5. Dowd Mountain Overlook
It was explorer-geologist John Wesley Powell, one of the first white men to set eyes on this area, who in the 1870s named this river-carved chasm Flaming Gorge. His thrill of discovery can be relived by sightseers today at the Dowd Mountain Overlook, reached via an unpaved access road (closed in winter). The view takes in a lengthy stretch of the reservoir and the reddish walls of the gorge.
Paths wind through the nearby woods, where you may spot deer, elk, or sage grouse. One trail, though fairly difficult, threads its way to Hideout Canyon, a hill-hidden nook that was so named because Butch Cassidy and other outlaws sought refuge there from pursuing posses.
6. Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Loop
Millions of years ago the earth’s crust shifted here along a giant fault, forming mountains 10,000 feet high and plunging ravines. Most of these highlands have been worn away since that time by the forces of erosion, the towering slopes today are teeming with fossils. Among the ancient creatures frozen in the stones are a variety of now-extinct marine animals. The fossil finds also include other creatures, such as sea urchins, that have remained virtually unchanged through the centuries, as well as the huge footprints of prehistoric reptiles.
The drive follows the same path as Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Loop, some 13 miles in length, which curves through the area. The road has been staked with markers that point out many interesting geological points worth viewing. Be on the lookout for wildlife as well, including—as the creek’s name would suggest—bighorn sheep. Residents of the region, they can often be seen grazing in the large tracts of grass, seemingly unbothered by the automobiles that pass through their territory; look closely. they blend into the surroundings.
7. Ute Mountain Fire Tower
Early forest rangers, concerned about the devastation that fires leave in their wake, used high-platform lookouts to keep an eye out for smoke. Today most of the fire lookouts have gone the way of the dinosaurs, as helicopters and airplanes have been mobilized to keep a wary watch over the vast woodlands.
One of the earliest fire lookouts in Utah—designated a national historic landmark—still stands at Ute Mountain. It can be reached by a short, unpaved road off the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Loop. The panorama from the tower’s platform includes the Wyoming desert and the forest-clad ridgetops and valleys of the Uinta Mountains.
Once the loop road returns to Rte. 44, consider heading south five miles to Sheep Creek Overlook for a view of the dramatic meeting place of Sheep Creek and Flaming Gorge. Then the drive follows Rte. 44 north to Manila, a small town ringed by crests and peaks.
8. Route 530
After a short stretch along Rte. 43 east, a sign welcomes you to Wyoming. Rte. 530, the final leg of the drive, continues to the north, where the terrain quickly—almost magically—changes from mountains to high desert. Though the land through which you travel may for the most part seem barren, the 45 miles to Green River have an austere beauty all their own: lonely buttes cresting rumpled hills, piles of rocks shaped like giant beehives, and a weather-worn badland called the Devils Playground. Farther along, sand, sagebrush, and cactus accompany you to the town of Green River and its namesake waterway—the celestial knife that slowly carved Flaming Gorge.