Wasatch, Uinta, and Bear River Mountains

Numbers on map correspond to locations described in text

Soft-bodied fossils, tree clones, and the California Trail

Map Focus Area: 40 to 43 degrees North, 110 to 112 degrees East

Countries and Subdivisions (States):  United States (Idaho, Utah, Wyoming)

This post includes the Uinta Mountains, northern Wasatch Mountains, and adjoining high plateaus to the east.  The World Wildlife Fund ecoregions are Colorado Plateau shrub-steppe (NA1304), Wasatch and Uinta montane forests (NA 530), and Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe (NA 1313).

I.  Wasatch and Uinta Montane Forests (NA 530)

The Wasatch and Uinta montane forests are found in southeastern Idaho, central and northern Utah, and southwestern Wyoming.  A forest of conifers is found along the north-south trending Wasatch and the east-west trending Uinta Mountains, but the diagnostic species is probably Gambel oak.  Conifers include ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, and Englemann spruce.  Forests of oak and evergreens line the canyons and peaks of the Wasatch Mountains east of the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake.  Above 11,000 feet, mostly in the Uinta Mountains, is an extensive area of alpine meadows, rockland, and talus slopes which was glaciated.  From 10,000 to 11,000 feet in the Uinta range is a subalpine forest zone, with glaciated basins, deep canyons, and lakes.  Below the 10,000 foot elevation in the Uinta range is a zone of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and aspen parkland.  This is also an area of rugged terrain and deep canyons.  The Wasatch forested area is actually fairly small, consisting of Douglas-fir and aspen parkland.  Most of the Wasatch consists of semiarid foothills with pinyon-juniper, sagebrush, mountain mahogany, and Gambel oak.  There are also extensive wide deep valleys east of the Wasatch front where sagebrush grows.  This includes areas around the Strawberry Reservoir (see), Deer Creek Lake (see), Rockport Lake (see), the Weber River near Morgan, Pineview Reservoir (see), and Sheep Creek. Other similar montane valleys are south of the map area in central and southern Utah.

Only rarely are soft parts of animals fossilized.  There are about 50 known Cambrian soft body localities, the most famous of which is the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park in British Columbia.  There are three sites in Utah.  In the Wellsville Mountains Wilderness (see) is a 513-million-year-old rock formation, the Langston Formation, which contains arthopods, algae, and jellyfish (University of Kansas 2008).

The characteristic aspen parklands of the high elevations in the Wasatch Mountains are noted for fall color.  Although widely distributed through the Rocky Mountain region, it is in the Wasatch that the aspen has achieved near-immortality.  This is of interest because botanists rarely observe successful seedling establishment in this region.  Seedlings typically wither and die before their roots reach a reliable water supply in this drought-stricken area.  To answer the question on why aspen is so abundant, botanists studied aspen stands in the Wasatch Mountains.  Like many hardwoods, aspens have the ability to sprout from roots and produce clonal individuals.  In fact, aspens are able to create entire ‘forests.’  One aspen clone was found to cover 43 ha and contain more than 47,000 individual stems.  Clones like this could be as much as 10,000 years old.  Clonal reproduction is thought to be more common in arid environments (Mitton and Grant 1996).

There is one National Historic Landmark in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests.  Emigration Canyon, Utah (site 1 on map), was the original route used by pioneers entering Utah.  The eight-mile traverse through the canyon was first attempted by the Donner Party in 1846.  They were trying the unblazed Hastings Cutoff of the California Trail as a shortcut.  The route from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to the Salt Lake Valley proved exceptionally difficult, because it required building a new wagon road where one did not exist across a series of canyons and mountain summits.  After entering present-day Utah, roads needed to be blazed through Echo Canyon, Hogback Summit, East Canyon, Little Emigration Canyon, Big Mountain Pass, Little Mountain Summit, and finally Emigration Canyon.  The Donner Party found Emigration Canyon strangled with underbrush and also had to make 18 creek crossings in six miles.  At the lower end of the canyon, the thick brush and a limestone wall proved too great a blockage, and the party turned to the south and laboriously pulled wagons over Donner Hill.  The obstacles along the Hastings Route were great, and resulted in a 17-day delay in the already late and ill-fated trip to California.  A year later, a Mormon survey party leading Brigham Young had greater manpower and was able to open a road around the limestone obstacle and reach the valley.  The day the Mormons made it to Salt Lake Valley, July 24, 1847, is commemorated in Utah, and a state park marks the entry to the valley.  The present-day eight-mile road through the privately owned canyon is popular with bicyclists; historic markers are at Donner Hill and Little Mountain Summit.  At This Is the Place State Heritage Park, a 60-foot monument honors the pioneers and living history exhibits may be viewed.  The canyon is a site along the California National Historic Trail, Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, and Pony Express National Historic Trail.

