Tag Archives: geology

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Wyoming, Utah

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Ashley National Forest

207,363 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/ashley/specialplaces

Overview

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area surrounds the Flaming Gorge Reservoir that straddles the Wyoming-Utah border in the northern portion of Ashley National Forest.  The partially-submerged canyon was named by John Wesley Powell who in 1869 started his expedition down the Colorado River near the headwaters of the Green River.  The reservoir has 360 miles of shoreline, five full-service marinas, and numerous boat launches and campgrounds.

Highlights

Sheep Creek National Geological Area, Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, Cart Creek Bridge, Flaming Gorge Dam, Red Canyon Recreation Complex, Green River, Firehole Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The top activities in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area are boating and fishing, as the reservoir is known for its large population lake trout, as well as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and burbot.  Ice fishing is available in the winter, as are trails for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.  Southwest of the reservoir, Sheep Creek National Geological Area offers a scenic drive through nine rock formations with interpretive signs.  Downstream from the dam, the Green River is a rafting destination.

Best Trail

Little Hole National Recreation Trail runs 7.2 miles along the Green River from the Flaming Gorge Spillway to the Little Hole boat ramp.  Canyon Rim Trail starts at the Red Canyon Overlook and follows the canyon rim for 1.5 miles before cutting three miles towards the Greendale Overlook.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Flaming Gorge Dam stands 502 feet high and is crossed by Highway 191 on the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, as is beautiful Cart Creek Bridge.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

Every boat launch and day-use area requires a recreation pass ($5 per day, $15 per week, or America the Beautiful pass), but there is no fee to drive the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway or across the dam.

Road Conditions

The 82-mile long Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway is paved the whole way, but there are many unpaved roads including popular Red Canyon and Sheep Creek National Geological Area.  Access roads to boat ramps at Lucerne Valley, Antelope Flat, Cedar Springs, Mustang Ridge, Buckboard Crossing, and Firehole Canyon are paved.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on and off the lake, mostly open May to September, although Dripping Springs is open year round.

Related Sites

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Arches (Utah)

Explore More – When was the Flaming Gorge Dam completed?

Ashley National Forest

Ashley National Forest

Utah, Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,402,656 acres (1,382,346 federal/ 20,310 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/ashley

Overview

Ashley National Forest is located on the Utah-Wyoming border and includes the High Uintas Wilderness and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (which we will discuss in our next blog post).  The Uinta Mountains are a popular destination for campers, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and anybody who is into magnificent mountain peaks and picturesque lakes.  It is one of the few east-west running ranges in North America and includes the highest point in Utah: 13,528-foot tall Kings Peak.  In 2019, Congress set aside 173,475 acres of the National Forest as the Ashley Karst National Recreation and Geologic Area, the first such designation in the U.S.

Highlights

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Red Cloud Loop Scenic Backway, Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, Indian Canyon Scenic Byway, Outlaw ATV Trail, Moon Lake, Strawberry Peak, Swett Ranch, Kings Peak, Highline Trail

Must-Do Activity

The High Uintas Wilderness is a premier backpacking destination with numerous lakes and 545 miles of trails.  The Wilderness is actually found in both the Wasatch and Ashley National Forests, but not Uinta National Forest.  Even if that makes sense to you, you will probably still need a good map to navigate your way to the highest point in Utah.  Summiting Kings Peak is a minimum 30 miles roundtrip from the Henrys Fork Trailhead in Wasatch National Forest to the north, and even further from the southern trailheads.

Best Trail

We backpacked into the High Uintas Wilderness on a 41-mile lollipop loop leaving from the Uinta Canyon Trailhead.  The first portion along the Uinta River Trail was flat, then started climbing when we split off on the Chain Lakes-Atwood Trail to cross Roberts Pass and Trail Rider Pass into Painter Basin, a beautiful area that sits below Kings Peak.  At more than 90 miles in length, the Highline Trail runs east-west through the area and is accessible from many side-trails, including the ones we were on.

