After my last trip up the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, it was time to finally leave Utah. I’d been in the state for nearly 6 weeks which is very unusual for me to spend that long in one state during the summer. I laid out a plan to leave by hitting the Bear Lake Scenic Byway, which was the last one I had on my list. To get there I had to drive north on Interstate 15 and then cut across to the town of Logan, UT where I took Highway 89 across the mountains and dropped down to Bear Lake. I’d heard often how beautiful this drive was so I was very excited to finally get to drive it. Once I dropped down to Bear Lake I’d stay on 89 and take it north to the Idaho Border where I would stay on it and cut across the southeast corner of Idaho and enter Wyoming and follow 89 north to Jackson, Wyoming. I’d use that as a base camp to explore both Grand Teton NP and then head north to Yellowstone NP. All together that was going to be a very long day so I knew I would need to break it into two days and camp one night somewhere in Idaho and then head up to Jackson the next day.
The trip was uneventful but I must say I was disappointed with the drive as a Scenic Byway–I didn’t think it was all that special. There was almost no ruggedness or majesty to the mountains. I was never once tempted to find a place to pull over and take a photo. I only stopped one time at the Bear Lake Overlook and let Cody out for a walk and to get online. Bear Lake is a very beautiful lake from above but the rest of the drive was nothing special.
The drive was very pleasant and pastoral through the farming areas and Logan was a very appealing college town but as far as truly beautiful mountain scenery it was just not there. This is not what I think of when I think of the Rocky Mountains! From, Bear Lake north is a very nice pastoral drive but it seems like every 5-10 miles you come to some teeny-tiny town with a 25 MPH speed limit–that gets old fast!
Finally it was getting late and time to find a place to set up camp. Before I set out on any drive where I know that I’ll have to find a camp along the way I get out both my DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer and Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas that cover the area and look for where the route drives through a National Forest (NF). After I find the NF I look for large or major Forest Roads (FR) that go a long way back in them. The bigger and longer the road the better because that creates more possibilities of finding dispersed camping. One other thing I look for is a broad flat valleys because steep, narrow roads are beautiful but they make it difficult to find a level camp. Get the Benchmark or DeLorme Atlas for your states here: Benchmark Road & Recreation State Atlas DeLorme Atlas and Gazetter
Once in Idaho, Highway 89 passed through the Caribou Targhee National Forest in the far bottom southeast corner of the state and I found Forest Road 111 which was a very long, major road so I was fairly sure I would find dispersed camping on it. This part of Idaho is mostly high plains which means it is sagebrush country with big rolling hills. As I turned off of 89, you come almost immediately to the Montpelier Reservoir which is a big lake that’s stocked with fish so there were lots of people fishing along it’s bank. I was very encouraged to see that there was a free campground very near the road with a few sites on the lake. Surprisingly, it wasn’t full and I could have camped there, but I prefer to be alone in nature so I kept going down the road looking for a better place.
It was getting late and I driven about 10 miles down this dirt Forest Road so I took the first place I came to–it wasn’t a great campsite but it would do. Cody and I took our usual evening walk and a mile or so up the road we came to a much nicer campsite further off the road in the woods, but I didn’t want to bother moving camp so I just marked the GPS coordinates and we went back to camp. I suspect there are many other good campsite the further you go but I didn’t go further to know for sure.
Like it had been all spring, the weather had been very erratic on this drive so as we were walking back rain clouds came in and dropped a light rain on us, fortunately we got back to the van before it got heavy. The good thing about it was that we got a pretty little rainbow out of it.
We spent a pleasant night there and the next day we left and headed off to begin our exploration of Wyoming. Before I close though, let me give you some final thoughts on my time in Utah.
- First, I believe that Utah is probably the most beautiful state in the country. I know that is a bold statement and you can make a counter-argument that every state has some way in which it is more beautiful than Utah. I can’t argue with that, but I’m talking about the overall state, and even more the variety of beauty in the state. In the entire country, there is nothing like the five National Parks in Utah and the roads that connect them. If you want to see that kind of country, you MUST go to Utah because it doesn’t exist anywhere in the whole world! Two of the most uniquely, astonishingly beautiful places in the country are in Arizona, but you enter them from Utah so I think of them as part of Utah: Monument Valley and the Wave. If that’s all the beauty it had to offer, that might not be enough to say it’s the most beautiful, but, as we’ve seen in these mountain posts, Utah has an abundance of traditionally beautiful forests and mountains. The only thing it’s missing is ocean coastline which would reduce it in many peoples minds, but not in mine. Beautiful coast lines are a dime a dozen, Utah’s Red Rock country is totally unique to Utah.
- Second, in all my travels I believe the nicest group of people I’ve run across are in Utah. I’ve spent enough time there that I’ve had flat tires and breakdowns and been in need and without exception the people I encountered were kind, honest and generous. Beyond that there are normal, daily interactions with others in stores and on the road and in general life, and overall, Utah people are just simply nicer than most! Of course you have to associate that with the heavy Mormon presence in the state. I am not a religious person, in fact I have specifically rejected religion in my life, and what little I know about Mormonism makes me think it’s a little nutty, but I can’t argue with the fruit because they really are good people. I’m not going to become a Mormon, but I am going to strive to be more like them!
So that’s the end of my Utah travels, next I move onto Wyoming and then Montana and Idaho. The best is yet to come!