There is also one National Natural Landmark in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests.  Neffs Cave, Wasatch National Forest, Utah (2), is on the north side of Mount Olympus outside of Salt Lake City. The cave actually consists of a series of extremely steep vertical shafts dropping 1,163 feet.  The cave has flowstone, stalactites, and speleothems.

There are four National Forests (NFs) in the northern Wasatch and Uinta montane forests, Ashley, Cache, Uinta, and Wasatch.  The Ashley NF, Utah-Wyoming (3), includes the High Uintas Wilderness (see).  Areas outside of the wilderness area within the map area include Whiterocks River, Moon Lake (see under federal recreation lakes), Rock Creek, Timber Canyon, Strawberry Peak, Long Ridge, Rhoades Canyon, Yellowstone River, Hells Canyon, Uinta Canyon, and Tamarack Lake.  The Highline Trail continues east of the High Uintas Wilderness and connects with Utah Route 44 east of the map area.  The trail extends 90 miles from Mirror Lake to Chepeta Lake in the map area.  Rock Creek Canyon Road (Forest Route 134) is a notable scenic drive which provides access to Upper Stillwater Dam (see), the largest roller-compacted concrete dam in the world.

Cache NF, Idaho-Utah (4) includes the entire mountain range north of Salt Lake City.  The Idaho portion of the Bear River Range, although originally designated as part of the Cache NF, is now administered as part of Caribou NF.  It is described under this entry because it is ecologically part of the Wasatch Mountains.  Mount Naomi and Wellsville Mountain wilderness areas (see) are located in this NF.  US 89 north of Logan is the Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, through mile-deep Logan Canyon and passing Wind Cave (actually a triple arch in the China Wall limestone formation), the Jardine Juniper (3,000-year-old Rocky Mountain juniper), Logan Cave, Ricks Spring, Hidden Spring, and a record-sized limber pine (22 feet in circumference).  Also on the byway is Beaver Mountain Ski Resort.  A large fossil boulder in the canyon contains marine worm traces.  Tony Grove Lake in Logan Canyon has a boardwalk and trail for wildflower viewing. Branching south off of US 89 before Logan Canyon is Route 101 and the Hardware Ranch Scenic Backway.  This 25-mile loop off of US 89 passes the Hardware Ranch Game Management Area, which supports 700 elk, and sinkholes. Route 39 from Ogden to Woodruff is the Ogden River National Scenic Byway, and it passes Power Mountain and Snowbasin ski resorts.  The Bonneville Shoreline Trail (see under state and local sites) traverses the western edge of the forest.  Minnetonka Cave in St. Charles Canyon west of St. Charles, Idaho, is a lighted cavern one-half mile long.  The cavern entrance is at elevation 7,700.  In Bloomington Canyon west of Bloomington, Idaho is an ice cave at Bloomington Lake and one of the largest Englemann spruce trees in the world.   The area has a north-facing headwall which limits snowmelt.  There are two species of rare plants.  Bloomington Lake is a 10-acre glaciated lake reached by a one-half mile hike.  The Highline Trail extends from Beaver Creek Campground near the Utah line 55 miles north to US 30 west of Soda Springs, Idaho.

Uinta National Forest, Utah (5) includes the Lone Peak and Mount Timpanogos Wildernesses (see) and the Timpanagos Cave National Monument (see).  The Alpine Loop Scenic Backway (State Route 92) extends from American Fork to Provo Canyon and passes Timpanagos Cave, the Mount Timpanagos National Recreation Trail trailhead, and ski areas.  Cascade Springs Scenic Backway (Forest Road 114) intersects Route 92 and connects with Wasatch Mountain State Park (see).  Along the way is Cascade Springs National Recreation Trail, which has boardwalks and trails for wildflower viewing.  Forest Road 58 is a scenic drive east of Springville, following the Right Fork Hobble Creek, then turning south and connecting with Diamond Fork Canyon and Forest Road 29, ending north of the former site of Thistle on US Routes 6-89.  In 1983, a landslide dammed the Spanish Fork River and destroyed the town.  Provo Canyon National Scenic Byway (US 189) passes Bridal Veil Falls.  Current Creek and Strawberry Reservoirs (see under Federal Recreation Lakes) are in the southeastern part of the forest in the map area.  The watershed upstream of Strawberry Reservoir is an IBA for the greater sage grouse.  The Bonneville Shoreline Trail (see under state and local sites) traverses the western edge of the forest.

