Early September, 2012 – Leaving the northern half of Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, we settled down near the heart of the gorge in Utah where it is a part of the National Park Service.
The storms continued to march across the sky every afternoon, and one day, just as the sun was setting, the sky went black and a brilliant rainbow formed right over the buggy.
The overlooks and walking paths near the Visitors Center offer the most impressive views of the gorge, and we wandered out to the edge of the cliffs repeatedly to see the breathtaking scene from every possible vantage point.
Brilliant mornings complemented the brooding afternoons. As we paused one afternoon to enjoy the views from one overlook, a crowd of young families showed up.
Flaming Gorge is a perfect area for families, as there are all kinds of things to do, from hiking to biking to camping to visiting with herds of grass-eating animals to taking a tour of the dam. This group of families was having a ball. Half the parents were out on mountain bikes somewhere while the other half chilled at the overlook. The kids romped all over the place in very high spirits, despite the gathering afternoon storm.
They posed for their moms to take a photo, and they were all so cute I had to get one too. Just minutes after that the skies opened up and we had a downpour that pelted everyone and everything and soaked us all to the bone. The kids laughed it off, but we felt badly for the late returning dads who had to hurry in the driving rain to get all the mountain bikes back on their bike racks before they drove off in a blur of spray.
Between storms we were gifted with glorious sunshine. We hiked the Canyon Rim between the visitors center and the Canyon Rim Campground, taking two photos for every five steps. What a place! Rock outcroppings hang out over the edges of the cliffs all along the rim, making for dramatic views (and a little bit of stomach churning if you stand on the edge and look straight down). Campers can set up in sites with marvelous views.
The big horn sheep are very much at home in this terrain, though, and a large herd was mingling with the campers in the Canyon Rim Campground.
Another woman watching them through the viewfinder of her camera (just like we were) told us they had been wandering between the campsites all four days she had been there.
As we chatted, the group of sheep stood and stared at us, barely moving. They formed something of a protective circle, facing outwards. They stood there so long the young ones got bored, as we did, and eventually two of them laid down behind the shield of their parents’ legs.
These guys were very accustomed to humans, and they let us get close enough to see that the largest one had been outfitted with a radio collar. A large antenna stuck out from the radio on his neck like a third antler behind his head. Rangers told us they track the herd very closely.
Flaming Gorge used to be a free-flowing river, and one afternoon we took a tour of the Flaming Gorge Dam. Built in the late 1950’s, it was one of the West’s many water reclamation projects of the mid-1900’s that tamed the west’s wild rivers and provided electrical power to nearby communities.
The most amazing thing about these dams, I find, is that in order to build them the rivers had to be re-routed temporarily. At Flaming Gorge, as at all the other major western dams, a huge tunnel was dug into the cliff so the water would bypass the dam construction area. The concrete is so thick in Flaming Gorge dam that it will take 100 years to cure fully at its center.
That means the concrete at the core is only half cured now, and it puts the cure date sometime just before 2060!
Seeing an original turbine that had recently been replaced was interesting, but what really caught our attention was the huge flock of turkey vultures sitting on the scaffolding outside the dam.
When we started the tour raindrops were falling, and these guys were hunkered down waiting for the typical afternoon deluge. But when we emerged from the bowels of the dam’s massive structure an hour later at the end of the tour, we discovered the sun had come out and all the turkey vultures were now sitting with wings outstretched, drying off their feathers!
Flaming Gorge is a magical place, and we dallied for a while. But eventually the lure of dinosaurs drew us away and we drove further south to Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument.