Salt Lake City to Evanston, WY – I-80, to Flaming Gorge

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The start of Day 2 required a little backtracking.  I had used Interstate 80 on my return from Park City the night before, so I once again tackled the Wasatch Mountains in 4-lane comfort–only this time, in the opposite direction.  I-80 is everything you’d expect in a road that cuts through these impressive hills.

I realized quickly that Day 2 would be a day spent dodging clouds.  As I started out, the skies didn’t look promising…

… but by the time I reached Echo Reservoir, at the edge of the interstate, blue skies ruled.  There’s a good parking area for eastbound travelers, that allows you to view the lake.

Be sure to check out the sandstone cliffsides near the I-80/I-84 junction.  They look a lot like some of the rocks you’d see in Arches National Park, minus a few thousand years of erosion.

Evanston, Wyoming is the first big thing east of Salt Lake City, but you soon learn that in Wyoming, “big” is a relative term.  With only about half a million people in the entire state, each town receives just a tiny share of the population.  When in Wyoming, don’t be surprised if, after traveling for an hour without passing a single home or business, you come upon a solitary town with just one tiny main street.

Evanston’s Main Street is just a block off the main route through town, and it’s worth at least a passing glance.  A few old ghost signs add to the western feel which, here, is definitely authentic.

The old Strand Theater may once again see the flicker of a film.  Fire destroyed it in May, 2007, well over a year before I visited.  It was quite obvious that in that time, almost nothing had happened, except for the addition of an appeal to someone to save the old structure, spray-painted on the plywood that now covered the entrance.  A few weeks after I stopped by, I learned the owners agreed to donate the structure to a local agency, which will attempt to raise money and restore the Strand.

The town’s most outstanding Main Street building is the red brick structure, which used to be home to the Blyth & Fargo Company.  The old ghost signs on the front and side have been repainted…

… so I drove around back for a more authentic look.  I always find better photographic opportunities in alleyways, anyhow.

According to a lengthy account of Blyth & Fargo’s history, the store did business in Evanston for 109 years, and benefited from the town’s boom days in the 50’s and 60’s.  The article doesn’t say exactly when it went out of business, but my math suggests it closed in the early 80’s.

Leaving Evanston, stay on Interstate 80 for a while, until you reach Wyoming Route 414.

From Evanston/Fort Bridger to Utah Via Wyoming Rte. 414

After you leave Evanston, you get your first taste of some of Wyoming’s immense, empty land.  Sometimes it’s hard to realize how quickly the mountains disappear, then suddenly re-appear, especially when it seems you can see for a hundred miles.  I took this picture through the windshield, as I dropped down off a plateau filled with wind-generating turbines.

At I-80 exit 34, take the business loop and head through Fort Bridger. Just past the town, Wyoming Rte. 414 turns south. At the state line, Wyo 414 turns into Utah Route 43.

The easy route across southern Wyoming would be Interstate 80.  But, it took almost no time for me to get bored of that.  Instead, I had another, much riskier plan laid out.  I hoped to first drive south to Flaming Gorge, then piece together several dirt roads, in order to cut a path across the very southern edge of the state (and occasionally dip into Colorado in the process).  If my plan didn’t work, if a road was impassable, or if I simply couldn’t find my way, it would mean an extensive detour back to the Interstate.  But not following this path would mean places like Flaming Gorge would be too far out of the way.  So, I decided to give it a try, all the while knowing I might be in for a lot of backtracking.

Route 414 instantly became more interesting than the superslab highway.  It was flat at first, but eventually took me into some badlands…

… and past some rolling fields, with mountains in the distance.  You’ll also pass through an area known for the annual “rendezvous” of fur trappers, held from 1825 to 1840 or so.  The “rendezvous” gave the trappers a chance to trade and stock up on supplies, without returning east, and enjoy the consumption of large amounts of whiskey.

By the time you reach the Utah state line, the landscape grows even more interesting.

As you travel up and down over the landscape in this area, you’re passing through a number of distinct geological zones.  There are signs to tell you what kinds of rock you’re passing.  With facts like, “Graveyard of Jurassic Dinosaurs” and “Home of Fossilized Squid”, it’s more interesting than you’d expect.

When you reach the tiny town of Manila, Utah, watch for Utah Route 44 to turn left, headed south.  If you stay on Route 43, you’ll end up back in Wyoming again, headed up the western side of Flaming Gorge (as opposed to circling around its beautiful southern end).

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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