The Uinta Mountains
Do, do, do, looking out my backdoor
When people think of big mountains in the US, they think of the Rocky Mountains; which is pretty much correct. Even though the highest point in the lower 48 is actually in the Sierra Nevada Range near the California/Nevada border. Everyone seems to associate the Rocky Mountains with Colorado, which is fine too because Rocky Mountain National Park is located there. However, the Rocky Mountains are actually a series of mountain ranges that stretch from Canada to New Mexico. When most people think of Rocky Mountains, they envision The Grand Tetons, and while impressive they don't present the whole story either. I'm not a snob looking for the perfect definition of the Rockies, but I'd like to share my little corner of them with you. I live on the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains which run along Wyoming's Southwest border with Utah. They are pretty impressive in their own right.
Is it Uinta or Uintah? - It all depends on where you are standing
There are two different spellings for the same mountain range; the one preferred in Utah, Uintah, and the one preferred in Wyoming, Uinta. Either way, they both describe the highest East to West running mountain range in the contiguous US. When you look at them on a map you can really see what I am talking about. If you are someone who relies heavily on landmarks to find direction, you will be perpetually lost the entire time you are visiting here.
How Big is Big? - It's all relative
I live about 15 miles from the nearest trail head that will get you up into the high country. When you look at pictures that I take close to my house, the mountains still seem pretty far away. The real size of this panorama is 2' by 16'. Don't let the perspective deceive you. Those suckers are pretty huge and you get into the high country a lot faster than you think. The Highline Trail that runs across the top of them is over 50 miles long. Another thing to consider is the town I live in is close to 7000 ft. above sea level (for those of you into math and that sort of thing, Denver might be a mile high, but they still fall short). The Uintas range from 8,500 ft. above sea level to their highest point, King's Peak, at 13,528 ft. above sea level. They are also peculiar because they have the most land above the treeline (9,800 ft. above sea level) in the contiguous US. I have heard that the Uintas tie with the San Juans in Colorado for this, but I couldn't find a definitive source to confirm this.
To put all of this into perspective, most of the population living in the US lives at or near sea level. That means if you could look down a cliff from where I live at 7,000 ft. to sea level it would be 560 building stories tall. The Empire State Building is 104 or so. The Uintas rise another 6,500 ft. from there. To drive East to West is about 180 miles. To drive across them at their widest point is about 50 miles. Yeah, they are big.
Why Have I Never Heard of The Uintas? - A pretty obvious secret don't you think...
They are pretty hard to miss on a map, and even driving across I-80 in Wyoming you can't miss them. So, why is it that they aren't a huge tourist destination? The reasons are many, but probably the biggest factor is accessibility. There are hundreds of miles of trails up there, and a disgusting amount of great fishing on lakes and streams, but you are going to have to work to get there. It isn't one of those places that you pull up in a minivan, let the kids out, and holler, "We're here!" If you want to enjoy the Uintas, you are going to have to work for it. Paved roads are few and far between here on the North Slope; and access from the South Slope, while more abundant and paved is still quite primitive. That doesn't mean that the average joe can't enjoy them, but the area doesn't support the kinds of crowds drawn to national parks like Glacier.
Now That I Know, I Want To See
I don't blame you, they are fascinating to me and I see them everyday
If you are planning a trip through this area, and you want to get a close up look at the Uintas without mounting a full on pack expedition; there are two great ways. You can take the Mirror Lake Highway that runs from Evanston, WY to Kamas, UT, through the western edge of the Uintas. It is perfect for a peaceful drive with your family, with plenty of places to stop and look and get a little fresh air. If you ride motorcycles, this is an absolutely amazing day ride; just remember to pack a lunch. The second and lesser known route (which is my personal favorite) takes you across the Bollies or eastern edge of the Uintas from Manilla, UT to Vernal, UT. You get a few glimpses of Flaming Gorge this way, and much less traffic. You can even stop for lunch or dinner at Red Canyon Lodge on your way, and it is always a treat.
For the more adventurous, packing in the Uintas is an unbelievable experience. Because it is mostly wilderness area, you have most of the place to yourself. Trails going into places like King's Peak are busy, but there are many others that remain almost uninhabited. Leaving from the North Slope, you can easily gain access to King's Peak and Red Castle. Red Castle is a little busier, but it is also perfect for people who just want to pack in and camp for the weekend.
Get to Know the Uintas Better, Plan a Trip
There's Gold In Them Thar Hills - It's just that nobody can find it, lol
One of the funnest parts of living near the Uintas is all the amazing folklore about them. Did Cortez find a lost city of gold here? There are certainly Spanish ruins that make it seem plausible. What about the Lost Rhodes Mine and the secret squirrel stash of Mormon gold hidden up in the high country? Local folklore and family histories certainly hint at it. What about all the loot from Butch Cassidy's gang? His hideouts are well documented and mapped. However, the real treasures most people find in the Uintas are family fun and solitude, which are priceless. Besides, I'll get in trouble if I tell you the truth. It would be a shame to spill the beans on Uinta Gold after keeping the secret so well for 6 generations.
Uinta Gold = Family Fun - We go up to the mountains all the time, but our favorite thing to do is our annual snow partyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Oh, yeah, there's a bunch of wildlife too
Do you like moose? Elk? Mule Deer? Black Bears? The Uintas are lousy with them. Not to mention a fair smattering of Rainbows and Cutthroat Trout and a fine representation of Raptors like Golden Eagels and Red Tail Hawks. I pretty much can't leave the house without running into some kind of wild critter. If you are planning a visit, bring your camera. If you are planning a hunt, get in line. Tags for non-residents are hard to come by. We'd really prefer it if you knew what you were doing too. Every year some out of towner shoots somebody's black cow claiming they thought it was a moose. I'm not pointing fingers, but it's usually a Californian. You can't dispute facts printed in the police blotter.
Just For Fun
Cheesy, you bet! I still recommend it though, it's a fun story and nearly every girl who grows up around the Uintas reads it.
Last updated on January 19, 2014
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