Uintah Basin Road Trip | Days 1 & 2 | Omaha, NE to Manila, UT | April 2022
Since moving to Nebraska, Curtis has been working on earning his Master’s online. One of the nice things about his program is that he usually gets a week off every 7 weeks between courses. We try to take advantage of these breaks and go on a road trip, as much as work will allow. It’s been a fun way to take a regular break from our routine, get to travel around the country during different seasons, and make living in Nebraska more enjoyable. Somehow, the past 2 years have flown by, and Curtis’ last week off before graduation was at the end of April (he still has 2 classes left, but doesn’t get a week off between them this summer).
Of course we wanted to take advantage of this last week off, especially since it was still shoulder season in most places so attractions wouldn’t be as busy as they would be during the summer. However, in the weeks prior we had both been feeling anxious and overwhelmed by our upcoming life changes. We had originally talked about going to the East Coast for this break, but then decided that those plans sounded like too much for one week. I requested that whatever we do, we make it a more “stress-free” vacation with time to relax, something we’re not very good at doing.
I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to travel and didn’t think there was any place that seemed as appealing as our apartment, but then I thought of Utah. I remembered our last trip there back in 2015, I thought about walking on red rocks with snow covered peaks in the distance, and I knew that it would be the perfect place to go and get a piece of our sanity back. We set our focus on Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur National Monument mostly based on proximity from home and the fact that we had never been to that corner of Utah before. We were a bit concerned that it was still too early in the season and the weather would be questionable, but we thoroughly researched and decided enough campgrounds and recreation areas would be open to make the trip worth it.
We left Omaha on a Thursday morning, a little bummed that the crab apple trees were finally starting to blossom, and hoped that they’d still be around when we returned in a week (despite seeing signs of spring in the South in March, it’s been a late spring here). After a couple quick errands, we hopped on I-80 and began the long drive West. The first day was mostly driving with minimal stops, but we made sure to make it more interesting for Charlotte by taking her on a few walks. We stopped at a rest stop, and the courthouses in North Platte and Sydney, the last 2 we needed along I-80. In North Platte, we also stopped at Cody Park along the Platte River for a short walk along the River. While driving around, we saw some bison and reindeer in pens — our first “wildlife” for the trip. Somehow we’ve managed to see bison on every single trip since hiking the Centennial Trail one year ago, either in the wild or domesticated, so it was nice to already check that box for this trip!
We crossed into Wyoming after 5 and continued driving to our hopeful campsite for the night in Vedauwoo between Cheyenne and Laramie. For its proximity to the interstate, there are quite a few USFS campsites here. All of them were technically closed, but the forest service does allow walk-in dispersed camping year-round in one part of the park which is why we set this as our goal. We parked and then went for a short walk to the first campsite about a tenth of a mile away. Curtis set up the tent, then we started hiking towards a loop trail that goes around Turtle Rock, the largest of many granite outcrops for which Vedauwoo is popular among rock climbers. We didn’t really intend on hiking the whole trail tonight since it was less than an hour before sunset, but it was the perfect way to give Charlotte some much desired exercise.
We were about a third of the way up the trail when we heard thunder, and decided to turn back. We hurried back to the car as it started to rain, and then sat inside listening to our weather radio. It sounded like there could be thunderstorms and high winds throughout the night, so we decided that sleeping in the back of the Subaru might be a better idea than camping. We probably would’ve been fine in the tent, but the idea of having a wind storm like in New Mexico last December where we would be forced to retreat to the car when we’d have to walk 1/10th of a mile didn’t sound appealing. So instead, Curtis went out to take down the tent while Charlotte and I stayed at the car.
While waiting for Curtis, the sun dropped below the clouds and caused a double rainbow to appear. It was absolutely gorgeous, so I opened my door to step out and take a few pictures. Charlotte immediately jumped out and took off sprinting towards where Curtis had gone, and I took off after her just in case she didn’t run right to him. She got about halfway to the tent when she turned off the trail and started running towards some boulders. She paused when she reached them, trying to figure out how to scale them, allowing me to catch up with her and drag her back to the car with us both out of breath. She may be almost 8, but she still has so much energy and spunk!
