Cliff Ridge to the left, looking east from Musket Shot Springs
Waking up to a brilliant sunrise, I was inspired to make a quick hot breakfast and pack up my outfit so as to readily depart the Lucerne Valley Campground in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The only real goal I had for this day was to drive home to Gunnison, Colorado. Starting the day technically in Utah, I had to drive north into Wyoming and out to Highway 530, where I turned to the south and soon crossed back over the state line. This road became Utah 44 and I drove though the small town of Manila, Utah. A few miles south I turned off the main road to explore something called the Sheep Creek Geologic Area. Thus began my last morning of the adventure I took in Twenty-Seventeen to see the Great American Eclipse.
Along this road I discovered a small campground that I noted for future reference. Alas, as fascinating as the geology was there aren’t any trails, not even a short nature trail. So, I utilized some pullouts to observe the tortured and bent sedimentary layers pushed aside with the rising of the Uinta Mountains, and moved on along Ashley National Forest Road 218. Happenstance led me to Ashley National Forest Trail No. 166, and I let the dogs out to hike about a half a mile up the trail until I realized that Utah had already started its hunting season. At least, some folks dressed in orange where out in the woods with weaponry and I decided, having no orange for myself nor the dogs, that I might not want to be mistaken for a deer nor disrupt their hunt, anyway. We returned to the car and drove out to the highway and continued southbound, Utah 44 merging into U.S. 191.
I love this drive across the Uinta Mountains, the only major chain in the Lower Forty-Eight to run along the east and west axis. How I desired one more day to explore the nearby High Uintas Wilderness, but I regrettably concluded that I had not the time to do so. I pulled over at a small viewpoint to gaze longingly at the high peaks but soon moved on, making the long, steep descent into Vernal, where I turned eastward on U.S. 40. Oil field equipment lay about in yard after yard, as this area is a major service point for that extractive industry. We crossed the Green River, impounded upstream in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, before stopping at the Musket Shot Springs Scenic Overlook.
Naturally, these springs, described as being about a musket shot apart, had dried up since the time of settlement and nothing but the meager flow of Cliff Creek suggested a hint of water. The real view is of the folded sedimentary layers of nearby Blue Mountain, or Cliff Ridge. There seems to be a bit of topographic uncertainty about the name. After a short wandering out to the barren creek we continued to drive on U.S. 40, passing into Colorado before turning south on Colorado 64. We passed the oil fields about Rangely and kept on driving, but now on Colorado 139. At the top of Douglas Pass we stopped once more, so I could take in the view to the south and the dogs could stretch their legs. The miles slid by after we left that bit of sub-alpine splendor, and we descended from the pass and down to the Colorado, nee Grand, River where the highway terminates at Interstate 70.
Access to water is more scarce than the commodity itself, and I knew that the pups were longing for a swig of that cool liquid. The sojourn on the interstate was gracefully brief, and we left that road for U.S. 50 at Grand Junction. Hot desert continued, and I was grateful to enter the city of Delta, where we stopped for some Mexican food and a swim in the Gunnison River. The pups quenched and me fed, I plied the tires to the road, and we rolled by Montrose and up and over Cerro Summit before descending to Cimarron. This adventure of mine had worked out well, better than I could have hoped for, perhaps excepting the traffic jam in Glenwood Springs, and I didn’t want it to come to an end.
Turning off at Cimarron, I drove down to the parking lot just below the Morrow Point Dam. The road down through the narrow canyon cut by the Cimarron River lies on the old bed of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, and might make some folks a bit nervous. A tremendous roar greeted our exit from the car as water shot out from a gate high atop the dam, a white sheet arcing gracefully before plummeting to the river below. We hiked down to the foot bridge erected to cross the Gunnison River and continued on the Mesa Creek Trail, maintained by the Curecanti National Recreation Area under the auspices of the National Park Service. This short trail ends about a half a mile downriver but does provide a fantastic view of the upper portion of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Gamble oak dominates the shrubbery, and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and cottonwood grow readily on the slopes or along the banks of the river. A peaceable locale, I let my thoughts dwell on the last few days as the swift river sang its song filling the canyon with its voice.
What amazing sights I had seen. I may never again see a total eclipse of the Sun, especially from the dizzying heights of a summit of the Rocky Mountains. The people I had met, especially afterwards, were unified in a certain joyousness that could only be discerned by an uncommon twinkle of the eye. The summit that I had chosen to sit upon for the duration also parts waters to the three major river system of the central Rockies. I derived a topographic thrill from peering down into drainages that pour their waters into the world’s oceans such great distances away. Most of my hiking had taken place in the Green River, home to much lore of the early fur trade. The contemporary names reflect that first wave of commerce in places such as Ashley National Forest, Fontenelle Reservoir, Ham’s Fork, Fitzpatrick Wilderness, Bridger National Forest, to name a few.
Leaving the river behind we drove back up to U.S. 50 and continued eastward up to Blue Mesa Summit and then onto Blue Mesa Reservoir, where the Blue Mesa Dam keeps the waters of the Gunnison River in check. At Old Steven’s, a picnic area and boat ramp managed by the Curecanti National Recreation Area, we stopped for the final time, about twelve miles from home, and the let Draco and Leah play ball and swim in the water. Looking around, I imagined what this broad valley would have looked like prior to inundation. I took in the mesas nearby, formed from volcanic upheavals of a magnitude that our current civilization knows nothing contemporaneous. The natural beauty of this region shines out, and I reflected on how fortunate I am to live in this area. I was finally compelled to finish my adventure by a festering sense of procrastination. The shepherds loaded up one last time, the tires hummed and we drove up through the Gunnison River Canyon and to home in the Gunnison Country, where a certain exalted headiness accompanied my unpacking.
Eastern glow, dawn at Lucerne Valley Campground in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Looking east on Blue Mesa Reservoir from Old Steven’s
Sun shining through a hole in the clouds, from a pullout on Ashley National Forest Road 146
The morning Sun, sunlight streaking through a hole in the clouds
Some of the tortured geology of the Sheep Creek Geologic Area, Ashley National Forest
Looking over Sheep Creek, I particularly enjoy the red sandstone, pushed upwards by the formation of the Uinta Mountains
Leah and Draco wandering down Ashley National Forest Trail No. 166
Small conifers about Ashley National Forest Road 166
On the east side of the Uinta Mountains, conifers and sagebrush
Aspen on the horizon, from a pullout on U.S. 191, just before descending the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains
From a pullout on U.S. 191, looking east over the vast country
Looking east from a pullout on U.S. 191, distant mountains with sunlight streaking down
Blue Mountain, or Cliff Ridge, seen from the Musket Shot Springs Scenic Overlook in Utah on U.S. 40
I love the nearly visible anticline here, on Cliff Ridge (or is it Blue Mountain?)
Looking out from Douglas Pass, on the south side, Colorado 139 visible on the cliff
Looking south from Douglas Pass into Trail Canyon
Draco and Leah at play in the Gunnison River near Delta, Colorado
Draco and Leah on a beach adjacent to the Gunnison River near Delta
The Mesa Creek Trail in Curecanti National Recreation Area
Water cascading from atop Morrow Point Dam, pouring into the Gunnison River
The Gunnison River below Morrow Point Dam
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, just below the Cimarron River
The Cimarron River merging with the Gunnison
Sagebrush steppe, looking north from Old Steven’s
Cliff Ridge to the left, looking east from Musket Shot Springs