Wasatch National Forest, Utah-Wyoming (6) includes Deseret Peak, High Uintas, Lone Peak, Mount Olympus, and Twin Peaks wildernesses (see all).  The forest also contains Neffs Cave NHL (described above).  Route 190 from Holladay to Brighton Resort is the Big Cottonwood Canyon National Scenic Byway.  Route 210 from Sandy to Albion Basin is the Little Cottonwood Canyon National Scenic Byway.  Both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons are U-shaped valleys and were carved by glaciers.  Albion Basin at the end of Route 210 is a wetland area at 9,500 feet known for wildflowers.  The Mirror Lake National Scenic Byway is Route 150 from Kamas to Wyoming and includes the Duchesne Tunnel, which diverts water from the Duchesne River to the Provo River, the Kamas Fish Hatchery, Smooth Rock Falls, Slate Gorge, Provo River Falls, and Bald Mountain Pass.  Branching off of Route 150 is the North Slope Scenic Backway, which involves Forest Routes 58, 73, and 72 to China Meadows, Stateline Reservoir, and Mountain View, Wyoming, a distance of 38 miles.  The Bountiful-Farmington Loop Scenic Backway connects the two towns and provides outstanding views to the west of Great Salt Lake in its 24-mile gravel course.  The Silver Meadow area on Route 35 east of Francis is a wildflower viewing area. West of Salt Lake City, the South Willow Scenic Backway provides an eight-mile access route to the Deseret Peak Wilderness.  The Bonneville Shoreline Trail (see under state and local sites) traverses the area of the forest to the east of Salt Lake City and Draper. Wasatch NF administers recreation sites on the Meeks Cabin and State Line Reservoirs (see).

There is one National Park System unit, in addition to the three National Historic Trails, that cross the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests.  Timpanagos Cave National Monument, Utah (2) was discovered in 1887.  The underground park is a series of three caves connected by manmade tunnels, reached by a 1.5-mile trail climbing 1,000 feet in elevation.  The caves are known for helictites, which are spiral worm-like formations.

The National Trail System in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests consists of National Historic Trails (NHTs) and National Recreation Trails (NRTs).  Sites on the California NHT in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests are Big Mountain Pass and East Canyon State Park, Utah (7), which are connected by a bicycle and hiking trail which follows the original trail from Little Dell Reservoir on Route 65 to Big Mountain Pass.  An additional trail extends from Big Mountain Pass through Little Emigration Canyon to Mormon Flat.  Another site, Little Mountain Summit, Utah, was described earlier under Emigration Canyon NHL.

Sites on the Mormon Pioneer NHT in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests are listed below:

  • Echo Canyon (8) was a narrow canyon which impressed the emigrants with its echos.  The Mormons later constructed breastworks to guard against a rumored federal invasion of Utah.  There is a Visitor Center in the canyon on I-80.
  • Weber River Crossing (8), at the mouth of Echo Canyon, was where a note was left advising the Donner-Reed party not to go through Weber Canyon, prompting the party to blaze the trail from Henifer southwest to Salt Lake City that was later followed by the Mormon pioneers.
  • Hogback Summit and Ruts (9) was the point west of Henefer where the pioneers first spotted the Wasatch Range which they would have to cross.
  • East Canyon State Park (see description under California NHT).
  • Mormon Flat (see description under California NHT)
  • Little Emigration Canyon (see description under California NHT-Big Mountain Pass and East Canyon SP)
  • Big Mountain Pass (see California NHT)
  • Little Mountain Summit (see Emigration Canyon NHL)
  • Emigration Canyon (see description under NHL)
  • Donner Hill (see description under NHL-Emigration Canyon)
  • This Is the Place State Heritage Park (see description under NHL-Emigration Canyon)

Sites on the Pony Express NHT in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests are the following:

  • Big Mountain Pass, Utah (see California NHT-East Canyon SP)
  • Little Mountain Summit, Utah (see Emigration Canyon NHL)
  • Weber Station, Utah (8) was located at the base of a ravine under red bluffs; to the west was a bridge over the Weber River.

