Monday, October 27, 2014

Yellowstone and Geezer VII - Flaming Gorge

October 4

After all of the early mornings we’ve had lately, we slept in today.  We wanted to go to the Visitors Center before we started out for the day and since it didn’t open until 10:00 it gave a great excuse to have a leisurely morning.  This morning the skies we clear and blue with plenty of sunshine and it stayed that way all day.  The temperature varied from the 40's in the low 60's depending on the altitude, but it never seemed to feel too cold as long as you stayed in the sun.

We were at the Visitors Center right at 10:00 when they opened and it was a fruitful visit as they had lots of brochures and advice on how to spend our day.  After we finished there we took a short walk along the canyon and then we were on our way. 
The view of Flaming Gorge from the Visitors Center.

Our destination was the Sheep Creek Scenic Byway via the Deep Creek Backway.  They designate paved roads as scenic byways and dirt roads as scenic backways so that is the difference.  Today was the opening of the rifle hunting season and the hunters were out in droves setting up their camps everywhere.  There were also a lot of ATV’s out on the back roads so we had to keep our eyes open as they moved right along.  It made us a little nervous with all the hunters about and we wished we had the bright orange vests and hats they all wore.  We stayed close to the car all day and hoped that no stray shots would find their way towards us.

Lots of fall color on the Deep Creek Byway.

Both the drive through Deep Creek Backway and Sheep Creek Byway were beautiful with plenty of fall color with snowcapped mountains in the background.  Our altitude during the day varied from around 7000 feet to almost 9000 feet.  The fall color varied from still green to peak color to bare as we climbed into the mountains and dropped back into the valleys.  Part of Sheep Creek Byway is designated as Sheep Creek Geological Area, which was quite interesting.  There were red cliffs, deep canyons and dramatic spires and palisades as we drove though the deep canyons and rock formations.  The forest service puts out a very nice road guide for the area.

At the end of the scenic byway was a little town called Manila where we ate lunch.  After lunch we backtracked through a section of the byway we hadn’t been on and then took the Spirit Lake Scenic Backway up to, you guessed it, Spirit Lake.  The road ended at the lake and the altitude was almost 9000 feet.  There was a small resort at the lake, but everything was closed for the season so we were pretty much all alone, there didn’t even seem to be any hunters around.  The local travel bureau put out a guide which we used along with the forest service guide, both were very handy.

A view of Flaming Gorge as we made our way from Manila to Spirit Lake.

Spirit Lake

We made our way back down the mountain and had one more stop that was recommended to us at the Visitors Center, the Ute Mountain Fire Lookout Tower.  We took the side road off the Spirit Lake Backway and took the short drive up to the tower.  It was a beautiful drive with fall color everywhere.  Unfortunately we couldn’t climb up the tower to see the views as there was a locked gate at the bottom of the staircase.  Even though the signs said visitors welcome, it looked like the tower was closed for the season also.

Lots of fall color on the drive up to the lookout tower.

One of the many gathering of hunters we saw.
By this time it was late afternoon and we decided it was time to get back to the lodge.  We got back just after 5:00 and after looking at our pictures for the day we went to the lodge restaurant where we had a very enjoyable dinner watching the sunset.  The Red Canyon Lodge has turned out to be a great place to stay; the cabins are rustic, but clean and comfortable and the staff was friendly and helpful and the cost was very reasonable.  We didn’t know what to expect in the Flaming Gorge area, but we have been pleasantly surprised and could find plenty to do if we were staying a few more days.  We wouldn’t hesitate to come back to the area and the Red Canyon Lodge.

Tomorrow we have a long drive to Durango, CO so we will be getting up early (for us) and getting on the road as soon as possible.  Tomorrow night will be the last night before the start of the Geezer Gathering so we are starting to get excited about seeing our old (old seems to have a double meaning here) friends again.

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