THE WILD UINTAS
The Blacks Fork Headwaters - Part of a series focusing on the watershed regions of the roadless Uintas country
WEST FORK BLACKS FORK
Three miles of the West Fork extends up drainage from the trailhead to the Wilderness boundary. Where the wilderness is characterized by a river course of consistent descent and surrounded by a long and narrow wet and dry meadow system all the way to the headwaters, the roadless terrain below the wilderness boundary is primarily defined by an incredibly diverse and rich coniferous forest enclosing the stream and then "terracing" westward to Cataract Basin. Cataract Basin is known for its elk herd. Sloping up the east side of the drainage, the forest of lodgepole simply disappears into a small band of spruce and then a steep alpine slope. Many people attribute the highest aesthetic value to this drainage because of this inherently rich biotic diversity. The forest exhibits the classic old growth characteristics of multi-aged stands-- old, healthy and decadent trees mixed in with younger stands. Numerous gaps in the forest offer the biologic parameters for pine marten and goshawk, and the landscape is classic lynx and wolverine habitat, particularly since the drainage is a piece of a much larger unroaded landscape.
The lower developed and roaded West Fork Blacks Fork is unraveling in the face of "checkerboarded" private lands being clearcut and subdivided. This destruction, seemingly beyond anyone's control, underscores how essential the public's land is for preserving biodiversity and wildland recreation.
We welcome you to revisit the West Fork Black's Fork with Marty, Jim and John Steitz as they describe the beauty and concerns of their recent trip!
MIDDLE FORK BLACKS FORK
From hundreds of tiny rivulets melting from late-summer snowfields on the shoulder of Tokewanna Peak to its confluence with the West Fork, the Middle Fork Blacks Fork is the least disturbed major drainage on the Uintas' North Slope. Recent studies show the Middle Fork, and its Brush Creek tributary, harbor one of the few remaining, essentially pure populations of Colorado cutthroat trout-- perhaps the rarest of all the inland cutthroats. They have found refuge in this remote drainage, free from the damage caused by road building and easy angler access that plagues most of their range. Beaver dams, built almost entirely of lodgepole pine, form quiet pools for native cutthroats.
A hike up the quiet Middle Fork is a hike through sprawling wet and dry meadows offering striking views of Tokewanna Peak. This country reminds you of the Uintasthen: grizzlies and timber wolves roamed here! They could amble again along the Middle Fork if we preserve the quiet and the wild essence of this place. But, unfortunately, it is a good day's walk, about 6 miles, with a light load to reach the Wilderness boundary from the trailhead-- the wildest, yet least protected, of the Uintas drainages.
EAST FORK BLACKS FORK
As night falls, silence blankets the East Fork. On a meandering hike in the roadless country between the guard station and the wilderness boundary, one imagines the nocturnal creatures of the dark forest at her shoulder and the glacier floor still settled beneath the broad, moonlit meadow taking up the flow of the two forks of the East Fork. Rocky, uneven earth tells the ancient story of this wild place's creation. A pocket of elk scat, a beaver-gnawed aspen limb, a cleft block of quartzite, a piece of moose horn... all are the quiet, vibrant tales of the East Fork. Two forks. Each with its own personality. The Little East Fork tumbles down from the great Squaw Peak Ridge, rushing through the steep forested drainage of dense lodgepole, passing through this roadless, meadow country, greened by snowfall in the steep terraces of Bald Mountain's west flank. A refuge for elk, goshawk, gray owl, moose... all of whom can be seen if one is only quiet and watchful and chooses to stay a while. On the lower reaches of the Little East Fork we've seen the elusive great gray owl (photographed it), pine marten, and had a goshawk mother swoop down on us as we examined her egg which had been blown off a large lodgepole pine.
+ The main East Fork, gateway to Lovenia and Red Knob which tower at the top of the basin, is a wider, wetter meander. A forest of birds, little critters, moose feeding on willows, spotted fawns we watched in awe one spring... a wild, natural place that is forest primeval to all who visit and vital to all that depend on it as home. In moonlight it is dark, wild and even more obviously a refuge of life able to survive in this shining world of river, willow and pine.
Just a few years ago the Forest Service wrote, "...the East Fork Blacks Fork drainage is attractive because of its picturesque qualities and the relatively quiet atmosphere; a special kind of resource in its own right." The scenery of the East Fork is what attracts, but its wildness brings you back.
BLACKS FORK SUMMARY
To learn what is special about the Uintas, visit the Blacks Fork. Historically, the Blacks Fork piedmont glacier extended further north than any glacier in the Uintas. The mountains and peaks are more rugged and more typical of the northern Rockies than anywhere in Utah.
All of the Blacks Fork major tributaries--West Fork, East Fork and Little East Fork-- head in alpine basins surrounded by lofty 13,000' peaks. Yet in every case where the Wilderness ends is still wilderness: two or three miles on the East Fork and Little East Fork; three to four miles on the West Fork; almost all of the Middle Fork. This is country made up of broad glacial basins, the dominant impression one carries on a walk through the mid-level country failing in this supplement's scope or on a climb into the high open country of Squaw, Lovenia, Red Knob. It is a land of moose, goshawk, bear and whistling marmot. It is the inextricable connective tissue between the high country and the designated trailheads. It belongs in roadless protection, not punctuated by man's extractive machinery. It is the heart of the Uintas. The entire hydrological drainage system of unroaded terrain is easily manageable, the epitome of natural functioning system and a large remote and isolated region of incredible ruggedness and diversity. It is inseparable from the Wilderness, a spiritual piece of that Wilderness. And while the water here flows to the Green River it is as much as a part of the wildness of the adjacent unroaded drainages of the Bear River which flow to the Great Basin.