit Flaming Gorge with large aspen groves showing their fall yellow colors in portions of the forest which were harvested in years past. This is one part of the Rockies where clear cutting has quickly generated early forest development. There are picnic places throughout the area. The Dowd Mountain Overlook is a particularly scenic picnic area toward the western end of the Gorge.

A second feature of the recreation area is the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area, off Highway 44 on a loop drive. Here, craggy rocks shove their way into the sky, with pinnacles, oddly shaped hoodoos and tumbled rocks. There are signs along the loop road pointing out the geological formations. Here, too, there are picnic sites.

To the north of the small village of Manila, there are several lake access roads. Lucerne Valley Road takes you to a marina, camping, boat launch, picnic areas and a store. Squaw Hollow Road leads to the central part of the lake and a boat ramp. Buckboard Crossing at the northern end of the lake has a campground, boat ramp, dump station, and gas. On the eastern side of the recreation area, via Hwy. 191, Firehole Canyon is another scenic spot with a campground, picnic tables, boat ramp and dump station. Anglers should be aware that some of the largest mackinaw caught in the West have come out of Flaming Gorge Lake.

Visitors to the Flaming Gorge Dam may take a self-guided tour of the facility with the main information center for the recreation area at this site, near the small Forest Service community of Dutch John.

Below the dam is one of the finest river-recreation areas in the country. The first 12 miles below the dam is a blue ribbon trout stream of wide renown. Motors are not allowed on the stretch between the dam and Red Creek and there is a riverside trail in this area. Rubber rafts can be rented locally and guided raft trips are available. Below this area, Brown's Park is a long valley where the Green River winds through hills and wide, flat stretches. Farther west, the river enters the canyons in the Dinosaur National Monument. This section of the river offers river rafters an exhilarating experience, through turbulent rapids and swift moving stretches. This part of the river is best rafted with tour guides.

Visitors to the recreation area should consider visiting the historic Swett Ranch, located north of the dam on Highway 191. This early homestead was settled by Oscar Swett and his family in 1909. Cabins were built, fields were cleared; Oscar ran a sawmill and built a blacksmith shop. The family prospered for many years. Then, the dam was built in the late 1950s and Oscar, growing old, sold the property in 1968 and died a few months later. His widow continued to live on the ranch, which belonged to a developer until 1970. The ranch was purchased by the Forest Service in 1972 and it was placed on the state and national lists of historic sites. It's a fine example of the western homestead and is visited by thousands each year.

The highway route from the Hwy. 191/44 junction to Manila was named the first National Forest Scenic Byway in 1988. Passing by the Red Gorge and the Sheep Creek Canyon, it's an unforgettable journey through geological time.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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Flaming Gorge Lodge
(435) 889-3788

Located near the lip of the Red Gorge, this lodge has 44 rooms, a restaurant, and lounge, with moderate rates for rooms, as well as more deluxe accommodation ($ to $$$).

This is a seasonal operation near the small community of Dutch John, north of Vernal. There are several public campgrounds in the area including a large one near the lodge.

Other hotels can be found in Vernal and Green River.

Nearby Places

Dinosaur National Monument
Green River (Wyoming)
Salt Lake City
Park City

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