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Uintas rugged, beautiful and remote

If Duchesne County has one claim to fame, which most people are familiar with, it would most certainly be that it has stewardship of the largest piece of the Uinta Mountain/High Uinta Wilderness area.

This would include, of course, the fact that if anyone wished to stand atop the highest point in the state, he or she would be able to do it in Duchesne County.

What you know:

The Uinta Basin, a k a Duchesne County, holds hundreds of lakes, mile upon mile of rivers and streams, three national forests, and Utah's largest wilderness area.

Of all the wilderness available in Utah, the Uintas are most certainly the best known. Rugged, beautiful, remote and at times threatening, especially when it comes to weather conditions. The Uinta Mountains are unique in that they are the only range in the contiguous United States to lie in an east-west direction.

Named after the Ute Indians, who were known as mountain dwellers, the High Uinta Wilderness was established by Congress in 1984. Encompassing more than 456,000 acres, it is the largest wilderness area in the state. Elevations start at around 8,000 feet and rise up to the top of King's Peak — 13,528 feet, the highest point in the state.

There are, within the expanded boundaries of the Uinta Mountain range, more than 1,000 natural lakes, with more than 650 of those inhabited to various species of fish, ranging from golden trout to grayling. During the summer months, many a visitor enjoys an afternoon on the banks of one of the lakes casting flies and waiting for strikes. And, afterward, wrapping a few of the fresh catches in tinfoil, with butter, pinches of salt and pepper, and a touch of lemon added.

Among the more popular fishing spots are Moon Lake, the Granddaddy Lakes and the Duchesne River.

About half of the land within the range is forested, with stands of lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, Sabalpine fir and aspens. A range of plants covers about a third of the area. What's left are large patches of rock outcroppings.

In the winter, the Uintas are a popular cross country ski and snowmobile area. The Utah Division of Parks and Recreation grooms several miles of trails.

Another known fact is that few areas within Utah hold the disparity of wildlife, which includes elk, deer and moose, along with black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, pine marten, fox mink and weasel, not to mention the families of smaller animals like squirrels and marmots.

Another familiar area within the county is the Uintah Basin. For clarification, the name Uintah came from the Ute Indian tribe that lives in the basin. Early maps put an "H" on the end of the word, but John Wesley Powell chose to leave the "H" off in his writings, and as a result, both variations are in use.

The basin is a treasure chest of history, starting with the dinosaurs and racing forward to the ancient ruins and petroglyphs of early residents and to the famous outlaws that roamed the lands.

The county has, in recent years, become popular with hikers and bikers, both those run by pedal power and those by horsepower.

Located on BLM lands are signs marking the old Spanish trails found in many locations. Most of the more popular trails followed streams in the area. The old trails were used by a range of early characters, including sheepherders and outlaws, and more recently by hunters. Carvings by some of the trees date back to 1914.

Located on the southern border of the country, with the town of Myton being the access point, is Nine Mile Canyon. The route was once a supply route. Old metal telegraph poles can still be found in the canyon, which is much longer than its name might imply.

The all-black 9th U.S. Cavalry carved out the 78-mile road between Myton and Price by following an authentic Fremont Indian trail.

Its main feature, however, is the collection of Indian rock art put there by the early Fremont Indians, cousins of the early Anasazi. Experts also claim there is a lot of art put there by the Utes, whose story is told with horses and long, feathered headdresses, which can be seen on some of the figures.

It is said to be the greatest concentration of rock art sites in the United States. On one of the panels is a hunting scene that is believed to be the most photographed piece of Indian rock art in the world. Along with an auto tour, there are also a number of hiking and biking routes, including two bike loops. Use, however, is restricted to existing roads.

There are two rest stops along the way and camping is permitted, but limited within the canyon. This is also a great area for wildlife viewing.

The BLM office in Duchesne has free maps of the area.

