Fish Lake Utah – Alpine Beauty & Brilliant Stars in Dark Skies!

September 2019 – We loved our hike and RZR ride near Red Canyon, Utah, but at 7,500′ elevation it was pretty toasty in the afternoons during summer’s final big heat wave. So we dashed further north and up to an altitude of 9,000′ at Fish Lake, Utah, where the early mornings were downright cold and the night skies were incredibly clear.

Star trails over RV in clear night sky

Star trails over our trailer!

The area around Fish Lake is hilly and filled with babbling brooks, ponds and pretty lakes. The Fishlake Scenic Byway is a twisting and winding route that goes between the villages of Fish Lake and Loa, Utah. The scenery is just gorgeous.

Scenic vista near Fish Lake Utah-min

A pretty lake with a hillside full of yellow wildflowers.

Fish Lake Scenic Drive Utah-min

The Fish Lake Scenic Drive takes in some spectacular views

Stream near Fish Lake Utah-min

We found streams and lakes galore

Views near Fish Lake Utah-min

The hills were full of pines, aspen trees and open meadows

Up in the hills above Fish Lake there is a stand of aspen trees called the Pando Aspen that is thought to be the biggest and oldest single living organism on the planet.

Aspen trees are not individual trees. Each one is connected to its neighbors, and the Pando Aspen is over 100 acres in size and is estimated to be about 80,000 years old!

Pando Aspen Fish Lake Utah-min

At over 100 acres and 80,000 years of age, the Pando Aspen in Fish Lake, Utah, is the largest and oldest single living organism in the world

There are lots of hiking trails and dirt roads to explore in the area around Fish Lake. We drove past the Lakeshore Trailhead and could see a cute little wooden bridge going over a stream in the distance. We just had to check out the wooden bridge, so we circled back and let our pup Buddy lead the way.

Puppy ready to hike the Lake Shore Trail in Fish Lake Utah-min

The little wooden bridge at the start of the trail was too cute to pass up


There were three trails to choose from, and Buddy promptly ran straight uphill into the woods on the trail marked “Crater Lake.”

Of course, this wasn’t THE Crater Lake of Crater Lake National Park fame in Oregon (the upcoming November 2019 edition of our Trailer Life Magazine back page column features one of Mark’s glorious photos of THAT Crater Lake!).

But we were curious what THIS Crater Lake was like. So up we went behind Buddy.

The trail went straight up. Not just a little up, but a whole lotta up and up, and then up some more. We huffed and puffed and kept looking for signs that the summit was just ahead, but the more we hiked into the heavens the less likely it seemed that we would ever get there!

I hate to say it, but we finally had had enough of climbing and decided that since we hadn’t brought any water or prepared for a big hike it was probably best to save the view of this Crater Lake for another time.

Down we came, having seen only woods!!

Hiking Crater Lake Trail near Fish Lake Utah-min

We didn’t make it to Crater Lake, but we got a good hilly workout!

The streams in the area were delightful, and on most hikes and walks we were able to find a stream where Buddy could get a drink and play for a while before we turned around and headed back.

Creek near Fish Lake Utah-min

There are lots of creeks and streams in this area

Stream near Fish Lake Utah-min

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One day he had so much fun sprinting through a stream that he splattered mud on his face. He looked like he had put on makeup or was dressing up as a tiger!

Puppy with mud mascara-min

The mud was flying when Buddy zipped along the riverbanks!

In one spot wer found horses grazing by a stream. Such bucolic scenery!!

Horse grazing in Utah-min

A horse grazes in the middle of a postcard setting

Horses

These horses were very friendly

Buddy found a trio of cows and began talking to them in a very loud voice.

Puppy with cows-min

Buddy gave some cows an earful

Smiling puppy with cows-min

They seemed to take it in stride.

