Thursday, September 2, 2021

Exploring a Tiny Bit of the High Uintas, Utah

Provo River Falls along Mirror Lake Highway

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in the Uinta Mountains, the longest east-west trending mountain range in the U.S. It's in northeastern Utah. The Mirror Lake Highway is a beautiful gateway, starting in Kamas, Utah and heading into the mountains. I stopped for some early morning views of Provo River Falls (above).

Then I pulled over for a short walk around Teapot Lake, one of 600 lakes in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and one of 1,000 in the Uinta Mountains (the Ashley National Forest covers the eastern section.) Why so many lakes? This area was heavily glaciated at one time.

Many of the lakes contain trout, so fishing is very popular.

It had been cold the night before, and the frost clung to the clover.

This lake had a lot of lily pads on one side, and off in the distance at the top of a tree, an osprey nest.

Then I drove a bit up the road and got out at Mirror Lake, where I also walked around the lake, enjoying the beautiful views. A nearby campground ensured that there were also plenty of people about.

I was ready for some solitude. I needed a getaway to clear my head and recharge my batteries. I had done a quick search for overnight backpack destinations and decided the Naturalist Basin would be perfect. I started off at the Highline trailhead. This 104-mile trail extends the length of the Uintas.

I would be going in just a short distance from the left side before veering off.

From this closeup you can see the Highline trail in yellow, and the Naturalist Basin in pink. I was planning to do a loop through the upper basin and connect both spurs.

From the trailhead, the Highline trail went downhill until it crossed a creek right before the High Uintas Wilderness sign. Do you see the horse? I saw 15 on the Highline Trail (most bow hunters), along with 56 people (the majority backpackers returning on a Sunday), and four dogs (which are allowed). 

Then it went  uphill and into a burned area, where I saw Scudder Lake.

Soon after I was drawn to a detour--a 1+ mile spur to Packard Lake, also passing two other lakes. I had plenty of time and my pack was light, so why not?

This spur was not busy at all, in contrast to the Highline trail, which could have been called the Highway trail. I sat down and soaked in the views.

When I was very close to Packard Lake, I took a social trail to the edge of a gorgeous canyon. This view alone made the detour worth it!

I saw a deer as I approached Packard Lake. It ran off, probably thinking I was one of the many bow hunters out. The trail got terrible here, with so much downfall. I got tired of fighting and turned around.

Back on the Highline Trail, I enjoyed nice boardwalks.

This contrasted with some of the rockiest trail sections I've seen through a forest. 

About 5 miles from the trailhead I reached a junction. It would be easy to miss, as there's just a small sign on the tree.

Someone had scratched on NB for Naturalist Basin and HL for Highline. 

A short way up, I crossed the creek in a scenic area.

It wasn't too long until I reached Jordan Lake, my destination for the night. I had read that it was usually very busy, and based on the number of people I saw on the Highline Trail, I could believe it. But the Naturalist Basin trail was very quiet, and I think only one one group was camped at Jordan Lake. Sunset wasn't particularly dramatic, but it was peaceful.

I went to bed at 7:30 pm (it was getting quite dark by then) and woke up at 6:30 am. I guess I needed some rest! The sun was just starting to come up over the mountains.

I enjoyed the puffy cloud reflections in the lake. I also really liked listening to a waterfall on the cliffs across the lake.

I was trying out a new tent, a Gossamer Gear Two, which is supported by hiking poles. It weighs about 2 pounds, and though it was a bit awkward putting up due to my inexperience, over all I really liked it.

My plan for the day was to leisurely hike through the upper part of the Naturalist Basin and then eventually head back to the trailhead. I was glad to have a GPS app on my phone, because I quickly lost the trail at the end of Jordan Lake. Then I refound it, and as I ascended into this big boulder pile and stopped to filter some water, I saw a pika! I was so excited. I waited a bit to see if it would reappear, but no such luck.

The trail disappeared again as I got higher, but eventually I found my way to Shaler Lake. I was feeling hot and wanted to swim, so headed to the small cliffs at the far end, hoping the water would be deeper there.

I got distracted by the flowers. I think these are gentians. 

The cliff wall was moist and provided good protection for flowers that had faded or frozen in other locations. I enjoyed a quick swim and definitely cooled off!

I then wandered from lake to lake, following my gps app, as there wasn't a trail most of the time. The going was very easy, much less rocky than the Highline Trail! I didn't see anyone. Here's a view of a lake after I had passed it, possibly Leconte Lake.

The next section was the hardest, through dense vegetation and lots of boulders, but eventually I got to Blue Lake and then descended a steep trail to see Moffat Lakes. The one on the left is shallow, but the one on the right is dark blue and deeper.

There was even a lovely view of a waterfall and the lake!

The waterfall was lovely.

I lost the trail again on the way back to the main Naturalist Basin Trail, so was really appreciating my GPS app. I hiked leisurely back to the trailhead, seeing only 6 or 7 people, 0 horses, and 0 dogs on a Monday afternoon. There were three trail runners, and I was impressed they were willing to run such a rocky trail.

I enjoyed the beautiful drive back down the Mirror Lake Highway. I was ready for a shower and found the lovely South Summit Aquatic Center in Kamas. Swimming some laps, going down the water slide, and doing the ninja warrior course a couple times helped work out any aches and pains I had. 

Then it was time to eat, and I was craving some fresh vegetables and some salty soup. The Silver Summit Cafe in the 7-11 delivered.

It was a great adventure, and I look forward to returning to the Uintas, there is still so much to explore.

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