Watchable Wildlife

Flaming Gorge Reservoir is known for its large population lake trout, as well as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and burbot.  The reservoir also hosts a large nesting colony of ospreys, as well as many other raptors.  In the mountains, watch for moose, elk, mule deer, mountain goats, and black bears.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Leaving from the Uinta Canyon Trailhead, after about an hour of walking the Uinta River Trail reaches a bridge across its namesake.  The river is popular with fisherman and we spotted a moose grazing near the water.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

Every boat launch and day-use area in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area requires a recreation pass ($5 per day, $15 per week) or America the Beautiful pass, but there is no charge to drive the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway or cross the dam.  We did not encounter any fees in the rest of Ashley National Forest, except in campgrounds.

Road Conditions

The 82-mile Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway is paved the whole way, but there are many unpaved roads off it including access to popular Red Canyon and Sheep Creek National Geological Area.  Many roads are closed seasonally, like Red Cloud Loop and Spirit Lake Scenic Backways.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on and off the lake in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, mostly open May to September, although Dripping Springs is open year round.  There are also campgrounds near most of the trailheads that access the High Uintas Wilderness.  We found dirt roads off Highway 191 to be packed with dispersed campers and RVs in mid-July 2020.

Wilderness Areas

High Uintas Wilderness (also in Wasatch National Forest)

Related Sites

Dinosaur National Monument (Utah-Colorado)

Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Nearest National Park

Arches (Utah)

Conifer Tree Species

lodgepole pine, limber pine, ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, blue elderberry, Gambel oak, bigtooth maple, boxelder, western birch, red osier dogwood, narrowleaf cottonwood, sagebrush

Explore More –Ashley National Forest is named after whom?

Apalachicola National Forest

Apalachicola National Forest

Florida

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

634,042 acres (563,403 federal/ 70,639 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/florida/home

Overview

Apalachicola National Forest is the largest of the four National Forests in Florida and also manages the tiny 1,152-acre Choctawhatchee National Forest (which is off limits to the public on a military base, so we did not include it in our total of 155 National Forests).  The forests proximity to the state capital of Tallahassee makes it an outdoor recreation destination in the Florida Panhandle.

Highlights

Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway, Fort Gadsden Historic Site (closed), Ochlockonee River, Rock Bluff Scenic Area, Leon Sinks Geological Area (closed), Morrison Hammock Scenic Area, Silver Lake Recreation Area, Camel Lake Recreation Area, Post Office Bay, Florida National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

When we visited Apalachicola National Forest in April 2021, two of its biggest attractions were closed from hurricane damage: Fort Gadsden Historic Site and Leon Sinks Geological Area (a series of sinkholes in limestone karst).  We finally ended up at Camel Lake Recreation Area (day-use fee) where the beach was closed due to alligator presence, so we opted to hike a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail.  We also made a stop to see the swamp at Big Gully Landing boat launch where Equaloxic Creek flows six miles west to the Apalachicola River.  We read that canoeing the Ochlockonee River is a popular activity.

Best Trail

Apalachicola National Forest includes 67 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST).  We hiked a portion of it at Camel Lake Recreation Area hoping to find where it connected to the Trail of Lakes nine-mile loop, but we never did locate the junction.  We read that the segment of the FNST from Oak Park Trailhead along the Sopchoppy River bluffs is especially beautiful.  Closer to the capital city, busy trails include the 14.4-mile Tallahassee Saint Marks Historic Rail Trail, 30-mile Vinzant Horse Trail, and 8.3-mile Munson Hills Trail (which is popular with mountain bikers).

Watchable Wildlife

When we think of Florida wildlife the first animal that comes to mind is the alligator, so it was no surprise that the swimming beach at Camel Lake Recreation Area was closed due to their presence.  Other places to see alligators are Tate’s Hell Swamp and the Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness.  Cottonmouth snakes and plentiful mosquitoes also make the swamps uninviting to guests.  We were surprised to see signs warning of black bears since that is not an animal we associate with Florida.  Other wildlife includes turkeys, fox squirrels, gray foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and armadillos.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stands of longleaf pine and turkey oak had us reminiscing about hiking the sandy trails on the coastal plains of North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

There was a day-use fee at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but it was half-off with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

The unpaved roads were hard-packed sand, so they were in really good shape during our visit.

Camping

There was a nice 10-site campground (fee) suitable for RVs at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but there is no camping at Silver Lake Recreation Area closer to Tallahassee, Florida.

