I’m not sure if I’d ever heard of Flaming Gorge before spending several days there in late June. My husband, Ron, and I were on a three-week camping trip and needed a destination between a family reunion in Rocky Mountain National Park and a stay in the Montana fishing lodge belonging to our sons-in-law. I searched southwestern Wyoming, and there it was! Straddling Wyoming and northeastern Utah lies this truly unspoiled gem.
As we turned south in the late afternoon off of I-80 in southern Wyoming onto highway 191, we wondered what lay ahead. We traveled over an hour on a nearly deserted two-lane road surrounded by wide-open spaces, scenic overlooks and colorful cliffs. It felt like we had left civilization until we finally reached the hamlet of Dutch John, Utah. In just a short time, we had our first glimpse of the Green River and the expansive Flaming Gorge Dam. Wow — it was beautiful!
Close ahead was Pine Forest RV Park next to Flaming Gorge Resort, where we would spend the next four nights. Pine Forest is without a doubt one of the best RV parks we have stayed at. The owners obviously take great pride in maintaining a clean, spacious and welcoming stopover for campers. Our campsite bordered a horse pasture, and the resident equines visited and entertained us daily.
On our first full day in the area, we already had a sense of calm, especially after leaving the crowds of RMNP. A short milelong hike from the RV park took us to an overlook of the gorge, where the Green River lazily flows and curves far below through the striated cliffs.
The next day, we loaded the e-bikes up and drove to Sheep Creek Geology Loop, which is off the beaten track. The mostly paved road is very lightly traveled by vehicles, and we encountered no other bike riders. Very quickly we were exclaiming that this was without a doubt the best bike route ever! The scenery is gorgeous and varied as you ride through a wooded canyon with fantastical rock formations rising on either side. It was a warm and sunny day, and wisps of white fluff from the the resident cottonwood trees drifted in the breeze. The road twisted and turned upward through flowered mountain meadows.
When we finally turned around we realized we had climbed 1,500 feet, so we coasted downhill, stopping at a sweet little roadside park for a picnic. Sheep Creek Geology Loop is a dream for anyone interested in geology, but also for people like us, who just love wonderful scenery. On the way back to the campground, we stopped at the Red Canyon Visitor Center that overlooks the Green River from the canyon rim. We perused the many fine exhibits documenting the history and geology of the area.
Besides being a premier fishing destination, Flaming Gorge is also known for being dinosaur country. We took a whole day to journey south to the Quarry Visitor Center of Dinosaur National Monument near Jensen, Utah. This monument is another true gem, covering 329 square miles of mostly wilderness in both Utah and Colorado. The breathtaking canyons of both the Green and Yampa Rivers, rock formations, petroglyphs and pictographs are a delight, but the premier attraction is the remains of ancient dinosaurs.
Luckily our RV hosts had cautioned us that reservations were needed to visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall. It offers a rare and unique opportunity to view dinosaur fossil beds from 150 million years ago. The bones of over 500 of the reptiles representing 10 species became entombed in river sediments that eventually cast them in stone. An informative ranger described how the wall of bones was excavated, preserved and exposed over a period of 40 years. Today, visitors can even touch some of the bones and imagine what it was like when these prehistoric giants roamed the area.
Finding dinosaur skulls is rare, as skull bones are typically thinner and more delicate than other bones in the body. Several skulls are visible in the Quarry face, and an original skull of a carnivorous Allosaurus found in the area is on display alongside the re-creation of an imposing Allosaurus skeleton. The Quarry is a must-see, and the monument is worthy of more than a day of exploration. Hiking trails, stunning vistas, evidence of ancient peoples, wildlife, flora and rock formations abound. Another true gem!
There is so much to do in this area that we will definitely be returning, as we barely scratched the surface. I want to get down on the river in a boat to get another perspective of the layered cliffs. Multiple historic sites dot the area, including homesteads, structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, old military roads and even a hideout used by outlaw Butch Cassidy and his gang. Fine tours of the Flaming Gorge Dam are offered at the visitor center there.
Shhhh — don’t tell anyone about Flaming Gorge. It’s a bit of a challenge to get there, and so far the hordes flocking to national parks have not discovered it. We hope to return next year.
Libby Kinder is a freelance writer and retired clinical mental health counselor. She and her husband have lived in southwest Colorado Springs for 16 years. Contact Libby with comments and travel ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.