National Recreation Trails in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests are listed below:

  • Bald Mountain NRT, Uinta NF, Utah (10) is a two-mile high elevation trail (11,000 feet) off of Route 150 offering views of Mirror Lake and the High Uintas.  The trailhead is just south of Bald Mountain Pass.
  • Bicentennial NRT, Weber County North Fork Park, Utah (11) is a six-mile mountain bike and snowshoe trail located east of Mount Willard and north of North Ogden.
  • Cascade Springs NRT, Uinta NF, Utah (2) is a 0.9-mile nature trail with boardwalks crossing wetlands.
  • Highline NRT, Cache NF (administered by Caribou NF), Idaho (4), is a 55-mile-long trail following the crest of the Wasatch Range from Bear Lake north to Soda Springs.
  • Historic Union Pacific Rail State Park and NRT, Utah (12), is a linear park extending 28 miles from Park City to Echo Reservoir.
  • Naomi Peak NRT, Mount Naomi Wilderness and Cache NF, Utah (13), is a nine-mile trail ending at the highest point in the Mount Naomi Wilderness at 9,980 feet.  It is known for its wildflower meadows.
  • Mount Timpanagos NRT, Mount Timpanagos Wilderness and Uinta NF, Utah (14), is an 18-mile hiking trail.

There are 15 Federal Recreation Lakes in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests, 12 of which are associated with capturing and managing water for use on the Wasatch front from Provo north to Logan.  Meeks Cabin and Stateline provide irrigation water for the Lyman, Wyoming area, and Moon Lake provides water for the Duchesne area of Utah.

  • East Canyon Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (7), is ten miles southeast of Morgan on East Canyon Creek; this reservoir is part of the Weber Basin Project.  Recreation is managed by East Canyon State Park.
  • Causey Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (15), is 11 miles upstream from Huntsville on the South Fork Ogden River in the Cache NF; this is part of the Ogden River Project, providing irrigation to the Huntsville-Eden communities.
  • Current Creek Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (16), is in the Uinta National Forest south of Route 35; the dam diverts Current Creek and five tributaries into the Strawberry Aqueduct.  It is part of the Central Utah Project—Bonneville group.
  • Deer Creek Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (17), in the Uinta NF 16 miles northeast of Provo, is the main reservoir of the Provo River Project, which provides irrigation and municipal water supply to the Salt Lake valley.  Components include the 42-mile Salt Lake Aqueduct, Duchesne Diversion Dam, Weber Provo Diversion Dam, and Murdock Diversion Dam.  The Deer Creek State Park is a reservoir recreation area on the project lands.
  • Echo Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (9) is one mile upstream of Echo on the Weber River, and is part of the Weber Basin Project.
  • Hyrum Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (18), is in the town of Hyrum City.  This dam on the Little Bear River stores water for irrigation in the Cache Valley.  Recreation is managed as Hyrum State Park.
  • Jordanelle Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (19), is a storage reservoir south of Heber City, part of the Central Utah Project-Bonneville Unit.  It stores water from the Strawberry diversions.  Jordanelle State Park is a reservoir recreation area and bird watching area with boardwalks on wetlands.
  • Lost Creek Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (20), is ten miles northeast of Croyden on I-84, part of the Weber Basin Project.
  • Meeks Cabin Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah-Wyoming (21), is in the Wasatch NF on Blacks Fork Creek (tributary of Green River), and is part of the Lyman Project.
  • Moon Lake Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (22), is in the Ashley National Forest south of the High Uintas Wilderness.  It provides irrigation to the Colorado Plateau area to the south.
  • Pineview Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (23), is in the Cache National Forest seven miles east of Ogden at the east end of Ogden Canyon; the reservoir provides water supply as part of the Ogden River Project.
  • Stateline Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (24), is in the Wasatch NF on the East Fork of Smith’s Fork of the Green River.  It is one-half mile south of the Wyoming state line at 9,000 feet elevation.  It is part of the Lyman Project.
  • Strawberry Reservoir and Soldier Creek Dam, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (25), is in the Uinta National Forest.  It provides storage for interbasin transfer to the west of the Wasatch Mountains.  Flows of Rock Creek and eight tributaries of the Duchesne River are diverted into Strawberry Reservoir.  It is part of the Central Utah Project-Bonneville Unit.
  • Upper Stillwater Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (26), is in the Ashley NF on Rock Creek.  This reservoir is the beginning of the Strawberry Aqueduct.  It is part of the Central Utah Project—Bonneville Unit.
  • Wanship Dam and Rockport Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (27), on the Weber River, is part of the Weber Basin Project.  Recreation is managed as Rockport Lake State Park.

