Off Road and On the Water

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"Two boat loads of Utah publishers and their wives push off for a short river trip with Hatch River Expeditions, June 26, 1958." Courtesy of the Uintah County (UT) Library via Mountain West Digital Library.

Visitors to the Mountain West have always been intrigued by the vast rivers and lakes, rising mountains, and open plateaus. As time passed, they were able to traverse these natural wonders in new ways—from riverboats to rafts, from horses to cars and even to ATVs.

The Green River, which runs from Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (established in 1968) near Vernal, Utah, to Dinosaur National Monument (established in 1915) is a popular route for contemporary river dogs to travel. Other options include the Colorado River and the White River. White water rafting offers unique geological views, a glimpse into lands important to America’s frontier and outlaw history, plus Native American ruins and rock art.

Likewise, the Mountain West region offers opportunities for off-roading over red rock, desert, or mountains. The Paiute ATV trail in central Utah is touted as being the best organized trail system in the country with a main loop of 250 miles providing views of the natural landscape. West of Marysvale stretches the mouth of Utah’s “Canyon of Gold,” the landscape where, from at least 1865, flecks of gold in the creek and veins of gold inside the canyon walls have drawn thousands.

Access can be a double-edged sword. In many areas, ATV use is damaging the environment through increased erosion, introduction of noxious plant species, and impact on wildlife. As with rafting, which has increased traffic (and trash) in protected areas, national parks administrators continue to work to provide area access while balancing environmental concerns and protections.