Leaving Capitol Reef National Park, I was on familiar road only for a short time before I headed north onto Utah State Route 72 at Loa. This was some of the new territory that Ian from the Cannonville Visitor Center recommended to me. I was looking forward to checking out new roads and new scenery.
The scenery dramatically changed from striking red rock formations and sharply cut river valleys to beautiful green rolling hills with wide open vistas and high mountains that topped out over 11,000 feet above sea level. This area is all part of the Fish Lake High Plateau, Utah’s largest volcanic area. After leaving the park with its elevation of about 5,500 feet, I was now climbing, climbing, climbing to Hogan Pass at about 8,900 feet.
SR 72 cuts through the Fishlake National Forest and passes through the lovely Johnson Valley. The 700-acre Johnson Valley Reservoir lies below and is used for recreation, cold-water game fishing, and agriculture. The lake itself was created way back in 1899 by damming Sevenmile Creek due to the rapid settlement of Utah in the late 1800s and the state wanting to manage water resources. (I have just learned of the Fishlake Scenic Byway, Utah 25 which goes by both Fishlake and Johnson Valley Reservoir. It is now on my Bucket List. This area is gorgeous!)
After I topped out at Hogan Pass, the highway began descending in elevation and the landscape to the north started to show cliffs of sedimentary rock. I was heading towards dinosaur country, and the view was hinting at what was to come. After crossing I-70 and the town of Ferron, the geology changed due to leaving the volcanic Fish Lake High Plateau region and entering Castle Valley.
The valley was created due to the meeting of the Wasatch Plateau to the west and the San Rafael Swell to the east—two very different types of geologic formations. This region is known as Utah’s “Castle Country.” Utah has a website where you can learn more about Castle Country and the San Rafael Swell. There are some pretty amazing things to do and see. They even have a canyon they call the “Little Grand Canyon!” Obviously, I am going to have to go back to check out the sights I missed on this trip. So much to see and do, so little time! The San Rafael Swell had the colorful sedimentary rocks so familiar to me in Arizona, while to the west the Wasatch Range had the high mountains with their cool forests and streams. What a wild contrast!
I drove through Price and turned onto scenic U.S. Route 191. I ended up camping in Ashley National Forest, home of the Uinta Mountains and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. This evening I was only looking for a campsite, and the first dirt road I drove in took me to a very wet, boggy area. There were many mosquitoes, so I had already decided not to stay, but I was fortunate enough to see a bull elk and two beaver swimming in a beaver pond. Sighting the beaver was very exciting. I’ve seen beaver swimming before while kayaking, but never two at once and never for such a long period of time. They were completely unaware of my presence. It was very exciting!
I drove off and found another dirt road with a perfect campsite in a beautiful aspen grove. I set up camp, made dinner and read a book until it was time for sleep. Back home in Arizona, temperatures were hot and dry. Here in the mountains at 9,000 feet elevation, it was cool and lovely and made for a very restful night’s sleep.
I was up at dawn the following morning, continuing on U.S. 191 into new territory and a new park!
Time to head to Dinosaur National Monument!