Heading east on I-80 from Salt Lake City is an enjoyable, curvy and scenic interstate ride. The ascent from the basin into the mountains begins immediately and with the increase in altitude comes a complimentary and welcome decrease in temperature. After reaching Parley's Summit, the next well-known ski resort is Park City. The ski slopes are visible in the distance, but the requisite amount of snow and cold temperatures are not part of the equation. No worries. I'm not going skiing. Today is 6-6-6 and I'm intent on spending a hot, scorching day wandering around the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Just before the I-80/I-84 junction the terrain changes dramatically to a red rock formation. After that, there are just long strips of interstate to cover as I head east to Fort Bridger.
Evantson, WY is the first town inside the UT/WY border. I was reminded of my 2002 48-Plus run as I passed by the store where I obtained a receipt to document Wyoming. I decided to drop down from I-80 just east of Evanston at Fort Bridger on SR-410. This would take me to Manila and the southwestern edge of the gorge - a good place to start.
Between Fort Bridger and Manila the terrain is dry and desert-like in appearance. To the south, snow can still be seen on the high mountain tops. Down in the Green River valley, though, it's apparent that water is indeed the stuff of life. Large ranches run through the entire valley. Mostly cattle ranches, but there's a fair bit of farming as well. Without water, this entire region would be lifeless.
The first glimpse of Flaming Gorge comes west of Manila as you crest the hill and begin the descent into town.
In addition to the stunning scenery, riding around the gorge is like a lesson in geology. As you cross each geologic formation there are signs indicating the current formation and what can be found there or how it was formed millions of years ago. For instance, some signs say "Dinosaurs Roamed Here" or "Fossilized Squids" or "Coal Was Formed Here" or "Volcanic Ash." When considering the geologic periods these formations were created, it really puts into perspective how insignificant we are and how miniscule and precious our time is here.
While studying the gorge area, one of the loops I wanted to run was the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area. It's a twenty mile loop that begins a few miles south of Manila - numbers 2, 3 and 4 on the map above. On a scale of 1 to 10 the road surface is a 5 with periodic gravel on the northern end. Nothing that would prevent any bike from navigating the loop, but it's apparent the weather is harsh on the road and the state doesn't maintain it very well. I wasn't running the loop for the road, but for the scenery. From that perspective, it's a 10 all the way around.
After running the loop I headed for the damn. Before crossing, I pulled into the parking lot and wandered out on a peninsula with a few trails and picnic tables. Apparently, the entire gorge area is home to many different birds of prey from osprey to bald eagles. As I stopped to pull the camera up and take a picture of the lake, I noticed a bird dart downward into the water and come back out with a fish in its claws. I wasn't sure what kind of bird it was until I read one the signs in front of me. It was an Osprey and I was lucky to witness a successful catch.
Flaming Gorge Damn is yet another amazing feat of engineering in the west. The reservoir is 91 miles long with 375 miles of shoreline and contains 4.7 billion cubic meters of water all held in place and stabilized by a slab of concrete. The next time I'm feeling the pressure of life, I'll think about the Flaming Gorge Damn to put it all in perspective.
Heading north on US-191 from the damn, the day was getting shorter. I planned to spend the night in Rock Springs and then run the west side of the gorge in the morning. On my way north, afternoon storms were moving in over the gorge.
The next morning I awoke and hit the road. Just a few miles west of Rock Springs is Green River where SR-530 runs south along the western side of the gorge. Along the way there are plenty of open vistas and views of snow-capped mountains in the far distance.
While running the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area yesterday, I missed what is arguably the most scenic stretch of road around the gorge. On the map above, this area runs along SR-44 south of Manila between points 2 and 4. If you decide to run Sheep Creek, you should double back and run this stretch of SR-44 both ways. In my opinion, this stretch of road is the gorge.
Flaming Gorge is a spectacular region to tour. The geological history is exposed and in your face, the roads are excellent, the scenery is picturesque and breathtaking. If you can't run the entire gorge region, the best section runs south from Manila to Dutch John Gap. My advice? Run it all both ways. You will not be disappointed. Life is good.