Wilderness Areas

Bradwell Bay Wilderness

Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness

Related Sites

Osceola National Forest (Florida)

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida)

Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Everglades (Florida)

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, pondcypress, longleaf pine, spruce pine, pond pine, slash pine, loblolly pine, Atlantic white-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

magnolia bay, sweetbay, black titi, myrtleleaf holly, swamp cyrilla, black cherry, sassafras, Darlington oak, southern red oak, live oak, bluejack oak, turkey oak, laurel oak, diamondleaf oak, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, water hickory, persimmon, black gum, flowering dogwood, southern magnolia, basswood, American beech, sweetgum, ogeechee lime, swamp azalea, swamp cottonwood, pop ash, black willow, red buckeye, horse sugar tree

Explore More – Black titi is a shrub in this part of the world, but in Puerto Rico it grows as a large tree with what common name?

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Crater Lake National Park

Overview

Formed by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption about 8,000 years ago, Crater Lake National Park protects a nearly round caldera about five miles in diameter.  It is the deepest lake in the country at 1,943 feet, which is a major reason why in 1902 it was named the sixth National Park in the U.S.  When we first visited back in July 2010 most of Rim Drive was still closed due to snow, but in July 2014 there was little snow to be found anywhere.

For Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Rim Village, Cleetwood Trail, Cloudcap Overlook, Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, Mount Scott

Must-Do Activity

That very first view you get from the rim is so overwhelming that it is worth whatever effort you have to put in to arrive there.  Bring a coat, though, since at this high elevation we are pretty sure it can snow any month of the year.  Crater Lake has no inlets or outlets and its crystal-clear waters were fish free until some were introduced in the early 1900s.  The only way to get on the water is to hike down the steep one-mile Cleetwood Trail to a boat run by a park concessionaire.  Make sure you have purchased your ticket beforehand or you will be hiking back up to get one. 

Best Trail

We enjoyed the short but colorful Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, as well as the Pinnacles Overlook Trail where fossilized fumaroles mimic the conical shape of conifers.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Pictures truly do not do Crater Lake justice, but stop along Rim Drive to get a closer look at Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship, the only two islands that emerge from the lake.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30  per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass, but no entry fee in winter

Road Conditions

While some roads are closed most of the year, the National Park Service (NPS) plows the main entry road year round.  Bring your snowshoes!

Camping

The NPS manages two campgrounds in summer (although smaller Lost Creek only allows tent camping), or you can head to the neighboring National Forests for developed and dispersed campsites.

Related Sites

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This design we created to celebrate Crater Lake National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What was the name of the vast volcano that existed here before it collapsed nearly 7,700 years ago?

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Wupatki National Monument

Overview

In the open plateau northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona lies 35,000 acres set aside in 1924 to protect a collection of archaeological sites.  A 35-mile drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and adjacent Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forests and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert.  Archaeologists theorize the Ancestral Puebloan people were attracted to this place by the fertile volcanic ash deposited by the contemporaneous eruptions at Sunset Crater. 

Highlights

Wupatki Pueblo, Lomaki Pueblo, Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos, Wukoki Pueblo

Must-Do Activity

The most famous of the ruins is named Wupatki Pueblo, a three-story, 100-room house inhabited by Sinagua around AD 1100.  At the height of its occupation, the structure was three stories tall and contained 100 rooms.  Its location near a spring allowed villagers to farm the volcanically-enriched soil, plus the leisure to build an amphitheater and ball court.  Here there is more than just crumbling ruins and pottery shards behind glass in a museum; there is a palpable feeling that this was a place where people lived.

Best Trail

The paved walking loop from the visitor center at Wupatki Pueblo is a half mile long and there are short interpretive trails at several additional ruins (see Highlights above), most located not far from parking lots.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Next to the ball court, do not miss the small opening to a larger cavern (or earthcrack) that breathes in or out depending upon the change in barometric pressure.  It is not hard to imagine kids playing here hundreds of years ago.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/wupa/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle (or America the Beautiful pass), which also covers entrance to neighboring Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Road Conditions

All roads to ruins are paved, but there is one dirt road that leads to the Little Colorado River, which forms the border with the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Camping

The U.S. Forest Service runs the Bonito Campground across from the Sunset Crater visitor center between May and October.  Dispersed camping is allowed in portions of Coconino National Forest.

Related Sites

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Explore More – What were the two main types of sedimentary rock used to construct the pueblos?