Flaming Gorge National Rec Area

May 18 – June 26 2019

Iconic view of Flaming Gorge

This is our first, but hopefully not last, Interpretive Host job. We found an opening online, called, talked, made a deal, and headed for the Flaming Gorge NRA, all within a few days. We knew NOTHING about the area so we searched the Internet and started browsing. WOW! We discovered that we would be working in a beautiful spot. It is exactly the type of place we would have visited if we’d known about it. Sometimes life throws wonderful surprises at you.

Red Canyon Visitor Center

Red Canyon Visitor Center – Our Office

We work at the Red Canyon Visitor Center nestled in the middle of the Ashley National Forest and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We have a full hookup site under the Ponderosa Pines with five other host couples. It is only a mile to our job so some days we walk through the woods to get there. The bighorn sheep and mule deer make regular appearances. The chipmunks, ground squirrels and yellow bellied marmots hang out at camp (and everywhere else) and we have seen a ton of other wildlife on our wanders around the area. We’ve seen Osprey catching fish and sitting on nests, bald eagles, golden eagles, and red tailed hawks. Numerous smaller birds fly through the canyons, hop among the trees and sing, chirp and tweet throughout the day. Hummingbirds swarm the feeders that people put out for them. We also saw a herd of elk crossing just in front of us on a curve at night. Needless to say we didn’t see much of them and under the circumstances, we were good with that. No need to get up close and personal in the middle of a highway. Hopefully we’ll catch sight of them again during daylight hours.

Red Canyon and Green River Reservoir

The visitor center sits at 7,400 feet elevation and 1,400 feet above the reservoir. We’ve noticed a ten degree temperature difference from our camp to the Flaming Gorge Dam. We’ll be thankful for that when things start to warm up here.

Flaming Gorge Dam at full blast

Flaming Gorge Dam

We’ve toured several dams and this is the first one that worked to fix the changes it made to the river below the dam. Instead of just drawing from the bottom of the lake like most dams, they added a structure to the reservoir side of the dam that allows them to draw from three different lake levels so they can regulate the water temperature below the dam to mimic the condition of the river before the dam was built.

We were lucky to be there when they simulated the spring runoff. It was amazing! Over the course of the first day the dam operators gradually ramped up the flow through the generators until they were at maximum power. At that point 4,500 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water flowed out the bottom of the dam. That’s a lot of water. However, they weren’t done yet. The next day they started pushing water through their two overflow/jet valves. By the end of that day, they were shooting another 4,000 cfs of water in giant rooster tails. That’s a total of 8,500 cfs blasting down the river. It was a sight to behold.

We were told the normal, casual seven mile float from Spillway, just below the dam, to Little Hole takes about three hours. When the dam’s outflow is at maximum you can cover that same distance in less than one hour. No paddling necessary. This release can raise the river water level up to four feet. They’ll keep it flowing for about one week then back it off. I’m sure you are wondering WHY they do this. They normally release water as needed for power generation, to keep the reservoir at a certain level, to control flooding, or to fulfill water distribution requirements below the dam. Those are normal dam activities, but this dam release was special. Remember that they can maintain the river temperatures to keep the native fish happy. Well some of those fish don’t spawn unless they get blasted with a natural big spring thaw so they blast them with a simulated spring thaw and the endangered fish continue to reproduce and swim happily in the Green River. We were seriously impressed.

Tours of the dam are free and if you bring some quarters, you can buy fish food from their machines and feed the HUGE rainbow trout that hang out under the lower viewing deck waiting for all the school groups and tourists to come feed them.

Recreation

They’ve got it all. Well, OK, maybe not all but a LOT!

Fishing – This area is world renowned as a premier fishing destination. (Who knew?) You can fish on the reservoir with deep water in the wider lake areas, steep channels through the canyons and all kinds of nooks and crannies with different depths along over 350 miles of shoreline. In the winter you can go out ice fishing. That’s the upper part. You can also fly fish below the dam. We don’t fish but this is a HUGE thing. Now add in fishing in the High Uintah Mountain Lakes and the wetlands of the upper Green River and you cover just about everything.

