Gorge on the Green
Water lovers' vacation.
Lake Powell may be named after famed explorer John Wesley Powell but that isn’t the only place he ventured, and it shouldn’t be the only red rock retreat you seek either. Flaming Gorge and the Green River are right up there with Lake Powell when it comes to vacations for water lovers.
Flaming Gorge turned from river to reservoir in 1964. A massive slab of concrete towering more than 500 feet dammed the flow for power generation. Backing up the river and then pushing it through turbines creates hydropower for 50,000 households. Walt Gasson remembers well when the wall went up.
“I was 4 years old when it started,” says Gasson, a Sweetwater County, Wyoming, native. “I can remember coming with my mom and my dad and watching them erect the iron work for the dam.”
Gasson grew up with a changing watershed in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area but still calls the Gorge and the Green his home place. He’s watched a large, metal bridge near the dam become a manmade landmark among the natural wonder of red rock country. He’s seen the 91-mile reservoir turn into a trophy lake for fishermen. And the Green River coming out the bottom of the dam is now a blue-ribbon trout stream.
With the changes came crowds. The Gorge and the Green draw thousands of visitors annually who come to camp and hike, raft and fish.
“Flaming Gorge is a special place,” Gasson says. “It’s the sort of place where we go to get our boots dirty and our souls clean.”
Recreation is the economic driver in this place. Flaming Gorge Resort is open year-round and offers several dozen rooms, a restaurant and a tackle shop with guide service. Just down the road is Red Canyon Lodge, on the higher end of luxury lodging and dining. Further off the more civilized path, there’s roughing it at one of 43 U.S. Forest Service campgrounds hosting more than 700 individual campsites and 27 group sites, spread over nearly 91 water miles (with 360 miles of shore line).
Once sleep and eat are covered, it’s time to play. The dam visitors center offers free guided tours daily, and you can fish the Gorge from boat or bank. There are three full-service marinas around the water selling supplies. Water skiing when the waves are calm is a rare treat, and so is landing one of the record lake lunkers (that means big fish for non-anglers) the Gorge is famous for.
Below the Gorge, Gasson’s home place hosts fishers, rafters and wanderers. They seek solitude on the Green River, but they don’t find it at first. The A section right below the dam is the most popular put-in with multiple users clamoring for the same narrow ribbon of river. Take along patience and someone who knows how to quickly and efficiently launch a water vessel. There’s no room, or time, for clusters on the boat ramp, according to Charlie Card. He grew up on the Green, and he’s on it more days than he’s off. He lets the crowds have the A (7 miles) and B (9 miles) sections because the bigger fish have the C section (14 miles). That’s where large brown trout come in quality not quantity. The water runs slow and flat, thinning the whitewater seekers and leaving the stretch open to fly casters.
“The Green in my mind has it all,” says Card, a fly fishing guide. “It has great scenery, beautiful fish, lots of fish and great hatches. It’s all right here, and I’m fortunate enough to have it in my backyard.”
There’s camping along the C section, and the John Jarvie Historical Site is well worth a stop. It’s an old trading post managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Spending some time among its old homestead relics can help you connect with the area like Gasson does.
“The Green River drainage is special to me,” Gasson says. “It’s hard to tell for us where the land leaves off and we begin. Where the river leaves off and we begin.”