Core Stories

Marcus The Public Lands Llama: Backcountry Stargazing in Utah

Let The Season Begin

Before joining up with Randy Newberg this fall, Marcus the Public Lands Llama and his team at Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas kicked off the packing season with an overnight stargazing trip into one of Utah’s most diverse landscapes. Quickly becoming one of the most famous areas to visit in the state, Cooks Mesa in Fishlake National Forest on the western waterpocket fold of Capitol Reef National Park is known as one of the hidden gems of Utah. Anyone who has ventured into this backcountry knows the abundance of adventure, wonder, and scenic beauty it has to offer. But not all have been so fortunate.

On this trip, Marcus was joined by a family of three, who had never spent much time outdoors. To ensure the family's first outing was one to remember, and to allow them to soak in their surroundings, each llama carried up-to 90lbs of gear, meals, and water to their basecamp atop Cooks Mesa. At only three years old, this was Marcus’s first overnighter into the backcountry as well, so the experience was as new to him as it was his guests. To no surprise of the others, the difficult terrain was no match for his natural packing instincts.

This Is Your Land

Totaling a whopping 1.5-million-acre stretch of public land, Fishlake National Forest and Capitol Reef National Park are a recreationalist's paradise. Utah juniper groves, mountain meadows, big black basalt boulders, deep cut canyons, and subsiding basins flow into massive red sandstone cliffs. The diversity of the area also provides a unique home to vast amounts of wildlife - 300 animal species to be exact. In one outing, you may witness a great blue heron diving into a lake to snatch a fish, an elk drinking at the bank, and a wild turkey strutting across an open meadow.

Besides wildlife viewing, visitors have the opportunity to bust out their mountain bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs, as well as hike, camp, and hunt. For sportsmen, this area is home to desert bighorn sheep, turkey, upland birds, bear, cougar, and some of the largest elk and deer herds in the west, providing an opportunity for a trophy of a lifetime. If you're interested in hunting this area, be sure to checkout all of Utah's regulations and application deadlines.

If Fishlake National Forest and Capitol Reef National Park aren’t on your bucket list, they should be. Here are a few facts about the area you should know before heading out:

Public Land Facts

  • Capitol Reef National Park is only a 100-mile pinch in the earth’s crust, and no hunting is allowed in this area.
  • Despite out of this world backpacking opportunities, a permit is needed for overnight stays in the Capitol Reef National Park.
  • Fishlake National Forest is named after Fish Lake, a 5-mile-long, 128-foot-deep body of water that is the largest natural mountain lake in Utah.
  • Within FIsh Lake, Mackinaw trout provide anglers a challenge year round, with some weighing up to fifty pounds.
  • “Pando” is an aspen forest in Fishlake National Forest that originated from a single seed and spread by sending up new shoots from the expanding root system. It is believed to be the largest, most densely rooted organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. The clone spreads over 106 acres, consisting of over 40,000 individual trees.

Where the pavement ends, onX begins. View detailed maps of Fishlake National Forest, Capitol Reef National Park, and more.

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Where the pavement ends, onX begins. View detailed maps of Fishlake National Forest, Capitol Reef National Park, and more.
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