JONES HOLE - Don't let the name fool you. Jones Hole isn't the armpit or even the belly button of Uintah County.
The deep canyon with the bubbling spring feeding the Green River near the Colorado border was named by John Wesley Powell on his second expedition in 1871 to honor topographer Stephen Vandiver Jones.
Locals tell a lesser-known, but more colorful, story. According to the Jones Hole Trail Guide by the Dinosaur Nature Association, a man named Charley Jones hid in the remote canyon in 1883 fearing he had killed somebody. When he heard the person hadn't died, Jones reportedly said: "You mean I can finally get out of this hole?"
And what a hole it is. People come from around the world to visit the national hatchery there, to take a hike along the creek to the Green River, play in a waterfall and fish for trout.
Steep red cliffs, some rising more than 1,600 feet from the canyon floor, frame one of the most remote - and certainly the most scenic - of the country's 70 federal fish hatcheries.
"There are certainly worse places to work," says Richard "Kip" Bottomley, project leader for the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery run by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The hatchery includes 10 outdoor raceways for rearing species like rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, as well as kokanee salmon. Visitors are welcome to walk around the complex, and hatchery employees will provide tours by appointment or as their schedules allow. The hatchery also has a picnic area and restroom.
Construction on Jones Hole Hatchery began in 1968 as mitigation for the dam at Flaming Gorge Reservoir (part of the Colorado River Storage Project) and to help meet the federal government's obligations to provide fish to American Indian tribes.
An annual average of about 1 million fish weighing 200,000 pounds are grown at Jones Hole. The trout and salmon are planted primarily in Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Trout are also shipped to waters on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
Nearby, smaller Utah waters that become home to fish from Jones Hole include Steinaker, Red Fleet, Matt Warner, Calder and Big Sand Wash reservoirs.
The open hatchery is becoming a rare thing. State hatcheries in Utah have gone to enclosed raceways to prevent the introduction of fish diseases through other wildlife. It is a common problem and one Bottomley has to deal with frequently at Jones Hole.
Great blue heron, mink, kingfishers and river otters all visit the hatchery for a quick and easy meal.
"In the last three years we have probably relocated 15 to 20 otters," Bottomley said. "Besides the potential for introducing disease, they can eat a lot of fish. Two years ago we had three or four hanging around the hatchery, and we figure they ate around 5,000 fish."
State wildlife biologists trap the river otters and use them to augment existing populations or create new populations across Utah.
Some people visit the remote canyon for the hatchery alone, but others stride right past the concrete raceways to the Jones Creek Trail. The scenic 4-mile trail, which wanders onto Dinosaur National Monument land shortly after its start on the south end of the hatchery, runs along the creek all the way to the Green River. For the same reason the hatchery does well - year-round 55-degree spring water - the fish in the creek also thrive and provide good fishing. A state regulation allows the use of artificial flies and lures only and a limit of two trout - only one longer than 15 inches - to licensed anglers.
Bill Sharpe of State College, Pa., visited Jones Hole with a couple of buddies in April. The group makes an annual trip to Utah to fish the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir and head to Jones Hole for a change of scenery.
"It is completely different than fishing in Pennsylvania and even the Green, and that is part of the allure for us," Sharpe said. "Where else can you feel like you are driving to the end of the Earth and find a place like this? It really is amazing."
Non-anglers enjoy the pretty hike along the creek and usually are headed to the Ely Creek waterfall and the ancient and well-marked Deluge Shelter archaeological site. The waterfall is roughly halfway down the trail and is a great place for hot hikers to cool off.
Dinosaur National Monument manages two campsites and a vault toilet near Ely Creek, but a free backcounty permit is required to use the sites. Call 435-781-7700 to make a reservation.
Two miles on down the trail, hikers will encounter the Green River. Campsites are also available here, but only to people on river trips.
* BRETT PRETTYMAN can be contacted at brettp@ sltrib.com or 801-257-8902.
If you go to the hole
The Jones Hole National Fish hatchery is 40 miles northeast of Vernal and is best accessed by heading east on 500 North in Vernal and following the signs. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/joneshole/.