Fall camping in the Unitas

Cold enough that even the mountain dog was willing to be covered.

It’s finally desert season, right? Spring and fall are pretty much ideal in southern Utah: not too hot, not too cold. Maybe a puffy jacket at night, but probably you won’t need socks. Plus, the mountains are getting snow and rain, there is mud and the aspens have already turned.

So, last weekend, we went to the mountains. The weather was grumpy with chilly temps, wind, and clouds. But the sun felt glorious when it was around and there was almost no one else to be seen.

I set out for a run/hike up towards Amethyst Lake, at about 10,000 feet. I was going light and fast with water, a wind jacket, and a wool beanie. The trail, like most of the trails in the Uintas, is a combination of cobbles and creek crossings, as well as mud puddles and downed trees, along with some brief but lovely sections of buff dirt. After I navigated a boulder field and then found myself tip-toeing through a bog, with snow in the shadows, the wind chill and some particularly dark clouds convinced me to turn around. I did get a view of Lamotte Peak, but not the whole cirque. It’s possible a recent reminiscence of another scary day on the mountains affecting my judgment… But it was cold up there!

RK, meanwhile, was fishing Stillwater Creek. Smaller cutthroats were caught on teeny tiny parachute dry flies and a big brook trout on a streamer of some kind. Overall, with the wind and cold, the fishing was not-great to medium, at best.

We met back at the truck for beer and sunshine, which were both absolutely delicious. We talked about driving home, but with an empty campground and a 6” down sleeping bag, why not stay and enjoy the solitude?

Usually—in the summer, anyway— this area is packed with campers. Dispersed camping spots off of the road are also usually filled with RVs or trailers. The nearby trailhead parking and overflow lots are typically full. Last weekend there was us and one other guy, a young hunter who slept in his old red suburban and was up as early as we were.

“I don’t think any human enjoys the wind,” Alex Honnold, the climber, said in a radio interview recently. “Everyone feels psychologically frayed in the wind.” Wind creates all kinds of challenges for being in the outdoors. It can knot your fishing line, blow you off a trail, blow you off your bike, blow sand into your eyes/ears/face/tent/everything, leave your skin feeling raw, make something so much easier or so much harder (depending on whether you travel with or against it). But wind makes air tangible. You can hear it moving through the landscape, you can see it as it sways the grass or lifts the dog’s ears.

Saturday night, tucked in at the campground, we were sheltered from the wind but it serenaded us all night long. Not howling, exactly, but constant. Rhythmic like the ocean but also chaotic, like a roaring river. I pictured it as fat ribbons of air moving through the bare aspen trunks and the needles of the pine trees, wrapping up in each other and then separating, in an extended dance. Sometimes loud, sometimes quieter, but never still.

Sunday morning was chilly, though warmer than we expected. Since it was still dark when we got up thanks to eager and hungry dogs, coffee and egg sandwiches were leisurely. Once the sun was up, we fished on the Bear River until it started spitting cold rain. We weren’t catching anything, anyway, and the wind… Besides, I wanted pancakes! Instead, we discovered the Woodland Biscuit Company, which is the best second breakfast I have had in ages. Definitely worth a stop if you are anywhere nearby.


Booze: O’Dell’s Isolation Ale (seasonal), Gin Rickee, and some Scotch.

Camping: Stillwater campground (possibly also known as Christmas Meadows campground). We are not usually fans of campgrounds, but while the water was turned off, the pay tube was taped closed, the toilet was open and it was almost deserted. It provided quick access to the river and the trail and was sheltered from the wind.

Flies: Sculpzilla streamer, #20 Parachute Adams

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA