Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area - A guy like Emmett Heath, who has spent much of his adult life hanging around Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River, might be excused if he took the area's beauty and wildlife for granted.
But the Trout Creek Flies guide and store proprietor did not hesitate to sing the praises of this scenic national recreation area, tucked into the corner of northeastern Utah and southern Wyoming.
Its beauty, coupled with its populations of mountain lion, bear, deer, antelope, elk and bighorn sheep, plus world class fishing, makes the gorge a wonderful place to visit.
Brian Fitzpatrick of Syracuse comes to the gorge at least once a year.
"There are a bunch of different places to camp," he said. "The facilities are good and they keep everything clean. The staff is really nice."
Indeed, while Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah draw more visitors, there may be more things to see and do at the Gorge.
Visitors can raft and fish on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam; enjoy world class geology; fish and boat along more than 300 miles of shoreline on 91-mile-long Flaming Gorge Reservoir; camp at one of 29 campgrounds or stay at lodges; swim or scuba dive; backpack in the nearby High Uintas Wilderness Area; watch wildlife; tour the dam; and visit historic areas.
Though the huge area is popular, it never feels crowded except on busy summer weekends when the three establishments near Dutch John that rent rafts sell out, sending scores of boaters down the Green River where put-in and take-out ramps can get congested.
"We suggest that people get reservations on busy weekends," said Doug Roloson of Trout Creek Flies, one of the places that rent rafts. "The river is nice for rafting. It is relatively mellow."
Labor Day marks the last busy summer weekend at the Gorge. Then the weather cools, the crowds die down and some of the facilities either begin to close or go to shorter hours.
That said, early fall is one of the best times to visit.
"It's cool during the day and chilly at night," said Jackie Adams of the Ashley National Forest's Flaming Gorge Ranger District office, which is open throughout the year in Manila. "The trees will start changing. And we get a lot of hunters who come up here."
Another sign of changing seasons is when kokanee salmon begin to spawn up Flaming Gorge's tributaries. Sheep Creek is a particularly good place to see hundreds of these fish, which turn bright red. The Division of Wildlife Resources' annual Kokanee Salmon Day is Sept. 20 this year.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, explorer John Wesley Powell named the place Flaming Gorge when he was exploring the Green River in 1869. When the dam was completed in 1964, creating Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the area underwent a major change from what Powell saw.
But he wasn't the first Anglo to visit the area. Fur trapper William Ashley, for whom the National Forest in northeastern Utah is named, organized a large fur company in the area in 1825.
Geologists love the Gorge. The "Drive Through the Ages" on U.S. 191 between Vernal and Manila explains its many geologic formations. And the Sheep Creek Geological Area, including the Uinta Crest Fault, is another scenic and educational attraction in the area.
A new book, "A Field Guide to the Flaming Gorge - Uintas National Scenic Byway," offers good information about this area.
One great thing about this national recreation area is its facilities. Showers and a modern restroom have been added to the Mustang Ridge Campground. Interpretive signs tell about the natural and human history. Friendly staffers help rafters and anglers launch crafts on the Green.
All of it makes Flaming Gorge a wonderful year-round outdoor recreation destination.