Just a short trip, paddlers were Kent Bell, Scott Campbell, Chris Campbell,and myself
One of the true rewards of kayaking is experiencing unusual places even if those places are in your own backyard and even if the paddle is just a 6 mile trip on a warm spring day. The Bear River is a curious river that starts in the Uintah Mountains and travels 500 miles to the Great Salt Lake which is about 90 miles from where it starts. Along the way it creates several critical wet lands and feeds thirsty agricultural efforts in this desert region.
I had spent the early morning higher in the mountains photographing Sage Grouse as they strutted their stuff at a lek in the snow that will melt and feed the river. That afternoon four of us headed to Cutler Marsh on the Bear River in one of the lower valleys. It was a trip I really wanted to make for two reasons. I like to be in the wetlands during the migration, and one of the group had just purchased a new flagship Cannon camera and was bringing it along. I wanted to see the camera but what made things interesting is that he had never paddled before. I kept my camera ready to capture a Robert Pruden moment. Just below Cutler marsh the Bear has carved a path through the north end of the Wellsville Range. The Wellsville range is a very narrow mountain that forms the north end of the Wasatch Range. The Wellsville lacks foothills giving it a narrow base and making it the steepest mountain in the world when measured by height in relation to width. Everyone in the region is aware of the Wellsville but few stop to think about how the Bear River gets from Cache Valley through the mountain where it flows through some farm land before it feeds the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and empties into the Great Salt Lake. The gorge is largely unnoticeable from the valleys on either side. On the north end of the Wellsvilles the mountains drop from about 9,300 feet to about 5,700 feet and about 1,300 feet below the Bear River has cut a path. The gorge was the destination of the afternoons paddle.
We launched in marsh land where the spring migration was underway. Waterfowl were abundant. We had a grebe sort of day seeing Eared, Horned, Clark’s, and Western Grebe. We paddled on flat water; a few engineers discovered the place and took full advantage of the opportunity building a dam in the early in 1900’s for the U&I Sugar company and later in 1927 Utah Power built a larger hydroelectric dam just down stream which still exists. As we paddled the gorge narrowed and the steep side hills were made more rugged by bands of cliffs. We saw mule deer above that had survived a hard winter and one large bloated moose that was not as lucky floated in the water. Grebes entertained us the entire way. Turkey vultures, Caspian and Forster’s Terns, and an occasional Belted Kingfisher added interest to the sky above. The silence was only broken by a train and a group of younger men out for a joy ride in a power boat. The railroads took advantage of the gorge and built a rail line on the south side of the gorge clinging to the steep canyon wall. When we approached the dam there was no security unlike other dams we have recently paddled near. Even the rope that creates a safe zone above the dam had broken loose during the winter. As we paddled in front of the dam we watched for any hydraulics that may make the trip a little more adventurous than we wanted. We paddled back with the sun and breeze to our backs.