Fry Canyon Area, Southeastern Utah

   

The small slot canyon, barely visible from above, looks like a partially opened black zipper at the the bottom of Fry Canyon. A thin stream of water disappears into the slot hundreds of feet below us.

    From the western rim, we set up a rappel and descend to a ledge full of Anasazi Indian ruins. The ruins, though interesting, are not as complete as those found in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area. The alcove that shelters the ruins is massive and beautiful, but there is little arable land on the canyon floor and that is the probable reason for the lack of mud chinking in the rock dwellings, for the temporary feel of the site.

    Another short rappel takes us to the canyon floor. The slot beckons us like a dark secret. The sandstone is whorled and knurled by past flash floods. The teeth of the "zipper," now above us, are rounded black knobs that block most of the sunlight. The light that finds its way in plays wondrous tricks with the coral and pink stones, flowing over them like a caress. Where we can wade no further, a skein of water cascades into a blue and green pool. The danger here is palpable. We linger as long as we dare....


Lynna descending into White Canyon. Leland Howard, ©2008




Spirit Lake, Ashley National Forest, Utah/Wyoming Border

    The width and depth of the High Uinta Wilderness make it difficult to access. Spirit Lake is at the end of a rough road that penetrates as high into the area as one can drive. The Spirit Lake Lodge is primitive. "Rustic" is the polite word. Being too far from civilization to have the usual electricity and phone setups, they run a generator for lights, and to power the amps for the "Mountain Cowboy Band". Stoked with muddy coffee from a pot that had been used over a campfire, Leland and I braved the first snows of September to explore the nearby ponds and lakes.

    The sky was overcast, but the day lightened on a fantasy of ice and snow. We saw four elk as we made our way up the mountain. How long has it been since you walked in a wild and trackless forest in a snowstorm? With every breath, you take in some cause for joy.

    We crossed the wilderness boundary and climbed a 12,000 foot peak. From its summit, the deep defile of Flaming Gorge and several 13,000-foot-plus peaks were visible. On the way down, in the late afternoon light, we crossed paths with two moose so darkly colored that they look like a black streak as they disappeared in the thick forest.

    Directions: From Vernal take Highway 191 north to Flaming Gorge. From Interstate 80 in Wyoming, take 530 south to Manila and the Flaming Gorge area. Maps are available in Manila. The 4-wheel-drive-recommended road to Spirit Lake takes off from the Sheep Creek Canyon Loop of the Flaming Gorge area. It's about 26 rough, slow miles to the lake.

    Practical Tips: As the road climbs, you will most likely encounter cooler weather. Be prepared for cold nights. There is a Forest Service campground at Spirit Lake, and the lodge offers primitive accommodations in cabins. For hiking in this area, you definitely need a topographical map. Most destinations require at least an overnight backpacking trip. Some, such as the 56-mile long trail along the high ridges of the Uintas, require six to seven days and excellent wilderness skills. Outfitters in the area specialize in pack-horse-aided treks.

    Photo Tips: The dense lodgepole pine forests create problems for the photographer. The forest thins out at higher elevations, so extended hikes or climbs are the norm if you're seeking long views. At lower elevations, the lakes and trails offer their best moods when dramatic weather lifts them from the ordinary into the sublime.

    Best Season to Visit: Spirit Lake Lodge closes around mid to late September, depending upon the snows. The road may be closed due to snow after that. July, August and early September offer good hiking weather.



Cascade Springs, Wasatch Mountains, North Central Utah

    At Cascade Springs, groundwater surfaces through coarse glacial sediments. The rest of Utah may be bone dry, and as dusty as fine face powder, but at Cascade, aquatic songbirds walk along the bottom of the stream eating insects. Cattails, yellow columbine, monkshood, monkey flowers, scoulers willows, brown trout, gambel oak, river birch, canyon maple, and badgers flourish. Everything seems to have pores that are breathing water, including the rock itself. The "tufa" formations are dreamlike, a secret interior unexpectedly laid out for viewing in the plain light of day.

    The finely-haired leaves of the canyon maples (relative of eastern sugar maples) hold infinitesimal amounts of moisture on their surfaces so that they sparkle in the sunlight.

    Directions: Follow the northeast fork of The Alpine Scenic Loop (Highway 92) six miles to Cascade Springs. The road is paved to the springs. Nearby points of interest include Sundance ski resort and Mount Timpanogos.

    Practical Tips: There are several camping spots along the Cascade Springs fork of The Alpine Scenic Loop. Many are accessible to 2WD vehicles. Campgrounds near the springs are usually over-crowded, look for dirt roads that lead to unnamed sites instead. The fork to the springs is normal width, but the rest of the loop is very narrow and is not suitable for trailers or RVs. Be prepared for very cold, damp mornings, and warmer days.

    Photo Tips: Photographers will find the best light at dawn on the road above the springs, where red maples and aspens peak near the end of September or first of October. Shepherds on horseback move sheep down from the high valleys in the fall, providing additional photo opportunities.

    Best Season to Visit: Fall. Late September-October is best for the red maples and golden aspens.


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Photo courtesy of Leland Howard, ©2008

Fall color image courtesy of Leland Howard, ©2008