Water Sports – Power boats, paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards and rafts; if it floats, it’s probably out there on one part of the water or the other; several marinas and outfitters stand ready to get you out there

Hiking – Hundreds of miles of trails from river to high desert terrain to really high mountain alpine terrain

Mountain Biking – Many of the trails are suitable for mountain bikes

Horseback Riding – Red Canyon Lodge offers horseback rides – an hour, a half day, a full day or overnight

Camping/Lodging – Primitive to deluxe camping, you’ll find it at Flaming Gorge; there are several lodges with rooms, cabins or yurts.

Scenic Drives – Over a dozen scenic drives that include gorgeous views, petroglyphs, wild horses, geology, dinosaur trackways and more

OHV/ATV – There are numerous OHV trails in the National Forest and surrounding areas; nearby Vernal has an annual OHV Festival

Wildlife – (top to bottom) Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, Yellow Bellied Marmot

Nature – In an hour or less you can go from high desert areas along the upper reservoir to Alpine meadows in the mountains. You will traverse several different habitats that are home to numerous plants and animals. The spring wildflower displays are beautiful. Everywhere you go there is something marvelous to see, hear, and smell: red cliffs, rugged canyons, tall Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines, aspens, herds of elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, Pronghorn, mountain goats, playful marmots, chipmunks, ground squirrels, osprey, eagles, rushing streams and seasonal waterfalls. Add in the sound of the wind in the pines and the birdsong, the scent of the sage and pines, and you can enjoy the area with all your senses.

Folded Rock seen along Sheep Greek Geologic Loop

Geology

This is another reason people from all over the world flock to this area. There was an uplift in the land (explained in our Dinosaur NM post – up next) that tilted the layers of rock at a 60 degree angle. Erosion took off the top of the uplift and created channels through it so all those beautiful, multi-colored layers are exposed. The Sheep Creek Geologic Loop lets you drive along a beautiful creek and view many of these layers as well as the folded rock caused by the Uinta Fault. The roads through the Forest have signs telling you which strata you are passing through. Our job at the Red Canyon Visitor Center has us standing on the oldest layer in the park.

Green River viewed from Little Hole Trail

History

One hundred and fifty years ago, John Wesley Powell led an expedition down the Green River to the Colorado and on through Grand Canyon. He mapped, journaled and recorded the trip. The wild rivers that he and his crew braved on that expedition have been partly tamed by dams. If you were to travel in Powell’s footsteps today, you would go from calm reservoir lakes to rolling rivers with rapids and cascades then back to lakes again; back and forth along the length of these beautiful rivers. The water is monitored and controlled to provide electricity, irrigation for agricultural fields and for domestic use. The reservoirs and rivers both have become amazing recreational sites to be enjoyed by all.

Top to bottom – Ute Fire Tower, Fire Finder, and Living Quarters

Ute Fire Tower

The first to be built and the last standing fire tower in Utah is located here. Free tours are given on weekends. It was interesting to imagine living in that tower with no water, electricity or bathroom (the outhouse on the ground and set back in the woods). A video on the Ashley National Forest Website explains the tower and some of the people that worked there. You can get a 360 degree view of the surrounding area and check out their azimuth table they used to pinpoint a fire’s location.

Swett Ranch

Swett Ranch

The Swett family filed their first homestead claim in what was the Greendale area in 1909. They lived at this ranch for over 60 years. They started with one small log cabin (disassembled at another location and reassembled here) and expanded multiple times until they had several houses and quite a few out buildings from which they operated the ranch. It was interesting to find that though Oscar Swett shunned technology for many years, they were the first family in the area to have a telephone. We learned that the President of the United States called the Swetts on that phone to tell them that construction of the dam had been approved. Free tours of the ranch are given on weekends. In the spring they have a “Cowboy Event” and brand cattle at the ranch. The Forest Service leases out the adjacent land for cattle grazing. You can still see the herd lazily wandering through the green grass with the red cliffs rising behind them.

J & H

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