I Wonder Where This Road Will Take Me...


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Itineraries are good.

So is spontaneity.

The only agenda I had today was to go to Flaming Gorge Recreational Area. Routes on the East or West were my choices, opting for the West road, as the East one is on US-191 which I figured would be more heavily traveled. Taking the West state route was good. Absolutely no other vehicles were going south during the drive. A few were going north, but I basically had that nice paved highway all to myself.

At the lower end of the reservoir that fills the gorge, I turned off the blacktop and ventured into the recreational area and took a dirt road soon after - just to see where it would lead me. The dirt road split and I followed it down to the lake, where a few RV’s were camped out. It was a nice view, but not enough for me to think about setting up my tent and staying. Besides it was still morning, barely 10 a.m. What would I do all day there?

On the other side of my truck is the very steep descent down toward the lake. Imaging driving over the edge of what is in front of the truck and you have an idea of how steep the road was.

Easy decision for me. I drove back to a fork in the road and drove on into the huge open land before me. The roads over the land rolled along over big and small hills, climbed steep hills, followed by hefty descents too. Muddy patches, erosion etched sections, deep ruts, rocky, bumpy - and exhilarating. I followed along on a road that took me to a high overlook of the lake and a pipeline bridge that stretched across a narrower channel in the lake. 

As I came to the top of that steep hill, I could not see over my hood onto the road ahead of me. I was stretching, pulling myself up with hands on the steering wheel trying to peer ahead and over the edge of the hood. For all I knew the road just dropped off into nothingness. That set my heart rate up a few notches! It felt like riding the first car on a roller coaster, cresting at the top and seeing nothing but air all the well knowing you are about to drop downward into near oblivion. Though knowing at that summit you are briefly going to be staring into space, you will, in the next instant, be thrust forward and downward in one fell swoop leaving your breath, and your sanity, hanging for an instant before falling face downward into a heart stopping descent.

In my state of suspended animation, I still moved cautiously forward hoping to get a glimpse of land ahead of me. The road actually leveled off somewhat giving me a reprieve from fear, but then, with the front of they truck nearing a downward descent, I could tell this was going to be a very, VERY steep drop. And it looked like it was rutted and rough to boot.

I stopped, got out of the truck to investigate and stared down. Another truck was down below at the pipeline bridge about a ¼ mile from me. There were other trails that criss crossed over other adjacent hills so I could not be certain that that truck and crew had driven down (or up) on this section. It didn’t take me but a few seconds to use my discretion and nixed any idea of even trying to negotiate that terrifying drop. 

I am confident my truck was up for the job. I, on the other hand, was not.

Getting turned around, I set off again to see what other of these dirt roads were calling me. One took me to a remote cove at the waters edge, part of that one slanted so that I was also on a tilt as I negotiated around and between bushes growing close to the roadway. Nothing of interest kept me there, so it was off to explore other trails. Driving along I saw that some brave souls had hauled in their motor homes on these dirt paths and were parked near waters edge. Those areas I avoided, opting to keep to higher ground.

On the way into this out of the way excursion, I saw my first pronghorn antelopes. That leads me to the last of my morning adventure. Coming around a bend as I ascended a hill, two men with binoculars were looking down below in the vast openness. I stopped to chat and found they were spotting the pronghorns as it was bow hunting season and they were following some of the small herds. Wanting to actually get back on the main road I asked if this particular road led back to blacktop. It did, they told me, and I could then continue to the town of Manila, Utah, since I was practically touching the border from where I was. 

Off I drove, and with about 3 miles I was on solid pavement again. And I rousted a few pronghorns on the way out also. They had better run, I knew two men who were out to get them.

Still, with no definite day plan I crossed over into Utah and entered the town of Manila. There I had to stop and consult my maps. The place I wanted to go was Vernal, UT, so I took that road and began a climb up through a pass. At a lookout/ observation area, I took another side trip to an area called Navajo Cliffs. A working road crew told me I could enter but the road was being repaired further up and I would then need to return back the same way. 

As it turned out the whole area is a geological study area with many signs along the way identifying the different strata of earth. The drive was spectacular with mountains and cliffs all around, many in reds, with shapes formed millions of years ago. Geology aside, the drive was very scenic all in itself.

Well after noon, I returned to the highway and began a long ascent through a mountain pass. Higher and higher, traversing upward, each view more astounding than the one before. With only occasion pull-outs for views, I had to rely on my eyes to just absorb and marvel at the beauty I saw. 

At one of the overlooks it began to rain. I decided to keep driving and head for Vernal. I drove a long distance it seemed, and started getting tired. Noting a mile marker that indicated Mile 1, I thought I might nearly have reached the intersection I was seeking so that I could continue on US 191 South. But I pulled into an historical pull-out just then, stretched my legs and read some of the story of the area. A ranch was down another unpaved road that was open to visitors. Mid afternoon,  it was still time to check out the ranch down on a loop road. Not much to really see, other than some boarded up log buildings, I followed the short loop until it rejoined the highway. 

One of the first things I noticed was a mileage sign saying 392 Miles. That seemed odd, since I had just seen  one before my detour indicating differently. I continued on and then a highway sign read 191 NORTH. But I was supposed to be going South. Until I could turn around I continued down the mountain to a bridge crossing a narrow channel of a lake. There I checked my maps but found no indication of this location. Another man had stopped at the view spot also and upon asking him he gave me directions for hitting Hwy 191 SOUTH. 

Apparently I had missed an intersection, which really confused me. It seemed impossible that I would have missed a junction of highways. But, I did miss it as I saw when I arrived at the split in the road, and it became obvious as to why I missed it. Picture the letter “Y”. The little detour I took at the marker of “Mile 1” was almost at the center meeting point of the “Y” and the detour cut across from the left side arm to the right side arm, sending me back to the North. If I had not taken the detour, I would have dropped down on the lower leg and been headed South, as on the lower leg of the “Y”. Once again back on the road, the highway signs warned of steep descents and 10 switchbacks ahead. They weren’t kidding. Some were in quick succession, and even driving more slowly due to the situation, I reached the valley floor with ease. 

Vernal was a few miles ahead and having tired of driving, I was ready to end this “unstructured” day. Bigger than I thought it would be, Vernal had many motel choices. Not being a tourist destination as in the Yellowstone or Teton areas, room rates were much more reasonable also.

Tomorrow’s weather prediction is for rain, so, once again, I’ll play it by ear. A stop at Dinosaur National Monument might be a possibility and then maybe on to Moab, UT and Arches National Park. If rain persists I might continue south to see if I can find clear weather. 

This is NOT the steep drop off I wrote about, just a milder version of the one I avoided.




kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments