A Day Trip to the Fishlake Mountains
In my quest to spend as much time in the mountains as possible before snow closed the roads, I suggested to Tom that we scout out the Fishlake National Forest to the north. The Fishlakes have more peaks above 11,000 feet than the Dixie Mountains but the real differences are the increased precipitation they receive and the richer soil which generally makes the forest appear more lush, with more aspens and firs growing in higher elevations. In the valleys the increased moisture manifests as green meadows with meandering streams, damp springs, and lots of cow pies. Seriously, for as many sheep as there are grazing in the Dixie National Forest there appear to be on the order of ten times more cows in the Fishlake National Forest: We saw them everywhere!
The national forest is huge and is broken into four districts but Tom had been to the eponymous Fish Lake and suggested we start our tour there. Fish Lake, by the way, is named because yes, it has a lot of fish. It’s the largest natural mountain lake in the state, extending 5 miles within a valley, surrounded by mountains and high plateau. But first, we had some stops to make en route. Tom had brought me to Cedar Breaks National Monument a couple days before but since we were passing it again he stopped so I could catch a (different) view in the morning sunlight. Sandstone/red rock glows as you’ve probably heard me say before, and the most beautiful times are when the low rays hit it after sunrise and before sunset. The warmth you feel from the rock is incredible.
We turned to go east onto SR-143 – a whole new section of the Cedar Mountains for me – and coasted down to our next stop at Panguitch Lake. The lake is a lovely oasis of blue in the midst of the arid foothills, a beautiful spot despite the low end-of-season water levels.
After another hour and some of driving we arrived at Fish Lake, a low alpine lake that sits at just under 9,000 feet. The west shore along SR-25 is lined with stands of birch, most of them still vibrantly green in early September, which made for a very enjoyable walk along the water’s edge. As we continued on, the meadows began expanding, and the cow sightings began to multiply. By the time we reached the far end of the lake at Point Reflection, the tree cover returned and the meadows gave way briefly to rocky outcroppings.
Leaving the shoreline and heading north the mountains become more arid, the green grass of the valley gradually yellowing and the stands of trees decreasing in favor of broad meadows and plains. The clouds that had been increasing were now casting broad shadows, which added another layer of texture to the eroded hills and sloped plateau. Finally, the road descended and after one last hurrah of firs, the landscape changed to sparse clusters of pinyon. But there were still cows.