There are seven National Wilderness areas in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests:

High Uintas Wilderness, Ashley and Wasatch NFs, Utah (28) is a vast area covering 456,700 acres and extending for 60 miles east to west; it is one of the premier wilderness areas of the U.S., featuring glacial basins, meadows, and canyons in an alpine setting.  There are 545 miles of trails.  Southern drainage off the high peaks is into the Duchesne, Lake Fork, and Uinta Rivers, while northern drainage is into the Bear River, Blacks Fork and Henrys Fork.  Prominent geographic features are Kings Peak, Flat Top Mountain, North Burro Peak, Thompson Peak, Granddaddy Mountain, Mansfield Meadows, Joulious Park, Deadhorse Park, Beaver Parks, Brown Duck Basin, and Squaw Basin.

Lone Peak Wilderness, Uinta and Wasatch NFs, Utah (2) comprises 39,100 acres east of the cities of Alpine and Draper.  Features are Little Matterhorn, Lone Peak, Dry Creek Canyon, Box Elder Peak, and Bells Canyon.  The northern boundary is Little Cottonwood Creek (Route 210) and the southern boundary is American Fork Canyon (Routes 92 and 144).  There are 46 miles of trails.  It is noted for colorful bands of rock formations, small lakes and a vegetation cover of fir, aspen, shrubs, and grass.

Mount Naomi Wilderness, Cache NF, Utah (13), is a 44,500-acre area on the Idaho border and west of US 89 north of Logan, Utah.  There are deep scenic canyons, mountain meadows known for wildflower displays, and 65 miles of trails.  Geographic features include Cherry Peak, Smithfield Canyon, The Grotto, Mount Elmer, Cottonwood Canyon, Birch Canyon, Hyde Park Canyon, Green Canyon, and Mount Jardine.

Mount Olympus Wilderness, Wasatch National Forest, Utah (29), is adjacent to the city of Holladay, Utah, and bordered by Route 190 on the south and Mill Creek Canyon Road on the north.  The urban recreation area has 42 miles of trails.  Sagebrush and grass are on lower slopes, which grade to a fir forest and then bare rocky ridges.  Elevations range from 5,000 to 10,000 feet.  Geographic features include alpine cirques, Mount Olympus, Hobbs Peak, Mount Raymond, Neffs Canyon, and Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Neffs Cave NHL (see) is within the wilderness.

Mount Timpanogos Wilderness, Uinta NF, Utah (14), is a 10,500-acre area north of Provo accessible from Route 92 on the north and east and US 189 on the south.  Features are waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife viewing for Rocky Mountain goat which can be seen from 17 miles of trails.  The Timp Trail from Aspen Picnic Area passes a glacier, Emerald Lake, and the summit of Mount Timpanogos.  Vegetation is aspen, fir, oak, and maple. Other geographic features include Woolly Hole, Giant Staircase, Timpanogos Basin, Big Provo Cirque, and Cascade Cirque.

Twin Peaks Wilderness, Wasatch NF, Utah (29), is between Big Cottonwood Creek Canyon (Route 190) and Little Cottonwood Creek Canyon (Route 210).  This wilderness has alpine cirques and exposed rocky ridges along with oak/maple and grass vegetation in lower elevations.  Notable geographic features are Storm Mountain, Twin Peaks, Dromedary Peak, and Superior Peak.  There are ten miles of trails.

Wellsville Mountain Wilderness, Cache NF, Utah (30), is a precipitous range 14 miles long just north of Brigham City.  This wilderness encompasses 21,000 acres of the Wellsville Mountains, including Wellsville Cone, Mendon Peak, Black Peak, and Deep Canyon.  There are 17 miles of trails.  The mountain range is known for the presence of Cambrian-aged fossils that show preservation of soft tissues.

