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Roadtrip Utah: Northern Utah, Petroglyphs and Wildlife Refuges. March 20-24, 2004


It took us approximately 8 hours from Denver to reach Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Northern Utah. The refuge is located approx 15 miles West from Brigham City, Utah. It covers approximately 74,000 acres of marshes, uplands and open water. The refuge attracts thousands of migrating ducks, swans, geese and shorebirds. It was established in 1928 on a delta of the Bear River in the Great Salt lake. There is no entry fee for the refuge. Access to the refuge is along a reasonably well maintained road. Its pretty bleak driving, and many a visitor turns back before actually entering the refuge. You know you're starting to get close when you drive passed giant flat ponds reflecting the Wasatch mountains in the East, and the Promontory Mountains in the West. The entrance is signposted. The start of the drive begins at an outhouse, and parking lot. The roads are wide enough for 2way traffic, and there are plenty of turn outs for picnicking. There are a number of broadwalks constructed for viewing of birds. The portion of the refuge open to motorists/ hikers/ bikers is quite small. Its pretty frustrating seeing birds in the distance that you just cannot get access to.
The other thing that you will see in some of the pictures are the bugs. They were everywhere - huge swarms that looked like black pillars. These bugs didn't bite (at least not yet) but their presence certainly messes up a picture. See picture of bugs on our truck in the photo album.
We stayed at a KOA in Brigham City. On Sunday nights the KOA hosts, Katherine and Kevin have a barbeque and invite guests to join them. The weather was so pleasant we joined our hosts and fellow campers under the stars for chicken, ribs and salad. See the photo album for our group photo. If camping is not your style try Ogden, a larger city South of Brigham City. It has a wide choice of hotels to choose from.

Head south on the I-15 passed Ogden. The Island is approximately 9 miles long. It has fresh water springs which support wildlife such as bison, and antelope. Access is via road, and a fee of $8.00 per vehicle is charged. The visitor center is well staffed and stocked with the usual assortment of maps, magnets and postcards. Bring plenty of water. Antelope Island seems to float on an endless flat blue that is the Great Salt Lake. It affords spectacular views of the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake is an ancient lake called Lake Bonifil which is now draining. If the Lake filled up all of Salt Lake City and surrounding cities would be under water. (That is most of populated Utah.) The lake has a high salt content. It cannot support fish or aquatic life. However it does support brine shrimp which provide an important food source for waterbirds. The absence of watercraft, fishing boats and birds is eerie.

Best access is from the West via Wellington (Highway 191 & 6.) There is an alternative coming in from the north from the Duchesne (Roughly) area (Highway 40). However the road is better from Wellington. We took the Wellington access coming into the Canyon, and did the Duchesne access to exit it. We used Michael Kelsey's "Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau" quite extensively. He has very useful descriptions of access to Nine Mile Canyon as well as a fairly accurate map plotting the petroglyphs. There have been some changes since his book were published, but the book provides sufficient information. This canyon has the highest concentration of native rock art in the world.
Petroglyphs are rock art that is chipped on the surface of the rock. Almost all panels face south and are either on a well traveled route and or near a semi permanent water source.
The petroglyphs are quite close to road. Most if not all are on private land. The best is to take a good pair of binoculars for better spotting. The best is for last, and is marked and described in Kelsey's book. The hunting panel is located in Cottonwood canyon which is clearly marked. The hunting panel is approximately a mile from the turn off.
There is a pleasant campsite located at Nine Mile Ranch. According to signs camp fees were $10. We camped at Harpers picnic area. We were the only visitors. Harpers has a long drop, and picnic tables. Overnight camping is not encouraged at Harpers.
Traffic on the dirt roads in Nine Mile Canyon is regretfully full of large tankers and small pick up trucks. The dust kicked up is quite unpleasant. Care should be exercised when stopping as these trucks (small and large) do drive at speed. Exiting the canyon to Highway 40 we were stuck behind 2 large water tankers. There is quite a big stretch of winding dirt roads before you get to paved road. The activity in the canyon is due to large gas and oil exploitation encouraged by the Bush administration. The good side is the roads get regularly graded, the bad news is high dust content, vibration and noise can't be good for the ancient art.

We left Nine Mile and headed East along highway 40. Take Highway 88 south to get to Pelican Reservoir. Pelican Res served as our campsite and base to explore the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge. Camping is pleasant and free. There is a long drop and picnic tables. The Ouray Natioanl Wildlife Refuge covers 11,987 acres and includes 16 miles of the Green River. It was established in 1960 to serve as a sanctuary for migratory birds. Management of the refuge mimics historical flood events. Water is fed by the Green River. On the drier portions of the Refuge land is cultivated under a cooperative agreement with local farmers. A portion of the Refuge is leased from the Unitah and Ouray Indian Reservation. The reservation provides services such as garbarge collection. The Refuge also houses a fish hatchery which breeds protected fish to prevent species such as the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow from extinction.

This is truly spectacular. This reservoir stretches for 90 miles and straddles the border between Utah and Wyoming. It provides important hydro electric power to Utah and Wyoming. Vegetation consists of juniper and pine. A remarkable constrast to the desert, canyon and flat top buttes of other parts of Utah. We managed a quick picnic lunch ovelooking the dam wall before heading north to the I-80.

General Comments
This trip consisted of 4 nights accomodation - 2 nights spent at the KOA in Brigham City, and 2 nights spent at makeshift DIY campsites in Nine Mile Canyon, and Pelican Reservoir. Gas prices have jumped alarmingly. We found the cheapest gas at Costco. We found a convenient Costco in Ogden and tried to do most of our refueling there. Our trips south and east we could not get cheap gas. Total mileage travelled approximately 1,600 miles.