Five weeks in Torrey, Utah…
Thousand Lakes RV Park was decent and we had full amenities, including wi-fi and laundry. It was a zoo on Memorial Day weekend (like campgrounds all across America), but things settled afterwards. Turnover was high with most folks staying just a night or two. For a private campground, there was decent space between sites. Mature cottonwood trees between each site provided welcomed shade and the soothing sound of rustling leaves. It was always windy! At an elevation of 7,000 feet, the temperature was usually comfortable, though it got into the 90s a couple of times. Torrey is primarily a tourist town catering mainly to Capitol Reef National Park visitors. The small town has a population less than 200, but has a choice of restaurants and places to stay. Torrey’s small grocery store had a limited selection of over-priced stuff. Loa, 15 miles west, had a good grocery store and the cheapest gas/diesel. Big supply runs were to Richfield, 60 miles north. Propane was available in Bicknell just 5 miles west.
Looking south from the Velvet Cliffs…Freemont River Valley and Boulder Mountain
Why we came…
Two reasons: Capitol Reef National Park and Boulder Mountain! Capitol Reef is beautiful and has many miles of great hiking trails. Boulder Mountain, the highest timbered plateau in the U.S. at 11,300 feet, has roughly 60 fishable lakes. Folks from Utah have known about Boulder Mountain for years, but word is getting out as the great fishing has been featured in magazine articles and numerous blogs.
Arleen’s sister, Mary, drove 500 miles from Elizabeth, Colorado to spend Memorial Day Weekend with us. Mary is game for adventure and fun to hang out with. We always enjoy Mary’s company!
Capitol Reef National Park…
“A giant buckle in the Earth’s crust stretches across south-central Utah. This vast warping of rock, created 65 million years ago by the same great forces later uplifting the Colorado Plateau, is called the Waterpocket Fold. Capitol Reef National Park preserves the Fold and its eroded jumble of colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches. But the Waterpocket Fold country is more than this. It is also the free-flowing Freemont River and the big desert sky. It is cactus, jay, lizard, jackrabbit, juniper, columbine, and deer. It is a place humans used for thousands of years, from early indigenous peoples to Mormon pioneers. It inspires poets, artists, photographers, and seekers of solitude. The world of the Waterpocket Fold stretches 100 miles—and beyond.”
Each morning around 8:30, fresh pies are available at the historic Gifford Farmhouse. Coincidently, that is about the time we entered the park for our adventures! Each time we had to stop and get warm cherry or peach or apple or strawberry and rhubarb or blackberry or mixed berry pie. Not only were they very tasty, but they also provided our bodies much needed fuel that we burned later on tough hikes…guilt free treats!
About to eat pies at the Gifford Farmhouse
Arleen with her National Parks Passport book / A Ranger’s talk about the park’s interesting geology
Arleen and Mary smelling the fragrant cliff rose / Standing on the edge of the Goosenecks Overlook
A great hike with Mary on the Cohab Canyon trail to two spectacular overlooks
A deep plunge pool / A dry plunge pool…nice cool shady spot for a break / See us wedged into the narrow gap?
A great loop hike on the Chimney Rock trail
Cathedral Valley drive in Capitol Reef National Park…
The loop drive through the northern portion of Capitol Reef is on 60 miles of occasionally rough dirt road. It can be done in four or five hours, but your teeth will rattle loose and you’ll miss some interesting stuff. We took our time and really enjoyed it. Don’t do this drive if thunderstorms are expected anywhere near the area as the route crosses numerous washes that are prone to flash floods.
Our first stop was at the visitor center to get the latest update on road conditions and weather. They gave us important info about driving across the Freemont River and said the road was in good shape. They also pointed out a $2 brochure that showed and explained things we’d see along the route…it was a great investment!
We hit the Freemont River like the Ranger informed us and drove across the flowing 12-18 inch deep water with no problems. From there we just followed the informative brochure and enjoyed the amazing scenery. We did 3 or 4 short hikes and ended up walking about 5 miles. Each stop was spectacular!
Old farming or mining equipment / The Bentonite Hills…clay that’s slippery when wet!
The Lower South Desert Overlook
Lower South Desert Overlook / Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook…Temples of the Sun and Moon
The Upper South Desert Overlook..The Waterpocket Fold on the right and Henry Mountains in distant left center
The Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook
500 foot tall monoliths in Upper Cathedral Valley / The 200 foot deep Gypsum Sinkhole
The Temples of the Sun (left) and Moon (right) in Lower Cathedral Valley
Pretty daisies back-dropped by the Temple of the Sun / The very interesting Glass Mountain & Temple of the Sun
This was a cool hike to Cassidy Arch / Being cheesy on Cassidy Arch
Fern’s Nipple on the left and Cassidy Arch, above and just right of my head
This was a great hike to see the Golden Throne…we had the trail to ourselves!
Hikes and Geocaching…
A cool, but challenging hike for two geocaches just west of Capitol Reef NP / Surrounded by petrified wood
Freemont River Valley and the north side of Boulder Mountain
Having fun on the horse rock
A very enjoyable hike with great views along the Velvet Cliffs to hunt for geocaches
Great spots for three different geocaches
Looking north towards Thousand Lakes Mountain
Boulder Mountain fishing…
Note: Many Boulder Mountain lakes are prone to partial or complete winterkill. Fish conditions and fish populations vary from year to year. This year’s hot lakes might be next year’s dead lakes. Exploring and discovering the good ones each year is part of the fun. Good luck!
24 May: Our first adventure on Boulder Mountain was to Beaver Dam Reservoir. The last 3 miles of “road” was nearly too much for the big Dodge Ram. The road is more suitable for short-wheel based, small 4-wheel drive vehicles, or better yet, ATVs. The big Dodge scraped bottom a couple of times and ended up with a few tree scrapes and gouges. We thoroughly kayak-fished the lake for three hours and only managed to catch five pretty brook trout. One of those was a fat 18 incher, my biggest brook trout ever! Due to trees and shallow areas, most of the lake would be difficult to fly-fish from the bank.
Floating the serene Beaver Dam Reservoir -- 10 acres, elevation 9,947 feet
24 May: Winds and slow fishing pushed us off Beaver Dam Reservoir, but we had time to check out Honeymoon Lake. There is no trail to the tiny lake so a good map, compass/GPS, and navigation skills are necessary. It was tough to negotiate the boulder strewn, thick forested route with a plethora of downed trees. Cutthroats and Tigers (cross between a brook trout and brown trout) are available, but were difficult for us to catch. There are only a couple of decent spots to fly-fish along the bank due to trees or steep rocks.
The very pretty Honeymoon Lake – 1 acre, elevation 10,250 feet
25 May: Mary was on her way from Colorado and she wanted fresh trout for dinner so based on recent fishing reports, we figured Lower Bowns Reservoir was our best bet. We were right! The gusty, swirling winds made the kayak fishing challenging, but we caught 5 or 6 rainbow trout and kept three that were each 12-13 inches long…yum yum! We fished less than two hours, but caught dinner and had a good time.
The east side of Boulder Mountain and Lower Bowns Reservoir – 90 acres, elevation 7,400 feet
27 May: The hike to Pine Creek Reservoir is only about a mile, but it’s pretty steep. We could see colorful cutthroat trout cruising along the banks, some of them fat 16 inchers. Enticing them to bite was tough, but we caught 8-10 with the biggest (pictured in the middle below), a fat 13-14 incher. There were a couple of good spots to fly-fish along the bank, but much of the lake is shallow and trees would hinder backcasts.
13 Jun: We went back to Pine Creek Reservoir to tangle with the pretty cutthroat trout again. We had the lake to ourselves! I caught about 10 that were 6-13 inches long. We didn’t see as many trout cruising the banks. We only fished about an hour before 30-40mph winds got the best of us.
