The Bear River’s History and Contributions

Bear River Basin Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250x354.jpg
Bear River Basin
Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250×354.jpg
The Bear River meanders almost 500 miles from its headwaters in Utah’s Uinta Mountains to its mouth at the Great Salt Lake, making it the longest river in North America which does not empty into an ocean. Instead, the Bear River serves as the main source of fresh water for the Great Salt Lake, a vast terminal lake in the Great Basin with no outlet except evaporation. This hasn’t always been the case, though. The Bear River once flowed north, serving as a tributary of the Snake River, and ultimately reached the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River. That is until about 140,000 years ago when the earth erupted in present-day southeast Idaho and spilled lava across the Bear River’s path.

Canoeing on the Bear River, Cutler Reservoir Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon, Photographer
Canoeing on the Bear River, Cutler Reservoir
Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon, Photographer
Now obstructed by expansive lava fields hardening into immense walls of basalt rock, the Bear dog-legged to the south and became—for the first time—a source of fresh water for the ancient inland sea that would eventually become the Great Salt Lake. The river was tenacious, though, and spent its time not only feeding fresh water to ancestors of the Great Salt Lake but also chiseling away at the basalt columns that obstructed its way toward the sea. The river was finally rewarded for its efforts millennia after having been cut off from the Snake and Columbia River Basins, and once again became a tributary of the Snake River. This fate would not last, however. Roughly 35,000 years ago, violent geology would have its way again. More lava flows around present-day Soda Springs, Idaho, bent the Bear River back toward the Great Basin where it still empties today.

the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley. Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley.
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer

the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley. Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley.
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
And this has been a boon for the millions of residents—Homo sapiens and otherwise—of the Wasatch Front here in Utah. Let’s consider for a moment what life in central and northern Utah would be like if not for the Bear River. For starters, the Great Salt Lake would lose 60% of its annual inflow, drastically reducing its volume. I wonder if Brigham Young and his Saints would have even considered settling in the Salt Lake Valley after enduring the many lake-bed-dust storms courtesy of the Great Salt Lake that are becoming a growing concern today. We would certainly be deprived of the world-class migratory bird and wetland habitat supported by the Bear River at the famous Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Last fall, Ogden’s Standard Examiner newspaper reported that, quote, “the river had disappeared into a vast mudflat that used to be Bear River Bay.” Experts cited irrigation, municipal, and habitat uses in addition to a host of environmental and climate factors as causes of the Bear River becoming “tapped out” before it reached the Great Salt Lake. A snowpack that has doubled last year’s total according to the Salt Lake Tribune has the Bear River Basin’s snowpack brimming at nearly 300% its average this time of year. This promises to turn things around for the Bear River and the many species which depend upon it.

A complex and interdependent collection of variables impact the Bear River and its hydrologic fate—not least of which are humans, ecology, climate, and the occasional volcanic eruption.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Images:
    Bear River Diagram Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
    Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon
    Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound:
Text: Josh Boling, 2019, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, The Bear River, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-river/

Beck, Russ, America’s Caveat River, Wild About Utah, Nov 16, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/americas-caveat-river/

The Canyon

The Canyon: Grand Canyon of the Colorado Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain
Grand Canyon of the Colorado
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain
Here it’s just called, The Canyon, like there is no other. It’s a place we go to get away from, or get into, it. It’s a place that still lets us trust each other’s word, and have plans on when we should be back. For those waiting on The Canyon, we practice patience and balance with our expectations.

For those of us in The Canyon though, we have entered a different, older world. Out here, once up and away from the road, we find what keeps us out late, what drives us home early, and why we go back.

Free from the paved groan, the threshold is passed, and the stories are all in front of us now. We hike old trails, finding new turns, flowers, and shades. We scout new paths blazed by others, leading to timeless vistas, stands, and grounds. We hear strange ancient birds. We smell new familiar fires. We taste life’s grit.

The repetition is not the kind that gets old, going out and discovering; getting dirty, thirsty, hungry, bit up, rained on, or suddenly freezing mid-stride when you hear a branch snap in the wood aside from you and you like that you still have some of that good instinct left, especially in this age.

The Canyon as we know it though did not begin as it now is, nor will remain. In its long winding life thus far, The Canyon has been sculpted by water, want, and what some call westward expansion.

For some of us, we know the story like it was passed down every winter. For others, we quickly learn that it’s worth the stillness.

Trees now grow on what was once an oceanic graveyard: the floor of a great sea. The very stone and rock that lifts dramatically upwards is an elaborate crosscut in geologic history taking place over millions of years. We find deposits of shells, fish, and other oddities as we ascend The Canyon, travelling through time as if in some wonder of which all museums aspire to be.

On and into this grand mountainous slab came Guinavah, The River. The Canyon’s deep V-shape has been carved from Guinavah flowing water over the forgotten seabed once more, finely eroding a channel through, giving The Canyon it’s great bends; perfect for catching an eddied trout or fleeing a pesky cell signal.

The River has been essential for humans as well for thousands of years. When the valley was settled, this time by Easterners in the mid-19th century, Guinavah became known to these settlers eventually as Logan River.

Historically, these lush environs once donned The Canyon’s many great iconic mammals, but the iconic do not easily survive in the limelight. 100 years after Eastern settlement, the once-abundant bison, bighorn sheep, and brown bears were gone. To mark their absence, we have Ephraim’s grave and the imagination.

This said, there is certainly no general void of wildlife in The Canyon. Seeing another traveler is always a blending of curiosity at what they’re up to, and of gratitude that they’re out here too. From here our paths diverge. Some of us continue the hike. Some of us continue the hunt. Some of us back away slowly and keep an eye on the company.

This is the world of The Canyon, a product of its many stories. For us who see the Canyon but have yet to venture in, there are ways in all seasons to experience it. Try a trail, Fork, or any number of Hollows, and visit one of the last quiet places in any one of the unnamed corners of your 1.6 million acre backyard.

It’s a good place out here. Many go out to experience how The Canyon is now, many go out to experience how it All once was, this is an invitation to go and experience of how It can all still be tomorrow.

I’ll see you at the trailhead.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Grand Canyon Image Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Strand, Holly, A Grand Old River, Wild About Utah, July 9, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/a-grand-old-river/

Strand, Holly, Last Blank Spots on the Map, Wild About Utah, Oct 29, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/last-blank-spots-on-the-map/

Grand Canyon National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrandCanyonNPS

Ross, John F., The little-known story of how one man turned the Grand Canyon into an icon, AZ Central, Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., Gannett…, https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2019/01/27/grand-canyon-national-park-icon-john-wesley-powell-history/2651251002/

Hikes, Colorado Plateau Explorer, Grand Canyon Trust, https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/hikes/



The Bear River

The Bear River Basin Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250x354.jpg
Bear River Basin
Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250×354.jpg
Following the same route which I had taken when coming up, we arrived at Bear River on the evening of the eleventh and encamped. Examination of Cache valley occupied several days. Crossing over the range of low rounded hills through, which Bear River has cut a passage, we entered this beautiful and picturesque valley. Which was then covered with a profusion of rich green grass and adorned and diversified by numerous clumps of willows. The valley is full of swampy springs affording an abundance of good sweet water and excellent grass. Speckled trout, large size, abound in the streams. I believe this passage to be from “Journal of a Trapper” written by mountain man Osborn Russell around 1816.

The Bear is a unique and beautiful rivering system. Superlatives abound. A river of profound beauty, who provides over 60% of the life blood for the Great Salt Lake eco system. The largest river, to begin and end in the Great Basin. A river which witnessed the largest massacre of Native Americans in our country’s history. A river of abundant life, who supports three national wildlife refuges, in its 500 mile course.

There were a few thoughts running through my brain as I canoed down a stretch of the Bear River though Gentile valley, in southeast Idaho this morning, counting bird species for Utah Power and Light. I was stunned by the beauty as we left the bank, into early morning sunrise, in a river mist with rain clouds forming over surrounding mountains. Our spirits were further buoyed by rampant bird songs, Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Meadow Larks, Red Winged Blackbirds countless swallows and songbirds. Occasionally sun would find a hole in the clouds and awaken the hills to vibrant Spring green offset by dark clouds gathering.

Trumpeter Swan Courtesy US FWS/Mountain Prairie-flickr Katie Theule, Photographer
Trumpeter Swan
Courtesy US FWS/Mountain Prairie-flickr
Katie Theule, Photographer
A large white bird appears on the water ahead of us. Perhaps another pelican. Drifting closer we startled this elegant graceful being, which emits a loud trumpeting call to echo through the shrouds of fog. Trumpeter Swan. We are held in awe of this magnificence. Still on the endangered species list, due to overharvesting and habitat loss.

Winding our way through many river miles we finally arrived at the backwaters of Oneida Reservoir, as the river disappears in a rugged defile called the Narrows. Most of this once magnificent stretch of wildriver now lies beneath the reservoir

This is Jack Greene and I am Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Map: The Bear River Basin Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
Images:Courtesy US FWS/Mountain Prairie-flickr Katie Theule, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Transcribed from the audio supplied by UPR

Additional Reading:

Russell, Osborne, York, Lem A, Journal Of A Trapper Or Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains 1834-1843, Syms York, 1921, Digitized by Google, https://archive.org/details/journalatrapper00yorkgoog
https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=49HTAAAAMAAJ&pg=GBS.PA7

Russell, Osborne, Journal Of A Trapper: Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains 1834-1843, University of Nebraska Press, 1955, https://www.amazon.com/manuscript-Robertson-Collection-University-Mountains/dp/B000OFZEES/
Other versions
https://www.amazon.com/Journal-Trapper-Years-Mountains-1834-1843/dp/1541104935
https://www.amazon.com/Journal-Trapper-Years-Mountains-1834-1843-ebook/dp/B01MYMW9AQ

Morgan, Dale, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, Bison Books, 1964, https://www.amazon.com/Jedediah-Smith-Opening-West-Bison/dp/0803251386

Oneida Narrows Reservoir, Southwest Region, Idaho Birding Trail, Idaho Fish & Game, https://idfg.idaho.gov/ifwis/ibt/site.aspx?id=127

Trumpeter Swans, US FWS/Mountain Prairie-flickr account, Several Photographers https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/sets/72157659882083253

Wilderglyphs

A Tree Wilderglyphs Josh Boling WildUtah032618
A Tree Wilderglyphs
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Glyph: a word that might evoke images in the mind of ancient Egyptian pictures recounting the trials and triumphs of pharaohs and their people; or Native American rock art meaningfully pecked into a sandstone wall, directing desert travelers toward water. There are others, too, all around us, hiding in plain sight. They are perhaps less noticed because they are not made by humans, but instead by the elements and the wilds. I call them wilderglyphs.

Wilderglyphs come in all shapes, patterns, colors, and forms- as varied as the consortium of elemental forces and ingredients that created them. They’re easy to spot as well because the wilderglyph hunter need only look for artworks created by the happenstances of nature. I once found a particularly interesting evergreen snag while backpacking in the Sierras. It reminded me of a demon with its glaring, fire-scarred, knot-hole eyes and menacing dreads of burnt and broken branches. Like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, this wilderglyph told a story of its place- a fiery moment in time captured temporarily in the flesh of the once-living.

Ice Patterns Wilderglyphs Josh Boling WildUtah032618
Ice Pattern Wilderglyph
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
My favorite that I’ve found was also the most fleeting. Searching through the snowy and isolated redrock of Canyonlands National Park for a rumored set of Anasazi ruins, I happened upon a shallow ice puddle tucked under a ledge of sandstone. The ice was something like I had never seen before- patterned with concentric rings similar to those of a tree stump. At first, I thought maybe something had fallen into the once-liquid puddle of water (a pebble perhaps), rippling its loosed energy outward at the exact moment the puddle froze; but, more likely the shallow puddle froze rapidly and contracted radially as temperatures continued to plummet, leaving concentric fractures in the ice face. I left the curious thing behind for maybe an hour to continue my search; when I returned, both the ice and its mysterious message had melted away.

There are more than just stories written into wilderglyphs, though. There is a certain science to them that, if known, can be useful to finding one’s way within the less familiar places we visit.
While descending a slot canyon, one of our party slid his hand along the water-worn wall and then back the other way. “Hey!” came his cry of discovery. He had found that, in one direction (downstream), the wall was smooth and unadorned with blemishes; but, in the other direction (upstream), the sandstone wall was as rough and coarse as sandpaper, providing us with a subtle and very general orientation of the area’s watershed. If lost in the canyons of southern Utah, one could at least know, even in the dark, in which direction he or she might find a larger, main drainage and possibly a way out.

In his celebrated book, Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass, the acclaimed orienteer and aviator Harold Gatty references many such wilderglyphs as navigatory resources. In one chapter, he discusses the useful “signpost ant” and its “compass anthills.” “When their mounds are built in open ground,” Gatty says, “they are oriented most accurately to the southeast, so much so that the native humans of the area often use them to pick up bearings when they are lost in a fog or away from home.” Perhaps more applicable to the Utah traveler are Gatty’s discussions of wind and sand. The orientation of sand dunes and the wind-blown ripples across their faces can divulge direction as readily as a compass if the direction of a prevailing wind is known.

The beauty of wilderglyphs are in their conspicuous subtlety. They are a reminder to us that despite the somewhat chaotic progress of human civilization, the Earth and its faculties persevere readily discernible to those who are able and willing to look.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling, 2017

Sources & Additional Reading

Dasgupta, Shreya, The 15 most amazing landscapes and rock formations, BBC, Feb 5, 2015,
http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150205-the-15-most-amazing-landforms

vibills, 11 Natural Geological Formations That Are Absolutely Too Weird To Be Real, Buzzfeed, Jan 1, 2014,
https://www.buzzfeed.com/vibills/11-natural-geological-formations-that-are-absolute-hfde

Wierd Google Earth, Archives for Natural formations, WeirdGoogleEarth.com, http://www.weirdgoogleearth.com/category/natural-formations/