Near the center of the county is Starvation State Park and Reservoir. Available within the park are comfortable camping areas, with everything from hot showers to sandy beaches to more than 100 acres of sandy hills for off-highway users to enjoy.

Among other things, the reservoir is recognized as one of the best walleye fishing spots in the state.

What you don't know:

There are a number of one-day tours within the county.

The Rock Creek/Upper Stillwater viewing area is only an hour away, and offers view of some of the most diverse and offers access to come of the most beautiful canyon areas on the South Slope of the Uintas.

Along the route travelers pass into the Rock Creek River drainage, with sandstone and limestone formations throughout. The route passes through areas of sagebrush, pinyon-junipers and willows, and enters into lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce and aspen trees.

Within Rock Creek Canyon, starting near the reservoir, is a trail system that reaches four miles to Yellowpine, five mines to Miners Gulch and eight miles to the Lower Stillwater Ponds.

The Spaniards came to north eastern Utah in the late 1600s to early 1700s looking for gold. A mission was built in the Rock Creek area. In 1844, relations with the Utes deteriorated. The Spaniards decided to leave the area. As they traveled south along Rock Creek, they were ambushed by a large party of Utes. According to legend, the battle raged all day. All the Spaniards were killed except one boy. He escaped and was picked up by a wagon train days later and far to the south, nearly starved and scared to death. The number of Spanish dead exceeded 700. The number of Indians killed is unknown, but could have been substantial since the Spaniards were armed with muskets and cannons.

As you drive down the dugway at Mountain Sheep Pass, the battle site lies several miles to the southwest.

Another trip is the Indian Canyon Scenic Byway, reaching from the town of Duchesne through canyons bordering Indian Creek. This route, too, goes into the national forest and offers a unique display of geologic formations and vegetative types.

The North Fork of the Duchesne River drive heads northwest from town into the High Uinta Mountains, following the Duchesne River through rural landscape and historic landmarks, dating back to the 1800s.

Few people realize it, but western part of the county holds the largest pinyon pine forest in the world.

The Pope House, located a short walk from the Welcome Center in Duchesne, is a truly unique house that features moments of history through miniature scenes depicting the lives of Uintah Basin residents more than 100 years ago. Carved by Fred Pope, they are fascinating and worth the short walk to see.

A real treasure of the county is the Honeycomb Calcite that is mined near Tabiona in the Uinta Mountains. The center in Duchesne has samples of the beautifully polished amber stone.

The town of Duchesne has developed a handicap-accessible trail near the County Fair Grounds that follows the Duchesne River. It begins at the Indian Canyon Bridge at the west end of town and heads east of town.

The trail is made up mostly of paved walkways with boarded sidewalks intermingled.

Along the trail are strategically placed wooden or paved decks for fishermen and walker/joggers who want to stop and take a moment to enjoy the beauties of the flow of one of nature's rivers.

The Forest Service also has a similar trail in the Rock Creek area where blind people can obtain a tape cassette and tour the trail alone by listening and touching their way along the trail.

The Yellowstone ATV Trail covers approximately 30 miles of varying terrain and difficulty. It is open for shared use by multiple vehicles, including motorcycles along with ATVs, as well as accommodating hikers and other users. It is the only ATV designation on the Roosevelt and Duchesne Ranger District.

The trail's layout offers the user a combination of opportunities, ranging from easy to difficult, and narrow to steep, and everything in between. It's a very scenic trail that goes from low elevation sagebrush to higher elevation forests.

The Elkhorn Loop road is not paved and can be a bit rough in some places, but it can usually be driven by car from about July through September. Total distance is 94 miles. Plan on four hours of driving time, using the rest of the day for other activities of interest.

Hiking, stream or lake fishing, hunting and photography top the list of things to do in Duchesne County.

Duchesne County

Well known: Uintah Basin, Nine Mile Canyon

Unknown: Rock Creek Canyon, Yellowstone ATV Trail

Contact: 435-722-4598

Next week: Morgan County