Notable state and local sites in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests are listed below:

  • Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Bonneville Shoreline Trail Coalition, Utah, is managed by a nonprofit organization that works with the Forest Service, city, and county governments to construct a trail along the east bench of glacial Lake Bonneville.  Sections in Salt Lake City, Draper, Sandy, and Provo are completed.
  • East Canyon State Park, Utah (7) is a reservoir recreation area on the Bureau of Reclamation’s East Canyon Reservoir (see) and a site along the California NHT (see California NHT-Big Mountain Pass).
  • Deer Creek State Park, Utah (17) is on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Deer Creek Reservoir and provides reservoir recreation opportunities.
  • G.K. Gilbert Geologic View Park, Salt Lake County, Utah (29), is at the junction of Wasatch Boulevard and South Little Cottonwood Road (Route 209, 9400 South) east of Sandy.  This park provides views of rock formations, the Wasatch Fault, and the glacially formed Little Cottonwood Canyon.  The glaciers in Little Cottonwood Canyon extended into Lake Bonneville from 30,000 to 10,000 years ago.
  • Hardware Ranch Game Management Area, Utah (18), is on Route 101 east of Hyrum and supports 700 wintering elk.
  • Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park, Utah (12).  See listing under National Trail System.
  • Hyrum State Park, Utah (18) is a reservoir recreation area on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Hyrum Reservoir.
  • Jordanelle State Park, Utah (19) is on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Jordanelle Reservoir, providing reservoir recreation and bird-watching.  The Perimeter Trail follows the east side of the reservoir.  The Rock Cliff area has wetlands and riverine habitats.
  • Midway Hot Pots, Utah (17) is northwest of the town of Midway on Homestead Lane (Route 222) and is a series of natural hot springs.
  • Rockport State Park, Utah (27) provides reservoir recreation on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Wanship Dam and Rockport Reservoir.
  • Wasatch Mountain State Park, Utah (17) is northwest of Heber City.  This 23,000-acre state park has 59 miles of trails, a historic homestead at Huber Grove, and a 130-year-old apple orchard.  Trail concentrations are in Dutch Hollow and the Visitor Center area.

Private sites of note in the Wasatch and Uinta montane forests include the Strawberry River Preserve (25), operated by The Nature Conservancy, Utah.  An 18-mile riparian corridor downstream from Strawberry Reservoir (Soldier Creek Dam) offers scenic trails.

II.               Colorado Plateau shrublands (NA 1304)

The Colorado Plateau shrublands ecoregion of Utah is a high elevation semiarid plateau noted for its canyons carved in sandstone.  Vegetation is pinyon-juniper with some lodgepole pine and aspen at higher elevations.  From the Starvation Reservoir upstream is an area of benchlands and canyonlands along the Strawberry and Duchesne Rivers.  Only a small portion of the Colorado Plateau is on this map, in the southeastern corner.  There are two Federal reservoirs in the Colorado Plateau shrublands, Midview and Starvation.  Midview Reservoir (Lake Boreham), Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (31) is an irrigation storage water receiving water from Moon Lake upstream (see).  Starvation Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Utah (32), is four miles northwest of Duchesne on Route 311.  This reservoir stores water from the Strawberry and Duchesne Rivers for irrigation.  The nearby Knight Diversion Dam on the Duchesne River delivers water to the Starvation Reservoir.  Starvation Reservoir State Park, Utah (32) manages recreation on the federal reservoir.

III.  Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe (NA 1313)

The Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe of southeastern Idaho, northeastern Utah, and Wyoming is high open arid country vegetated with sagebrush, wheatgrass, and fescue, found in this map area north of the Uintas and including the upper Bear River and Green River.  It is noted for remnant white-tailed prairie dog colonies.  Wet, flat valleys are found at a number of places in this ecoregion.  They are maintained as wetlands due to a high water table and have vegetation of willow-alder, cottonwood, sedges, and rushes.  Large areas of wet valleys are north of Bear Lake in Idaho, along the Bear River Valley in Utah and Wyoming, around Pinedale and the upper Green River in Wyoming, and along Blacks Fork in Wyoming.  Isolated dry mountain ranges are found in western Wyoming in the area around Fossil Butte NM.  East of the isolated dry mountains are areas of more rolling sagebrush steppe and salt desert shrub basins, consisting of playas and sand dunes and vegetated by shadscale, greasewood, and saltbush.

