THE WILD UINTAS
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series focusing on the roadless landscapes of the High Uintas contiguous and adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness, but yet undesignated as wilderness. We started on the western end of the North Slope and have moved east to Burnt Fork. Before traveling further east to the Bollies and then south and west across the South Slope, we want to go back to a quick discussion of our proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, the headwaters of the Provo and Weber Rivers. For a more detailed discussion of this area, see HUPC Newsletter, April 1997.
The Proposed Mt.Watson Wilderness
This is incised and convoluted country. It is the heart of the Kamas Ranger District of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It is still wild enough that it can’t be encircled by a car in a day. You can feel its size and diversity by a drive from Kamas up the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway and west over the dirt road at Whitney Reservoir. Or try driving from Oakley up the Weber River to Smith-Morehouse or Holiday Park. In between all of this is a roadless area of over 100,000 acres; outside of the roadless country adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness, it comprises the largest chunk of roadless Forest Service land left in Utah!
Stroll up or down any of the major drainages of what the Forest Service calls the Lakes Backcountry and your wonder will be awakened as to how wild the place is and why it was never included in the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984. The slickrock cascades of the Middle Fork of the Weber, one of the wild-est spots in the Uintas, will reward you with utter silence except for coyote families, moose, black bear and pine marten.
The upper benches of the Middle Fork are dotted with dozens of small lakes, wet meadows and beautiful ancient stands of spruce, creating a patchy landscape of open rock slopes, towering peaks and ridgelines. This is rugged, high elevation country.
The main fork of the Weber River is a larger drainage typified by dense stands of spruce and lodgepole pine tapering down to pine and aspen. The forest and river’s edge become one. The high peaks and ridges of the Uintas simply disappear into a wild forest.
A walk up Smith-More-house Creek into Erickson Basin opens up dramatically. Long 10,000 foot ridges dominate the horizon; the forest is open with patchy stands of aspen. Here the sky reigns. But try a hike from the Smith-Morehouse into the Middle Fork of the Weber through the convoluted topography of Hells Kitchen with its false summits, small isolated basins and steep lodgepole pine slopes, and it is possible to believe it is the first stroll in this country! From the barren pass between Smith-Morehouse and the Middle Fork stretches a vista unmatched-- green forests, open parklands, alpine peaks and acre after acre of untouched wildness.
A hike up the North Fork of the Provo River, Shingle Creek, Yellowpine or Boulder Creek offers another view of this landscape. Here aspen and doug-fir forests, sagebrush flats, and parklands dominate an open landscape. High peaks are steady companions. The country imperceptibly changes from a measured landscape into steep, rugged and deep canyons typical of the higher elevation pine and spruce forests of the Uintas.
The North Fork of the Provo now runs with force all year as the nearly dozen small impounded lakes (dammed in the 1920s) have been stabilized as natural inflow/outflow lakes at or slightly above natural lake level (all of the "dam-works" have been removed). With the one exception of Marjorie Lake, none of these lakes will again have to be maintained as reservoired lakes by way of motorized access. This has added to both the wildness of the region and high quality wil-derness characteristics!
The Lakes Backcountry (we think it should be the Mt. Watson Wilderness) is not of one place. It is a diverse region. Half a dozen peaks top 11,000 feet. Over 100 lakes and numerous rivers/streams slice through the area. Cougar grace the most rugged corners of the area. Black bear haunt the richer habitats. Pine marten and goshawk find the old crumpled forests essential. It is integral to protecting the entire High Uintas.