PRESERVING A WILD LEGACY: THE ROADLESS COUNTRY
The country adjacent to the protected High Uintas Wilderness is full of rich wildlife and forest vegetation. The mere existence of a line on the map does not connote what is wild, just what has been afforded federal protection. It is this country upon which the next several issues of THE LYNX will focus. We envision compiling all of this material in a booklet entitled, PRESERVING A WILD LEGACY: THE HIGH UINTA MOUNTAINS, so our members and others will understand our vision of High Uintas protection and management. In this issue, we focus on the country found within the Bear River drainage on the northwestern portion of the High Uintas. Future articles will follow the course of drainages across the North Slope to the South Slope.
THE HIGH UINTAS ROADLESS LANDSCAPE
What exactly is it that creates the immense importance of the Uintas' roadless country? It could be the range's size, its many moods of weather and physical challenge to the visitor, its profound silence in winter and cacophony of needles, leaves, stones, waterfalls in winds of autumn, its powerful rains and sun of summer in the high country, its chance encounter with creatures that never leave a mountain range in which they were born. The Uintas are a living system, an irreplaceable fabric of forest life. These are not abstract values--they are special places. That sense of a wild place is fundamental within each drainage and is enhanced as a profound wild character when viewed as a whole place of roadless drainages.
It is tempting to think of the roadlessness that surrounds the Uintas as individual roadless areas. Of course, it isn’t--this roadlessness is a sweeping arc of a single roadless landscape flowing out from the 460,000 acre High Uintas Wilderness. While the roadless narratives that follow are delineated into drainages or geographical namesakes, such as the Bollies, it is one place unto itself. Surrounding, contiguous and adjacent to this 460,000 acre High Uintas Wilderness are about 103,000 acres of roadless North Slope lands on the Wasatch National Forest and about 314,000 acres on the Ashley National Forest North and South Slopes—about 877,000 acres of designated wilderness and roadless lands surrounding the wilderness. Of this, we propose about 80,000 acres on the Wasatch North Slope and 190,000 acres on the Ashley South and North Slopes that should be added to the extant High Uintas Wilderness—some 730,000 acres of High Uintas we feel should be designated as wilderness.
And, of course, literally across the street (in this case, the Mirror Lake Highway) from the High Uintas Wilderness, is our proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, or Lakes Roadless Area, another 122,000 acres, making a remarkably clean, wild mountainous system of essentially 1,000,000 acres of roadless lands including the existing High Uintas Wilderness. We have recommended about 75,000 acres of the Lakes Roadless area as the proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, making for an expanse of undeniably high quality wilderness complex of some 805,000 acres! Connect all of this to the Book Cliffs and the high Colorado Plateaus of the Southern Rockies and the high Wyoming deserts through the Green River to the Wind Rivers, the Wyoming Range, the Yellowstone Plateau on the Northern Rockies, and the Uintas sit in and at a junction of immense wildness.
Our sole obligation is to preserve this place, to allow its wildness to connect and hold this great power... and to refresh our story and hold ourselves together as part and parcel of this wild landscape. It is here we can awaken the ghost of wolf, wolverine, and grizz and share the life of great gray owl, cougar and black bear.
ROADLESS COUNTRY OF THE ASHLEY NATIONAL FOREST
(“North and South Slope High Country”)
On the east end of the Uintas above Daggett Lake sits a tiny willow-filled alpine basin. It is typical of Uintas high alpine basins in that it is wild, isolated and 11,000 feet in elevation. Small springs and streams flow through the basin. It is a small basin unlike the massive cirques further to the west. Literally the high Uintas peaks run out to the east and south, rounded 11,000-12,000 foot peaks only a few miles wide in most places stand above small isolated basins on the North Slope. While the basins are larger on the South Slope, the sense of the Uintas running-out is the same.
Running out of wildness is hardly the sense I experienced, however. Resting in this tiny basin above Daggett Lake was the oldest moose I’ve ever seen. It was late in the fall and he was going nowhere. He was as gray and grizzled and sway-backed as an ancient horse. I watched him for the better part of three days as I hiked back and forth from Weyman Park, Anson Lakes and back over to Daggett Lake. His time had come and it is only in the wildest places that one is given the opportunity to watch a wild critter “fade into the slipstream.” On day three he found a spot which I barely found and was no more.
