Winter Desert Wilderness

Boredom overtakes one quickly in that in-between season of autumn and winter. The characteristics of this season (at least in Salt Lake City) are: not enough snow to do anything in the mountains and too cold and icy for any kind of the usual Utah canyon exploration. In this season, the immediate Salt Lake area actually offers a couple of opportunities on the edge of the Great Basin. One of these, Antelope Island State Park, is quite an obvious choice and this in-between season is the best time because spring brings particularly malicious tiny biting insects.

Another such area is the Cedar Mountains Wilderness. It is a “drôle de Wilderness” (see drôle de guerre) in the United States land preservation system. It was declared a wilderness area in 2002 by a group of politicians who are historically motivated to act against wilderness protection. It is protected because the range blocks a natural corridor to a proposed nuclear waste storage facility. This effectively killed the facility – this is at least a shred of proof that everyone need wilderness and the valuable benefits it provides. Make no mistake, the area itself is worthy of the designation. Not only for its natural characteristics which include some unique geologic features, or its small herd of wild horses, but it was also through this short-range that emigrants and forty-niners passed through Utah Territory on their way to California. The area is one of the easternmost ranges of the Basin and Range system that stretches through Western Utah all the way through Nevada to California. The range also includes Hastings Pass – part of the “Hastings Cutoff” the route the Donner party took on their ill-fated trek west to California.

Exploring this area for a day or two in late autumn winter is actually ideal. It makes good surveying for possible trips in warmer spring or fall. Water is essentially unavailable in the area with the exception of a few watering holes and intermittent springs. In the cooler weather and with the assistance of either a GPS or map and compass some of the potential water sources can be identified for longer treks in spring or early summer before temperatures rise and parch this arid range. I have not yet had the opportunity to explore this area in spring when wildflowers should be worth seeing – especially this year with our above average precipitation and snowpack. I was excited to find some interesting geologic formations exemplary of this section of the Great Basin.

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