The Uinta Mountains

The Uinta mountains is one of only two major mountain ranges in the U.S. which is oriented east-west rather than north-south, the other being the Brooks Range in Alaska.

If solitude is what you are seeking, I recommend the Brooks Range, where the population of ursus horribilis, i.e., grizzly bears, exceeds that of humans. Keep in mind, though, that in that range humans are part of the food chain, and not the top of it, either.

The Uinta Wilderness encompasses 457,000 acres of the mountains, and lies east of Salt Lake City, Utah. Parts of it are hugely popular with the residents of Salt Lake, who visit it heavily but mostly on weekends, and mostly within 5 miles of a trailhead. Get further from that from a paved road, and you'll be mostly alone.

If you saw the movie Jeremiah Johnson, in which Robert Redford played a mountain man, you've seen some of the Uintas, as it was where much of the movie was filmed.

This is Teapot Lake, right behind the Lilly Lake campground on Utah highway 150, which runs from Kamas, Utah, to Evanston, Wyoming. On the left side of the picture, you will find a ring in the water where a fish of some kind had just risen to eat something. The lake is popular with fisherpersons.

This is also Teapot Lake. I've no idea why it is named that.

In his book Mountain Light, photographer Galen Rowell referred to the hour around sunset and the hour around sunrise as "the magic hours". I think you can see why.

I went for a walk up the hill one day, and found this other lovely lake. It was high enough up that I didn't linger long, as storm clouds were forming.

There are probably people who get tired of looking at the mountains and the sky in the evenings. I am not one of them.

I decided to go explore the upper basins of the Rock Creek drainage, so I packed my stuff and hiked in from the Highline trailhead, about 8 miles over Rocky Sea Pass. This is Black Lake. I saw several groups of people going into the area to the west of the pass, many doubtless headed for Naturalist Basin, which is pretty but heavily visited mostly because it's only six miles from the trailhead.

Rocky Sea Pass rises about 500 feet, and apparently that 500 feet is enough to separate out the casual hikers from the hardcore, as during the time I spent in the upper Rock Creek drainage, I saw no other people.

There are lots of lakes in these glacial basins, and following are pictures of some of them.

But, you ask, why go walking in the wilderness at all?

Well, that's a good question.

On sort of that subject, Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Well, there is that.

There is also something elementally satisfying about putting on a pack, in it being everything I need to stay warm, dry, and well-fed for several days in the mountains, and walking off into the woods, going wherever I please, with only the necessity of coming back shortly after having consumed all the food.

I don't know that I can explain why that is uniquely satisfying.

It may also be that high-altitude hiking feeds my addiction for endorphins. (Endorphins are drugs which your body produces as a result of prolonged physical exertions, which some people claim are as addicting as more artificially-produced drugs.)

I note, in addition, that the exercise is very beneficial. I am just now back in Houston as I write this, and find that I have lost 15 pounds. I hope not to find them again, as clearly they were pounds that I did not need.



This is Rocky Sea Pass, viewed from the east side of the pass. You can see why it's named Rocky Sea, as it is a sea of rocks. It's not hard to walk over, though, as the trail is very plain, and the drops off the trail are not dangerous. One just needs to be careful where one is placing one's feet.

This is a view of the Rock Creek drainage from hear the top of Rocky Sea Pass. At this distance, one can barely see the open parks at the base of the mountains which are one of the area's nicest features. The area above the Highline Trail is about 7 miles across and perhaps 5 miles in depth. There may have been other people in it when I was there, but I didn't see them.

Hiking out toward the trailhead, though, on a Saturday, I saw about 50 people in groups of various sizes on the trailhead side of the pass, some of them on horseback, and many of them pretty obviously headed up toward Naturalist Basin.

The Uinta Wilderness, though, is huge, with many trailheads. Most of the wilderness can be visited by hiking no more than 10 or 15 miles from a trailhead, and little of the wilderness is heavily used at all. It's a wonderful place to find peace and quiet. During my stay in the Rock Creek basin, the only manmade sound I heard aside from my own was made by jet aircraft passing way overhead.

Copyright 2001 by Linden B. Sisk All Rights Reserved
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