Success at Pine Creek Reservoir – 3 acres, elevation 9,100 feet
30 May: This was a tough hike through last year’s burn area to Bullberry and Lost Lakes. At Bullberry, 1.5 acres and 9,300 feet elevation, we caught our first tiger trout and a pretty cutthroat trout. Bullberry was tough to fly-fish from the bank.
30 May: Lost Lake, 7 acres and 9,800 elevation, was three miles and over 1,000 feet higher than where we parked. The lake is pretty, but the fishing was slow. We just caught one brook trout. It’s fairly easy to fly-fish from the bank. We met Tom and Ann at Lost Lake. We are proud to call these fine folks our friends!
20 June: We went back to Lost Lake and got skunked! There were a bunch of midges and small black mayflies hatching, but the trout didn’t want to play.
31 May: We parked at the Solitaire Lake trail head and first hiked 2.5 miles to Green Lake, 9 acres and 10,322 feet elevation. Green Lake was the first lake we experienced that seemed totally dead…winterkill? We got no hits and saw no signs of fish.
31 May: On the way back, we stopped at Left Hand Reservoir, about 10 acres and about 10,000 feet elevation. The water level varies significantly due to irrigation needs which impacts the fishing. For this visit, the water level was up and the fishing was decent. We caught 2 or 3 small brookies and 2 or 3 decent brookies.
Arleen relaxing at Solitaire Lake
31 May: Our final stop was Solitaire Lake, 5 acres and 10,203 feet elevation. The beautiful lake was very difficult to fly-fish from the bank. It was shallow along most of the shore, and the lake was ringed by lots of trees. We saw decent cutthroat and maybe a tiger trout or two cruising along the bank. I caught one pretty cutthroat and missed a few other opportunities. I lost a few flies to trees too.
2 June: We parked near the closed Boulder Top gate and walked over a half mile south to Miller Lake, 6 acres and 10,650 feet elevation. We got no bites and saw no signs of fish. Then we walked over a mile north to Cook Lake, 5 acres and 10,600 feet elevation, and got no bites and saw no signs of fish. It looks like these lakes winterkilled. Too bad. They were easy to get to, very pretty, and easy to fly-fish from the bank.
3 June: Afternoon thunderstorms were expected so we did a quick adventure. Round two to Solitaire Lake resulted in two, 14-15 inch cutthroat trout and a few misses.
4 June: Afternoon thunderstorms were expected again so another quick adventure was on tap. This time we took the kayaks to Round Lake, 8 acres and 9,800 feet elevation. Occasionally we saw a fish rise, but we only got a few half-hearted hits. I caught one small brookie.
6 June: We had planned to park at the Boulder Top gate and hike to a few spots up top. The gate was open! So we parked at the top which saved us over a mile of hiking and a few hundred feet of climbing. First we headed to Bluebell Knoll, the highest spot in Wayne County Utah at 11,328 feet, for a geocache. Then we passed Raft Lake and headed to Dead Horse Lake, 1.5 acres and 11,070 feet elevation. We really liked the lake and it was easy to fly-fish from the bank, but we got no bites and saw no signs of fish…winterkill? On the way back we stopped at Raft Lake, 23 acres and 11,070 feet elevation. Because the relatively large lake is shallow, it’s difficult to fly-fish from the bank…an impossible hundred foot cast would be helpful! We still managed to catch a bunch of brookies, some of them skinny and some of them in good shape. We kept two decent ones for dinner that night. The midge hatch was incredible. Each time the wind calmed a bit, a high-pitched wine steadily rose from the ground and enveloped us. The tiny bugs were annoying but didn’t bite. Midges are one of the primary foods for these high-country trout. The fish eat so many, they quickly grow big and fat.
Digging through the snow for a geocache at the highest spot in Wayne County Utah, elevation 11,328 feet.