Curtis returned to the car, and we moved things around to make room for our sleeping bags in the back, then ate dinner outside since it had stopped raining for the time being. It rained a little more through the night, but definitely wasn’t as bad as the weather report on the radio made it out to be. We all slept well and stayed warm and cozy in the Subaru, and in the early morning hours the skies cleared and we were able to see the stars clearly through the back window.
The next morning, we got up at 6 and started hiking the Turtle Rock loop trail again, this time going the opposite direction. While passing by the trailhead, I noted a sign about this being moose country. We didn’t think much of it, until we came near a pond which Charlotte led us to, and suddenly we saw a giant moose cow rushing into the woods on the other side! I was terrified, but now the moose was closer to the the part of the trail where we had just come, so it seemed safer to continue the loop the whole way around rather than possibly meet it on the narrow trail. While we were startled, Charlotte remained completely calm and even sat down beside the pond, watching where the moose had disappeared.
Thankfully that was the only moose we saw this trip (it was our fifth moose seen in the wild, all 5 of which have been in Wyoming) and the rest of the hike was uneventful. The weather was pleasant, and besides little patches of snow on the trail, the path was easy to follow and we made it the whole way around.
Once back at the car, we drove a few miles up I-80 to the next rest stop where we made a quick stop to see the monuments and find a letterbox at the highest point along the Lincoln Highway and I-80 near Sherman Peak at just over 8000′. Lots of historic trails crossed this point, including the first transcontinental telephone and the Lincoln Highway. The latter demanded a monument to the president who made transcontinental travel a reality and now Honest Abe glowers down upon all the I-80 traffic.
After that, we began our drive across Wyoming. We had looked for other attractions or short hikes to do to break the drive up further, but it seemed like all the historic sites and drives through Medicine Bow National Forest were still closed for the winter. It turned out to be a good thing we didn’t have plans to stop, because during this drive we ran into a snowstorm with wind gusts over 40 MPH. Thankfully the temperature stayed above freezing and the roads remained clear, but it was a reminder that we were still not “out of the woods” as far as winter weather was concerned. Curtis was just disappointed that the visibility was so bad that he couldn’t see the different Medicine Bow ranges to the South as we drove.
We made it past the storm, and then got off the interstate in Rock Springs, WY to continue today’s adventure. Curtis had learned about a 19 mile scenic drive through BLM land that goes from Rock Springs to Green River that apparently had a herd of wild horses roaming around. We drove North of Rock Springs on US-191 and then West on Pilot Butte Scenic Drive. The road was gravel, but in good condition, with occasional pull offs and signs. We kept our eyes peeled for horses and stopped for some of the especially good views, including a glimpse of Wyoming’s highest peak and the Wind River Range. As we were nearing the end of the drive, we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to see the horses, but finally we spotted a herd of about 15 grazing together, including two little foals! I think the drive would’ve been worth it regardless, but it was still so fun to see, and just added to our growing talley of wildlife seen on this trip.
Once we reached Green River, we headed South on WY-530 into Utah. We started getting glimpses of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, red rocks, and the snow-capped Uintas in the distance, and our excitement grew! Curtis stopped at a visitor center in Manila, UT to get some maps and info on open areas, weather, and water levels. We were a bit concerned because it was rather windy today, but they said the winds were supposed to die down tomorrow, so we hoped for the best. We then drove to Carmel Campground and claimed a spot for the next two nights. The campground was a little ways removed from the main highway, and right along Sheep Creek and these sheer cliffs on the opposite side that we just couldn’t take our eyes off of.
Wanting to give Charlotte more exercise, we went for a loop hike on a short interpretive trail nearby. We then started to do the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Drive, not expecting to go far because we were told it was closed, but we were actually able to drive further than we thought, and it was so worth it! We loved seeing the towering cliffs and the different geology surrounding us. We stopped again for a short walk to a waterfall coming right out of the cliffs, and then to walk along the road before calling it a night. We returned to our campsite, energized and excited for the next couple days we would spend enjoying this area.