By Selene Muldowney
Utah is far from just being another state, her curves sculptured by wind, water, and time. Her landscapes perfect for outdoor adventures, land perfected by time, nature beckoning the spirit to wander and explore. She is a state of mind. She is a place where memories are forged, her geological features draw both locals and visitors on land and beneath the watering holes.
Utah is the quintessential definition of an outdoor-adventure paradise: alpine forests filled with lush green coniferous trees, wildflowers dotting the landscape, velvety moss adorning the trees and ground while offering shelter to small beetles and grubs, succulents adapted to the weather changes and miles of dry desert that conjure up images of a lone Allosaurus hunting for her next meal.
Her natural landscape a dichotomy between a desert boasting canyons, spires, arches, and hoodoos and incredible bodies of water including the Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, one of the largest bodies of freshwater west of the Mississippi covering 96,000 acres, and a vast array of hot springs and reservoirs. The Fisher Towers just outside of Moab leave visitors in awe as they look up at the soaring sandstone spires reaching toward the skies seemingly touching the hand of God. As a canyoneering destination, Utah is home to hundreds of remote and rugged canyons visitors can scramble, rappel, and swim through. Backpacking on Neon Canyon offers visitors incredible photogenic opportunities – her beauty seemingly endless.
In 1964 the Flamingo Gorge dam was built, creating a 91-mile long lake in Northeastern Utah. The 350 miles of shoreline, located between Yellowstone and Arches National Park, is the perfect place to set up camp and enjoy a reflective paddling excursion. The more adventurous folks can delve into off-road expeditions across the Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park: 2,000 acres of salmon pink sand holding the title of the largest sand dunes on the Colorado Plateau. At every turn visitors and locals can find new locations to explore, five national parks, seven national monuments, five national forests, forty-three state parks and 22.8 million acres of public lands.
Snowcapped mountains of the remote mountain ranges in Southern Utah present unsurpassed beauty; towering fins of orange sandstone cut by erosion into bridges, arches and strange “hoodoos” of sculpted red rock; dramatic faults where the earth twists; and gentle, rolling hummocks of wind polished rock.
A vast expanse of mountain, plateau, and high desert defines a transitional stretch of land between the forests of the north and the red rock canyons of the south. Central Utah is an area rich in natural resources from farmlands to coalfields, to hunting. South of Price, the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry has the densest concentration of Jurassic-era dinosaur bones on the planet.
The Wasatch Mountains draw folks to Northern Utah, enticing the avid traveler to load up on the high alpine scenery, campsites, hiking, and biking. Within a short distance the Great Salt Lake invites divers to explore her underwater scenery.
The graceful natural beauty of Utah intrigues, inspires, and invites the traveler to explore her landscapes, yet she can quickly anger, her skies filled with furry, her roads dangerous, and her strength a reminder of our human frailty. The Mokee (or Moki) Dugway, located on Utah Route 261 just north of Mexican Hat, is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of a cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. Three miles of steep, unpaved road offer drivers a thrilling experience that can leave travelers both in sheer abject terror while overwhelmed with intrigue and awe. The heavy thunderstorms and flash floods easily overcome the roads as the water quickly fills the arroyos creating lakes where dry land once stood.
With endless potential for different activities, a traveler could spend a lifetime exploring Utah and barely discover all she has to offer. And while travelers explore Utah from the sky, the land, and over the water, what secrets she holds under the water is waiting to be discovered.
While the landlocked state does not formally attract scuba divers as a destination, she does offer the curious diver unique geothermal springs and reservoirs to dive into. The hot springs offer year-round diving with water temperatures heated by the mineral water at a constant range of 90 – 96 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the more popular geothermal springs is the Homestead Crater, located in Midway at an altitude of 5714 feet and hidden within a 55-foot tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock located on the Homestead property.
Over 10,000 years in the making, The Crater formed when melting snow on the Wasatch Mountains seeped deep within the earth. Two miles below the surface, the earth’s interior heated the water. As it percolated upward, it picked up minerals, which were then deposited on the surface — eventually forming the volcano-shaped limestone deposit called The Homestead Crater. The property owners have created a tunnel through the rock wall at ground level, lending access to custom-built decks and a soaking area where guests can enjoy the crystal-clear mineral water. Once inside, visitors can go swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, enjoy a therapeutic soak or even take a paddle board yoga class. They offer scuba diving in the Craters warm water 360 days per year. The real attraction is that when it is really cold outside in the winter, our water is warm and clear.
For the past 50 years Dave Mohowski, owner and training instructor at Dive Utah, has been sharing his passion for diving in Utah. His shop offers everything from service to trips in exotic locations. He routinely takes his divers to Homestead Crater.
“For being an inland area we stay busy getting divers certified. We have maybe a dozen or so shops in Utah – most of our divers are local. One of my favorite places to dive is the Homestead Crater. It is truly amazing with 95-degree water year-round. When the temps drop around here in the winter – we have clear water and while there isn’t much to see it is a nice big area to dive.
Dani Errett, who works at Scuba Utah located in Salt Lake City, also loves diving Homestead Crater.
“Homestead Crater draws folks from all over since it is a geothermic hot spring with 80-90 degree water and just about 60 feet deep. We do a lot of open water certifications there. The diving is no different than diving any other location – it is just a lot warmer. This particular site is shaped almost like an hourglass – not much in the way of fish or wildlife but the geothermic activity is really cool to witness.”
Other local hotspots include: Bonneville Seabase, Meadow Hot Spring, Blue Lake, and Meadow Hot Spring.