Fishing from a snow bank at Dead Horse Lake / Arleen fishing Raft Lake / 15 inch brook trout (note the midges)
7 June: We parked at the Boulder Top and hiked to Chuck Lake, 5 acres and 10,600 feet elevation. This was another pretty lake that was easy to fly-fish from the bank. We did see three little fish, but got no bites. Then we hiked to Surveyors Lake, 5 acres and 10,850 feet elevation, another pretty lake that was easy to fly-fish from the bank. We could do no wrong! We caught around 30 brookies. They were 9-13 inches long and most were a little skinny. A couple were sickly skin and bones with big heads, a sure sign that the lake is overpopulated. If the brookie lakes don’t occasionally winterkill or people don’t take a bunch out, the lakes go through a boom and bust cycle. Other than the real skinny fish, they fought hard and were fun to catch…we had a blast!
Fishing Surveyors Lake
8 June: Our new friend, Tom, took us to a few of his favorite lakes on Boulder Top: Crater Lake, East Lake, Crescent Lake, and Horseshoe Lake.
At Crater Lake, 7 acres and 11,000 feet elevation, Tom caught a couple of small brookies, and I caught my first two Utah grayling, some of the prettiest fish around. It appears that Crater Lake experienced a partial winterkill. There were good places to fly-fish along the bank.
There were fish carcasses littered across the bottom of East Lake, 3.5 acres and 10,700 feet elevation. Arleen saw a small fish follow her lure and a I got one half-hearted hit, so the lake didn’t totally winterkill, but it doesn’t look good. It is easy to fly-fish from most of the bank.
Crescent Lake, 13.5 acres and 10,900 feet elevation, was fairly large with trees lining most of the bank making it difficult to fly-fish. We gave it a half-hearted attempt and saw no signs of fish. I’d have to spend more time fishing the lake and hit more spots to make a ruling on winterkill in this relatively large, deep lake.
Horseshoe Lake, 12.5 acres and 10,700 feet elevation, was also fairly large and difficult to fly-fish from the bank. Part of the lake was shallow and the bank was lined with trees and the other part was deep with nearly vertical rock banks. We hooked some nice brook trout along the steep rocky bank. Tom caught one that was nearly 17 inches long!
My first arctic grayling caught in Utah…beautiful!
Tom fishing East Lake / Tom with a nearly 17 inch long brook trout!
10 June: We went back to Bullberry Lake and caught some nice tiger trout.
11 June: Our first time to Left Hand Reservoir was on 31 May. The lake was full and brook trout were cooperative and in good shape. Just two weeks later, the reservoir was just a large shallow pond…bad for fish and fishermen, but good for the farmers. The dam’s valve had been opened to irrigate the valley’s ranches. I learned later that only takes two to three weeks “drain it dry”.
Since Left Hand was a bust, we decided to hike up to Donkey Reservoir, elevation 10,178 feet and 24 acres. It was full and the brookies were cooperative! We caught about 10 that were 9-14 inches long, in good shape, and quite colorful. The lake was a bit difficult to fly-fish from the bank due to trees.
14 June: We went back to the top of Boulder Mountain and launched the kayaks on Raft Lake. Squirrely winds made fishing difficult. We missed 5 or 6 hits, but I managed to catch a fat 16 inch brook trout. Tom met us there and caught 2 nice brookies on worms.
Before heading home, we made the short hike to Dead Horse Lake. Back on 6 June, we checked it out and saw no signs of life. We almost wrote it off as winterkill…Good thing we gave it another shot! There were nice grayling feeding in the shallows. They were an easy target with flies, especially on the surface…our favorite way to fly-fish! We caught a bunch of 10-13 inch, very pretty grayling. It was a lot fun!
Grayling from Dead Horse Lake
15 June: We launched the kayaks on Donkey Reservoir. Shortly after we hit the water, a gentleman arrived on an ATV, stopped on the dam, and began opening the valve. Donkey isn’t “drained dry” like Left Hand, but there isn’t much left after the ranchers take their share of water. We worked the entire shore and missed a bunch of fish. About half way around, we switched to floating grasshopper flies and enjoyed watching decent sized brook trout hammer them. Thunderstorms were threatening and the wind was a pain, so we cut this adventure short.
17 June: We hiked to Blind Lake, elevation 10,250 feet. At 52 acres and 55 feet deep, it’s the largest and deepest natural lake on the mountain. The entire shore is lined with trees making most of the lake difficult to fly-fish from the bank. Blind Lake has a variety of fish and some of them can get big. The hike gains about 500 feet elevation in a mile and a half…it was pleasant. There are no ATV routes to this lake. Getting on the lake with a float tube would be a tremendous advantage. None the less, we did good from the bank! For an hour I nailed 10-16 inch rainbow trout. Things slowed the next hour as I only managed to catch two splake (a cross between a brook trout and a lake trout). I’d love to fish Blind Lake the first couple of weeks after ice-out and again in October as the first snows start to fall. The bigguns would be more active then and likely cruising along the shore within my reach.
18 June: We targeted three lakes…Emily, elevation 10,040 feet and 3 acres; Clark Lake, elevation 10,126 feet and 4 acres; Fish Creek Reservoir, elevation 9,988 feet and 28 acres.
We parked about a mile up the Fish Creek Reservoir/Beaver Dam Reservoir road to begin our hike (the road is too rough for us). We hiked about a mile up the steep, rocky road and made a left turn onto the Wildcat Trail towards Emily Lake. The little lake was easy to find and right off the trail. It’s basically a large silted-in beaver pond. I walked around it and tried to spot fish in the clear, shallow water. The fish or their shadows would have been easy to see, but there was no sign of either. Emily Lake was a bust.
Next we headed back to the road and hiked up to Fish Creek Reservoir. The wind made fishing tough, and we missed 3 or 4 hits. 12-16 inch cutthroat were cruising along the shore, but we couldn’t tempt them to bite.
Finally I hiked, bushwacked, and boulder hopped to Clark Lake. It’s less than a half mile from Fish Creek, but it’s tough! There is no trail to the tiny lake so a good map, compass/GPS, and navigation skills are necessary. The pretty lake sits in a boulder strewn bowl. Tiger and cutthroat trout supposedly swim its waters, but I didn’t see any signs of fish…winterkill? Too bad…Clark Lake would have been one of my favorites!
Emily Lake / Nice cutthroat trout in Fish Creek Reservoir / Fighting a trout at Fish Creek Reservoir
Story time…The clouds were darkening over Donkey Lake and the winds were getting too much to handle so we paddled the kayaks to shore. As we raced to load gear and kayaks on the truck, we spoke to a nice family that were out cruising on their ATVs. We went through the usual small talk, like “where are you from”, and all that. They listened intently as we told our usual story: “I spent 20 years in the military, Arleen 24 years in the military, and now we are retired and enjoying our own country”. It was a nice conversation and one that we have all the time when meeting folks on the road. Later that afternoon, we were relaxing in our little home when someone knocked on the door. That’s a bit unusual for us so we didn’t know what to expect. The gentleman we spoke to at the lake had hunted us down! He thanked us again for our military service and gave us a card and some small wind chimes…WOW…I had to fight tears of gratitude! We shook hands and he left. I relayed the story to Arleen and we both teared up. It’s one of the most thoughtful and touching things someone has done for us. We meet a lot of special people on the road…they are the main reason this country is so great!
Next we will spend a week at Pine Lake. The small reservoir is surrounded by pine trees at 8,000 feet. We will leave the kayaks on the bank and leisurely fish whenever the mood hits us. We won’t have hook-ups and plan to do a lot of relaxing. It will be a vacation from our retirement!
Full moon setting as the sun rises…very pretty!
Pelicans on Koosharem Reservoir
Cumulonimbus-mammatus…bad news! / A marmot checking us out