Brighton - Close to DIA, still in CO (which the longer I'm here, the more I like), familiar territory, moderate temperatures (relatively).
Vernal - Something new, somewhat near Wasatch and all their great snow, low cost of living, DNM in my backyard.
Rock Springs - 100 miles south of the Wind Rivers?
Thanks in advance!
Personally, I would pick Vernal if the goal is being close to great outdoor activities, but it does have drawbacks. Here are some of the main ones:
#1. Winters are somewhat cold and when an inversion sets in it can go weeks without reaching freezing.
#2. The majority of the people in Vernal tend to be quite anti-wilderness.
#3. Vernal is an oil and gas town and has the feel of one, though it is cleaner than most mining towns (such as Craig).
Vernal is right where the mountains meet the desert, so in very close proximity it has alpine scenes, river rafting, petroglyphs and pictographs, plenty of slot canyons and huge cliffs. You don't have to go to the Wasatch to get good powder as Vernal sits right at the base of the Uinta Mountains, but that part of the Uintas isn't as rugged as the Northwest section. The Eastern Uintas are more like most of the Sawatch, but in a wilder state (due to lack of mining). The NW Uintas (which are more like the Elk Range) are a long way from Vernal. Dinosaur area is pretty cool and there are some small quirky places such as Fantasy Canyon:http://www.summitpost.org/fantasy-canyon/394820
Vernal has another great advantage. You can call me to go do stuff and to show you around.
At least until I get out of this place and move.
Rock Springs has the same drawbacks as Vernal and has a similar climate. The access to outdoor activities is less convenient. Most of the close places don't have as good of scenery as the best areas around Vernal and you have to travel farther to get to the good stuff. It does have one advantage over Vernal (or Brighton) though, no state taxes
The Rock Springs area has some really cool stuff around, you just have to travel farther to see it. There are some interesting things to see around Flaming Gorge. The Red Desert has some interesting badlands and scenery, but it isn't on the same scale as say Dinosaur National Monument. The access to sothern Wind Rivers is as you say, about 100 miles so that is an attraction. I haven't seen any place in Colorado or Utah in an alpine sense that can compare with the area around Cirque of the Towers. One disadvantage about Rock Springs is that access to the backcountry in winter isn't easy since the mountain roads typically aren't plowed. If you want to climb something above timberline in winter, you are talking a multi-day trip. Acess to most other hiking/climbing areas is also somewhat limited in winter. Vernal is similar in that regard, but on the plus side in winter it's 2-3 hours to the San Rafael Swell and less than four to Moab so you can at least escape the winter that way and there are some places you can access in winter around town.
As far as Brighton goes, I've worked several winters in the area and it doesn't have near the access to the Wilderness as Vernal, but it's a big city, so it's a whole different animal altogether. Someone else can talk about Brighton. As said, Rock Springs is like Vernal without as good of access to the backcountry, but with no state taxes.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.