The National Park System in the Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe consists of one national monument and three National Historic Trails.  Fossil Butte National Monument, Wyoming (33) rises dramatically from surrounding terrain in the Bear Mountains along Twin Creek.  Fossil Butte contains fossil-bearing formations near its top levels.  The Green River formation preserves a remarkable assemblage of plants, insects, reptiles, fish, and mammals from the 60 to 38 million-year-ago Paleogene period.  The monument is known for its fish fossils, many of which are found in one layer only 14 inches thick.  Many of the genera found are now restricted to the tropics.  Stingrays, gars, and paddlefish are also found here.  Stingrays, gars, and paddlefish are also found here.  Stingrays, gars, and paddlefish are also found here, as are turtles and crocodile fossils.  The area was a subtropical lake surrounded by palms, oaks, maples, and ferns at that time.  Many fossils are fully articulated.  The oldest known bat fossils have also been found here.  Other primitive herbivores and carnivore mammal species were also fossilized (McGrew and Casilliano 1975).  The monument’s terrestrial habitats preserve ungrazed sagebrush steppe.

There is one Federal recreation lake in Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe.  Fontenelle Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Wyoming (34) is on US 189 south of LaBarge.  This 20-mile-long reservoir is at an elevation of 6,500 feet.  It is the centerpiece of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Seedskadee irrigation project.  Recreation areas are managed by BLM.  It is part of the Seekskadee Important Bird Area, which extends along the Green River from Big Piney south to I-80.

The National Trail System in the Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe includes the California, Mormon Pioneer, and Oregon NHTs.  The California and Oregon trails are discussed together.  On the main stem of the California and Oregon NHTs, sites in the Wyoming shrub-steppe in the map area include :

  • Church Butte, Wyoming (35), is a 100-foot-tall sandstone formation located beside the trail ten miles southwest of Granger on Black’s Fork Road.
  • Name Rock, Wyoming (36) is a low sandstone bluff on the Black’s Fork ten miles southwest of Church Butte and 1.5 miles north of I-80, exit 48 (no road access to the site).  There are 20 inscriptions written in tar on the rock.
  • Fort Bridger State Historic Site, Wyoming (36) was established in 1843 by Jim Bridger as a stop on the Oregon and California Trails.
  • The West End of the Bear River Divide segment, Wyoming (37) is a 31-mile-long drivable segment between US 189 and Wyoming Route 89, proceeding up Little Muddy Creek, across the Bear River Divide, and down Bridger Creek to the Bear River valley.
  • West End Sublette cutoff, Wyoming (38) is a trail junction, which is also the present-day junction of US 30 and Route 89.
  • Thomas Fork Crossing, Thomas Fork unit of Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho (39) was a toll crossing on the Oregon Trail.
  • Big Hill, Idaho (39) was west of the Thomas Fork Crossing in today’s Sheep Creek Hills; this was known as the steepest ascent on the entire Oregon Trail.
  • Smith’s Trading Post, Idaho (39) was located where the trail descends into the Bear Valley.  The trading post was established by Mountain Man Peg Leg Smith in 1848 and served gold rush pioneers.

On the California NHT, Hastings Cutoff, sites in the Wyoming shrub-steppe include Bear River Crossing and The Needles.  Bear River Crossing, Wyoming (40), was located at today’s Route 150 crossing of the Bear River south of Evanston.  The Needles, Wyoming (41) is a rock formation overlooking Coyote Creek just east of the Utah border.

On the Mormon Pioneer NHT, sites in the Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe include:

  • Church Butte, Wyoming (35) (see California and Oregon NHT)
  • Fort Bridger, Wyoming (36) (see California and Oregon NHT)
  • Muddy Creek Camp, Wyoming (42) was an 1847 campsite later used by 70,000 Mormon pioneers, other emigrants, a Pony Express Station, and an army camp.
  • Bear River Crossing,Wyoming  (40), Wyoming (see California NHT, Hastings cutoff)
  • The Needles, Wyoming (41) (see California NHT, Hastings Cutoff)
  • Yellow Creek Camp, Utah (41), was a Mormon pioneer camp just west of the confluence of Yellow Creek and Coyote Creeks.
  • Emigrant Springs, Utah (41) was just west of Yellow Creek Camp.
  • Cache Cave, Utah (43) was a landmark at the head of Echo Canyon.

On the Pony Express NHT, sites in Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe include:

  • Church Butte, Wyoming (35) (see California and Oregon NHT)
  • Fort Bridger, Wyoming (36) (see California and Oregon NHT)
  • Bear River Crossing, Wyoming (40) (see California NHT, Hastings Cutoff)
  • The Needles, Wyoming (41) (see California NHT, Hastings Cutoff)

There are four National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) in the Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe.  At Bear Lake NWR, Idaho (44), Stewart Dam on the Bear River diverts water to Bear Lake for storage.  The refuge, on the northern side of the lake, includes the inlet where the water flows into Bear Lake and the outlet where water is released back into the Bear River.  The refuge includes 16,000 acres of marsh, a remnant of the Dingle Swamp which formerly controlled the overflow of Bear Lake into the Bear River in extremely wet years.  The refuge is an IBA for a large concentration of nesting colonial waterbirds.   Nearby is the Thomas Fork Unit of the refuge, located on US Route 30 at the Idaho-Wyoming state line.  This area supports breeding sandhill cranes and provides stream habitat for the Bonneville cutthroat trout.  Thomas Fork is the site of a toll crossing on the Oregon Trail.

Cokeville Meadows NWR, Wyoming (45) is located where the Bear River flows north along the Utah-Wyoming border north of Evanston, Wyoming.  At this point, the river moisture creates a complex association of irrigated meadows, wetlands, and grass uplands.  This topography supports the highest density of nesting waterfowl in Wyoming, including the white-faced ibis and black tern.  A 20-mile section of the Bear River riparian areas is preserved in the 9,000 acres of Cokeville Meadows along US Route 30.

Seedskadee NWR, Wyoming (34) consists of riparian and upland habitats downstream from Fontenelle Dam.  It was established as mitigation for the Fontenelle and Flaming Gorge reservoir projects.  The majority of the refuge is east of the map area.

Other federal sites in Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe are listed below:

Names Hill, BLM and State of Wyoming (46) is six miles south of LaBarge on US 189.  This site on the Sublette Cutoff of the Oregon and California trails was a location where emigrants carved their names.  The earliest carving (other than petroglyphs) is dated to 1822, and the mountain man Jim Bridger carved his name on the rock in 1844.

Woodruff Wildlife Management Area, Utah (47) is an area of mixed federal and state lands on the Wyoming state line.  The 4,000-acre sagebrush and grassland habitat is noted for sage grouse, golden eagle, and antelope.

State and local sites in Wyoming Basin shrub-steppe are listed below:

  • Bear Lake State Park, Idaho (48), consists of two units, one at the Utah state line and one at the Bear Lake NWR causeway.  This provides water recreation opportunities.
  • Bear Lake State Park, Utah (48) consists of seven state-managed water recreation sites on this 71,000-acre natural lake.  The lake receives water diverted from the Bear River, where it is stored for release downstream for irrigation (see Bear Lake NWR description for water operations).
  • Bear River State Park, Wyoming (49) is connected to the Evanston greenbelt by trails.  The park contains a herd of bison.
  • Fort Bridger State Historic Site, Wyoming (36).  See description under California and Oregon NHTs.
  • Names Hill State Historic Site, Wyoming (46).  See description under other federal sites.
  • Piedmont Charcoal Kilns State Historic Site, Wyoming (40) is the site of three limestone charcoal kilns which remain from an operation that provided charcoal to the Union Pacific railroad as it was constructed across Utah.


Further Reading

McGrew, Paul O. and Michael Casilliano.  1975.  Fossil Butte:  The Geologic History of Fossil Butte National Monument and Fossil Basin.  National Park Service Occasional Paper No. 3.

Mitton, Jeffry B. and Michael C. Grant.  1996.  Genetic Variation and the Natural History of Quaking Aspen.  BioScience 46:25-31.

University of Kansas.  2008.  Utah’s Cambrian Life website http://kumip.ku.edu/cambrianlife) .  Department of Invertebrate Paleontology, University of Kansas Natural History Museum (Accessed April 8, 2013).

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Intermountain Region.  2010.  Utah—Crossroads of the West.  National Historic Trails Auto Tour Interpretive Guide.