Flaming Gorge

Back to red rocks, briefly…

On my 1983 cross-country bike trip, I wanted to get to Yellowstone NP from western Colorado. There were several route options. For no other reason than there was a green splotch on the map, I opted to head toward Flaming Gorge. Naively thinking I was past the Rockies and large mountain passes, I was unprepared for the pass over the Uintas. I pulled into a campground at Flaming Gorge well past dark, thoroughly beyond exhausted, set up my tent and fell asleep. There are no words to describe the emotion when I woke early  in the morning and crawled out of my tent about 30 feet from the rim of the 1,700 foot deep, 4,000 foot wide Red Canyon. I stayed all day. I vowed to go back.

It only took 34 years. Doug had never been. So, from Park City, we set a course for Flaming Gorge, the National Recreation Area around the largest dam on the Green River. The awesomeness of Flaming Gorge only begins to reveal itself in the last 20 miles. Climbing the last ridge to the Red Canyon area, views were opening up to the lakes providing hints of what was to come. We weren’t optimistic that we’d get a campsite near the rim – it was Saturday afternoon after all – yet we tried. There are no words to describe how I felt when we pulled in and I recognized my 1983 campsite 30 feet from the rim! Wouldn’t you know… a young woman, camping alone, had her tent set up there. We set up just a few sites away, maybe all of 90 feet from the rim! In no time, we were walking the rim trail, enjoying the gorgeous (pun intended) views.

After considering the options for adventure, we opted to do a bike ride through Sheep Creek Canyon – named not for just any old sheep but for Bighorn Sheep. We knew there’d be the 5 mile 8% grade down to the entrance to the canyon and that the route back would include 13 miles of winding roads up through the canyon to make up the grade. No problem – we had all day and could take our time. And we might see some bighorn sheep! We weren’t expecting the towering rock formations all along the canyon and the range of colored rock, nor the views of the Flaming Gorge Lake on the route to the canyon. Despite not seeing any sheep, we were thrilled at our day’s adventure. We got back to camp tired and hungry and grinning as a couple of bighorn sheep walked though the campground…

Just some of the many switchbacks in between…

Later we joined a dam tour, walking across and around – and riding an elevator down to the bottom of – the 500 foot Flaming Gorge Dam. Since there were record snowfalls in Wyoming this winter, snowmelt entering the lake was 260% of normal. Bypass tubes (used to release water from behind the dam in addition to the water released through the 3 hydroelectric generators) which are typically used a few weeks in the spring are projected to be used all summer. We got up close and personal to two 10-foot in diameter tubes releasing 65,000 gallons per second at 110 miles per hour into the Green River below the dam. The poor rafting companies… The 3.5 hour raft ride they typically sell to adventure tourists now takes 35 minutes! Here is a video of the flow (youtube link). Here is another.

The Flaming Gorge Dam from above
Super spring runoff

In all, we spent four days in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Doug, the man of few words, volunteered: ‘Wow, this is a special place.’

Sunset over Red Canyon
Bighorn sheep running through the campground – the 3 babies are days old…

For anyone who’s interested, more Flaming Gorge, Sheep Creek Canyon and Flaming Gorge Dam pix.

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