The eastern end of the High Uintas is often referred to as “the Bollies”—high rounded plateau-like bald peaks and their associated small alpine basins. Leidy and Marsh Peaks dominate the easternmost, 12,000 foot peaks. The North Slope is generally above 9,500 feet and drains Sheep Creek with the North and Middle (Spirit Lake) South Forks. Moving east the scene is dominated by Weyman Park and the exceptionally isolated Anson and Weyman Lakes, which drain Beaver and Weyman Creeks. Further east is even more isolation -- the West and East Forks of Carter Creek and the rarely visited Lamb Lakes.
The South Slope harbors broad open basins and much longer river systems with much of this country above 10,000 feet dominated by the East and West Fork of the Whiterocks River and the stunning lower Whiterocks River canyon. Large wet meadow complexes dominate the south slope cirques; ribbons of spruce and pine intermixed with open parklands lace the middle reaches of these drainages.
But much of this country remains wild and home to lynx, pine marten, black bear and probably wolverine; even wolves have been seen in this country. Much of this eastern Bollies country was originally proposed by the Forest Service as wilderness in the early 1980s because no significant resource conflicts exist. Yet Utah’s congressional delegation in the 1980s failed to include the Forest Service recommendation in the High Uintas Wilderness.
ROCK CREEK, LAKE FORK, AND DUCHESNE RIVER
(“High Uintas A and C”)
The bulk of the High Uintas Wilderness drifts south from the east-west 70 mile long spine. During the wilderness designation debate, many south slope boundaries were drawn right at trailheads. Instead of having large tracts of east-west roadless areas adjacent to the wilderness boundary on the North Slope, the South Slope roadless areas tend to be smaller tracts of land (with the exception of “the Bollies”), often steep slopes rising dramatically from the roaded canyon bottoms south of the wilderness boundary.
Thus a general picture is painted for the Rock Creek, Lake Fork and Duchesne roadless lands adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness. These are not actual separate roadless areas but all part and parcel of a huge landscape adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness: a cup within a cup!
The Rock Creek country consists of Dry Canyon and Miners Gulch and one of the loneliest and most isolated lakes on the Uintas—Audrey Lake. This is steep, rocky, ledged, convoluted, lodgepole pine country—not the smooth pine country of the North Slope. This country is hard to move about in, making it some of the wildest country on the Uintas. Elevations run from 8,200 feet to a little over 10,000 feet at Audrey Lake and up to 11,400 feet at Rock Creek Peak right on the wilderness boundary. There are no trails and a few small meadow lands with numerous deep gulches running out on steep rocky ledge after ledge. But here golden eagles soar and goshawk, pine marten and black bear add to the mystery of timbered slopes.
The Lake Fork country lies east and south of Moon Lake and is dominated by the Fish Creek drainage which has its headwaters tucked into tiny Toquer Lake in the High Uintas Wilderness. Most of this country is dominated by lodgepole pine and aspen forests and steep and wild country rarely seen by anybody but pine marten, goshawk, and elk.
Fish Creek is the exception. A gentle stream of immense beauty, it slides through patches of wild and ancient forests, an occasional meadow and park lands. Bird life is profuse and moose are seen sporadically, as are beaver. It is a place recognized for towering pine and spruce forests.
The Duchesne River country is notable for its open slopes of sagebrush, marked with stands of conifers and aspen on north facing slopes and its incredibly rugged country of deep incised canyons in Swift Creek and the Castle Rock formation.
UINTA AND YELLOWSTONE DRAINAGES
(“High Uintas B”)
An expansive wild forested domain rests south of the High Uintas Wilderness border on the Yellowstone and Uintas Rivers. From Hells Canyon over to Cow and Clover Creek Canyons, it is steep and rocky, ledged and forested. Lodgepole pine, isolated stands of Doug fir, ponderosa and aspen dominate these slopes. Small, steep- charging drainages fly out of this country. To the east of Swift Creek rests Dry Gulch. Access into this country is difficult—it is like climbing huge, forested talus steps before popping out into subalpine meadow lands and small lakes. Most of Dry Gulch is within the High Uintas Wilderness. East of the Uinta River at the head of Clover Creek the country broadens and rises to the typical round alpine peaks of the Bollies. An almost hidden pass separates the Uinta River drainage from Whiterocks country.