There are lots of dirt roads to explore too, and we headed down one that looked especially inviting. Unfortunately, no sooner had we started than we found the way blocked with huge boulders in front of an old wooden bridge. The bridge was pretty rickety, so that’s probably why the road was closed to vehicles.

End of a RZR ride in Utah-min

Our RZR ride ended when we came to a small bridge that was blocked. So we hiked instead!

No matter. We hopped out of the RZR and walked on the wide dirt road which was now wonderfully free of any kind of traffic.

The road followed a stream that was lined with wildflowers, and I soon realized the theme for this little excursion would be “wildflowers.” They were all kinds of shapes and colors and sizes.

Stream with flowers in Utah-min

The dirt road went alongside a stream.

Pink wildflower in Utah

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Unusual wildflowers in utah-min

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Beautiful noxious weed in Fish Lake Utah-min

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While we snapped pics of the flowers, Buddy ran ahead to scout for chipmunks and squirrels. One squirrel watched him warily from a branch high up on a tree.

Squirrel teases puppy during hike at Fish Lake Utah-min

This squirrel eyed Buddy from the safety of a high branch!

The flowers continued to enchant us as we strolled slowly along the edge of the river, and we were surprised how many were in full bloom so late in the summer season. Then again, we saw leftover winter snow in the nooks and crannies of the mountains, so these flowers had had a long wait for the warm weather to arrive!

Lavender wildflowers Fish Lake Utah-min

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Yellow daisies Fish Lake Utah-min

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Dandelion gone to seed Fish Lake Utah-min

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Yellow wildflowers on Fish Lake Utah hiking trail-min

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Suddenly, we noticed a bush with the familiar spiky leaves of raspberries. And sure enough, there were hundreds of tiny wild raspberries. These weren’t the big cultivated raspberries we all see in the supermarket. There were just a few bumps on each berry. But they were unmistakeably raspberries — and the birds and possibly the bears had been enjoying them.

Wild raspberries near Fish Lake Utah-min

Wild raspberries!

Down at the edge of the lake we found lots of marshy plants growing. A few herons and other waterbirds poked around at the water’s edge.

Weeds at Johnson Valley Reservoir Utah-min

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The weather at Fish Lake is unpredictable, and on several afternoons storm clouds gathered overhead and we could see rain falling in the distance.

One afternoon the clouds turned black while the sun shone through beneath them, making for a fantastically dramatic image.

Dramatic scenery at Fish Lake Utah-min

A wildly stormy sky heralded the start of an intense summer storm!

No sooner had I taken that photo than the heavens opened up. Hail the size of peas fell in torrents!

Hail storm at Fish Lake Utah-min

Hail pounded the lake

Almost as soon as it had started, the tempest ended and the sun came out. But the evidence of the hail storm was plain to see on our patio mat.

Hail on an RV patio mat-min

The sun came out right after the storm, but the hail stuck around for a little while

After a few days of afternoon monsoon storms, the skies cleared and we had sunshine all day every day. Late one evening Mark headed out the door and then dashed back in: “You wouldn’t BELIEVE the Milky Way!” he said.

We both grabbed our cameras and ran outside.

The MIlky Way was as bright as could be and was coming right down on top of our rig!

Milky Way over an RV in a clear night sky-min

We caught the Milky Way AND a shooting star over our rig!
(The shooting star is the thin line to the right of the Milky Way)

Milky Way with an RV night sky astrophotopraphy-min

The Milky Way came right down to our rig!

Luck was with us, and for the next few nights there was no moon in the early evening and the sky was completely clear of clouds.

One night we headed down to the edge of the lake with our gear and caught the Milky Way as it fell towards the lake.

Milky Way Fish Lake Utah-min

We drove out to the edge of the lake to get some shots of the Milky Way diving towards the water

Remote parts of Utah are known to have wonderfully dark skies, and the above photo shows just how easy it is for artificial lights to affect the magic. The yellow glow in the lower right part of the image is from just a handful of buildings behind the hill.

Mark took out his 12 mm fisheye lens and got some neat effects.

Milky Way Fish Lake Utah-min

A fisheye lens view

Milky Way Johnson Valley Reservoir Utah-min

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When we got back to our rig we noticed that the Big Dipper was right above it.

Big dipper over RV-min

The Big Dipper was right over our trailer

The Big Dipper can be used to locate the North Star which sailors and outdoor adventurers have used to navigate for ages. The North Star is in line with the last two stars in the bowl part of the Big Dipper.

Big dipper over RV with outline-min

The Big Dipper can be used to find the North Star

As I lined up the stars to find the North Star, I suddenly realized that this might be a perfect time to do a “star trails” photo.

It’s a little tricky to conceptualize, but as we stand on the earth and it rotates around its north-south axis, the stars in the sky appear to rotate around the North Star.

This reminded me of when I was a little girl and I used to spin around in a small room in our house with my head thrown back as I stared up at a light fixture in the ceiling. I would spin and spin while staring at that light fixture, and then when I stopped the whole world would keep spinning. I’d try to take a step and would promptly fall on the ground, totally dizzy, and crack up laughing. I thought this was hilariously funny and would do it over and over again!

Well, such is the silliness of a six year old girl making herself hopelessly dizzy. But now, many decades later, the star trails effect over our trailer was sensational.

I set the camera up on the tripod and left it to take a photo of the stars on a 14 mm lens for an hour at f/2.8 and ISO 64. When I tiptoed back out in the black of night and felt my way back to the tripod (without bumping into it or knocking it over!), I was thrilled with the image I saw on the back of the camera:

trails

Star trails!

Fish Lake is popular among fishermen and hunters, but it isn’t high on the list for other travelers. However, if you are looking for a quiet spot that is 20 miles away from the nearest real town (of 400 people), a place where there’s precious little internet access but lots of nature everywhere, consider putting Fish Lake, Utah, on your itinerary!

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30 thoughts on “Fish Lake Utah – Alpine Beauty & Brilliant Stars in Dark Skies!

    • The West still has many wide open spaces that are very lightly traveled, and this is one of those very special places. But the summer season when the few small businesses along the lake are open is very short, lasting only from Memorial Day to Labor Day!

  1. Your photographs and comments are the first time in over 5 years of “RV” travel reading that I’ve seen a wonderful spectrum of landscape photos (small to large, components to spaces) and then read as today’s experience is tied to yesterday’s memories. What astute perception and good writing.

    • We’ve been waiting all summer to be in a spot where we could photograph the Milky Way, Terri, and we sure were blessed that it shone brightly over wide open areas for several nights in a row. Thank you for continuing to explore our beautiful country with us!

  2. Emily,
    Great pics of Buddy near the bridge and making friends with the cows. Very impressive night sky shots as well. I’m amazed you were able to capture the lines connecting the stars in the Big Dipper. 😉
    Bob

    • Haven’t you ever seen the lines in the sky connecting the Big Dipper? C’mon, Bob, you’ve gotta look a little closer! Buddy was hilarious with the cows and the horses too. At one point I caught him grazing with the horses!

  3. You two (and Buddy, of course) are so gifted. Many thanks for sharing the incredible beauty we sometimes take for granted. Happy trails!!!

  4. You guys are awesome! You find the bestest places to explore. The photos of the dark skies are breathtaking. Buddy did look like a little tiger. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

    • We love it out here, Annie, and we just keep on poking our heads down inviting little roads curious what we’ll find. Buddy is a free spirit too, such an ideal little companion, and it sure was cute to see him let his inner tiger out!

  5. Beautiful pictures as always. What wonderful night sky pictures of the Milky Way. I look forward to my Saturday email from you. Thank you !!
    Rick

  6. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your beautiful (and educational!) pictures and stories. Our country (and world!) is beautiful 🙂 I always love the stars and milky way and sky 🙂 Keep up the great work!

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