The Bonneville Seabase
The Bonneville Seabase, about 35 miles west of Salt Lake City, is a geothermally heat salt water high altitude min-ocean filled with colorful tropical fish, snorkelers and scuba divers. Out in the middle nowhere in Salt Lake’s west desert. This warm spring site was a former bath site, then dumpsite for early western settler. In 1988 George Sanders and Linda Nelson purchased the site and put a lot of work into fixing it up. At the Seabase, the warm water naturally combines with the salt crystals on its way to the surface so by the time it reaches the three main pools; the waters salinity is almost exactly that of sea water allowing the pools to accommodate a plethora of sea life. The Seabase has nurse sharks, Crevalle Jack and Pampano, grouper, pork fish and a variety of other tropical fish. These fish are usually tropical fish that grew too large for local aquariums and were donated to become residents Seabase.
Meadow Hot Spring
Meadow Hot Spring, located just 4 miles south of Fillmore, nearly in the center of the state on popular I-15 is the quiet little town of Meadow. Meadow Hot Spring is located just west of the town in an open field. At an elevation 4,767 feet the spring is located on private property, but the landowner has continued to make it accessible to the public. Water temperatures range around 100 degrees. An adult can stand about chest deep around most of the perimeter, and someone has strung a rope with a large PVC pipe on it across the center which provides a cozy spot to sit. This pool remains crystal clear due to the fact that the water runs off at a fairly quick rate, and down a small stream. The stream also shows signs of improvement with a pea gravel base and large solid rocks running the edge to create a shallow wading stream for the kids to play in safety. While neither pond is very deep it’s still fun just to dive.
Blue Lake is an oasis in the Utah West Desert, south of Bonneville Salt Flats, approximately 15 miles south of Wendover, Nevada. Geothermal springs of fresh water support a relatively rich wetland environment and feed several pools, of which Blue Lake is the deepest. The surroundings consist of salt flats, rocky outcrops, and desert scrub vegetation. The property is part of the Utah Test and Training Range (U.S. Air Force), but the site is operated by the state of Utah as a wildlife management area with open access to the public. Because the pools remain warm year-round, the site attracts wildlife as well as scuba divers.
Located near the Utah/Nevada border, Belmont Springs in northern Utah, between Plymouth and Tremonton on U-81 Belmont Hot Springs (Udy Hot Springs) is a series of small springs and large lake. At just over 4300 feet, and nearly 30 feet deep Belmont is one of the few hot deep SCUBA certification sites in the Western United States and is closed to diving from May to October. Water temperatures can be over 110 degrees in the summer months. While Belmont is limited in depth it is a great place to go to just get wet or to refresh before a trip.
Lake Powell is the largest reservoir in Utah. It stretches from two miles south of the state line in Arizona upstream approximately 186 miles to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. It is known as an aquatic playground in the desert. It is named after John Wesley Powell, who led the first exploration of the Colorado River. Not long after Powell’s voyage, permanent settlements were established at the easiest and most reliable river crossings. Divers and fisherman will find a variety of aquatic life including: Rainbow trout, striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, walleye, the channel and black bull head catfish, green sunfish, black crappie, flannelmouth, humpback suckers , and much more.
Mohowski has had the opportunity to visit all the local dive spots, “There are no special requirements to dive in a hot spring, typically the water is warmer and it allows us to go diving in the winter months. Seabase is a salt water hot spring located about an hour out of Salt Lake City. It has tropical fish but the vis is an issue. The downside can be the vis but then again, we can dive the colder months. Blue Lake is also a great place to dive – 55 feet deep with water temps ranging from 65 in the winter to 85 in the summer months. Lots of fish although the bottom is silty.”
Three other local favorites include Bear Lake and Flamming George, and Sand Hollow.
Bear Lake is located northeast of Salt Lake City and often called Caribbean of the Rockies for its intense turquoise-blue water is a large natural lake on the Utah/Idaho border. The unique color is due to the reflection of the limestone deposits suspended in the lake. Bear Lake is one of the best dive sites the state has to offer during the summer. Altitude is not extreme and the water between June and September is nice. There are a variety of artificial structures in the lake, from the “wreck and Car Lot” and Cisco Beach, on Bear Lake’s Eastside area, Cisco Beach attracts divers with its rocky bottom and a steep drop-off close to shore.
Flamming George. Located On US-191 between Green River, WY and Vernal, UT Flaming Gorge Reservoir is one of the largest bodies of water in Utah. It was built to impound spring floods in the Green River and store them for year-round use for Arizona, Nevada, and southern California. The reservoir is second only to Lake Powell in size and recreational popularity.
Sand Hollow is located in the southwest corner of the state, approximately 15 miles east of St. George and is the state’s newest reservoir completed in March 2002. Sand Hollow at full capacity is over 1,000 acres. It was opened to fishing in 2004. Eight- to sixteen-inch bass are extremely abundant, and there are a surprising number of larger bass ranging to over five pounds. In addition to the bass, bluegill are abundant and are easily caught, even by novice anglers. The scuba and swimming area is south of the boat ramp and is marked with buoys. The scuba area has a maximum depth of 45′ depending on time of year.
“Bear Lake and Flamming George are two locale favorites during the summer months. Both have something to offer the local diver and often visitors like the clear vis at Bear Lake,” states Mohowski.
“Sand Hollow offers great diving – it is a couple of hours away from Salt Lake City. It is a man-made state park owned reservoir with a number of underwater attractions including a VW Bus and an airplane. The local dive community worked to make this reservoir more diver friendly, boats and divers are generally separated and most folks prefer to do certs at this location.”
If you haven’t considered Utah as a diving location, think again. While you plan your next adventure be sure to schedule time to not only visit Utah’s beautiful topography but also set aside a moment or two to take a dip in her hot springs.