Flaming Gorge reservoir from Scenic Byway 44 picture

View towards the Flaming Gorge Reservoir from Scenic Byway 44.

Flaming Gorge: Beauty worth pausing for

Road Journals Blog—The sign at the Sheep Creek overlook promises “300 million years at a glance.” Looking north from this perch off of Scenic Byway 44, I asked my husband if he saw any Jurassic or Entrada or Permian formations.

Sort of. This is his description of what he saw rising from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir: A formation that looks like a slice of medium-rare prime rib.

He was hungry, and doesn’t much care for geology.

The town of Manila was our destination, and we got there along the 13-mile Sheep Creek Geological Loop—a sometimes-bumpy two-lane, mostly paved road that winds through towering, fortress-like geologic formations, and past streams and groves of Aspens.

It’s the kind of road that begs exploration on a bicycle, not in a car, to be better able to see the occasional golden eagle take flight, unframed by a windshield. I made a mental note to return in the warmer months with our boys, ages 8 and 9, and our bikes.

Then again, 13 miles of pedaling would be like asking them to clean their rooms every day; their complaining would pollute the peacefulness. Then we found the Sheep Creek Nature Trail, a mere three-quarters of a mile long.

This trail, along S.R. 44, had “family habitat” written all over it. It meandered near a creek, punctuated with interpretive signs to pique the imagination of even the youngest reader. Historians discovered nearby hunting grounds that at one point had been in continuous use for more than 4,000 years.

Another sign told us to keep our eyes and ears open for migrating Sandhill Cranes that fly over the area, trumpeting from as high as 13,000 feet; even from that height they can be heard. Meanwhile, I “trumpet” at my kids from just feet away—Put on your shoes. Stop hitting your brother. Use a tissue—but they rarely seem to hear it.

As impressive as the birds and sheep were, it was the Kokanee salmon that made me want to return. These land-locked fish, transplanted into the Flaming Gorge Reservoir from the Northwest during the 1960s, now swim up Sheep Creek each fall. The stream turns crimson as the fish turn red, the male developing hooked jaws and humps on their backs.

I imagined a scene of yellowing aspens and a shimmering scarlet stream, both signifying the end of a season, a life, and the beginning of something new to come too.

Peta Liston is writing about Flaming Gorge for an upcoming feature on VIAmagazine.com.

This blog post was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.