Cold Desert Express

Pony Express monument

Northern Utah and the Wasatch Front have been experiencing extreme early spring drear. I was quite happy to get out of the house and into a canyon last weekend, but it was back to snow and cold all last week. We have had snow all the way to the floor of the Salt Lake/Jordan River Valley. Winter is keeping her cold frosty fingers wrapped tightly around this mountain town. This does perhaps have an upside – we have received our average annual precipitation for the water year (starting from October 2010.) This will make for a stunning wildflower season this summer. On the downside, heavy flooding is predicted once runoff is in full swing there might be some adverse consequences. I would like to see what the Jordan, Weber and Bear Rivers do to Great Salt Lake.

After a week of such drear, I had to get out of the house and at least get some sunshine. Intrepid Mike and I decided to take a Sunday drive out to the West Desert along the old Pony Express route south of the Dugway Proving Ground. The clouds finally broke and we ended up having a rather nice day. The West Desert, especially in springtime, has nothing to do with what the term desert usually conjures up. It is definitely a cold desert – for which this blog is named. This year it seems to be an especially cold desert. Snow still clings to the ranges and even fills some of the broad basins in between them.

Cabin at Simpson Springs

The drive over the Stansbury Range and down into the basin below Dugway proved uneventful. We drove on to Simpson Springs and enjoyed the view looking down into the broad basin and the ranges beyond from the preserved stone station house. From here, the road became were incredibly muddy since all of the snow is now running off of those ranges. There were several spots of incredible slop beyond Simpson Springs that blacked out the windshield to opaque as we drove through them. The Subaru held up quite well though and made it through the slop with no problems. The all wheel drive performed exquisitely. I speak now in positive tones about the fun, but these sort of rugged drives tend to test my patience. Once we got back to Tooele, we had to wash the car at the self-serve super-hose carwash.

Springtime in a West Desert Basin

There are some excellent early season hiking/camping opportunities along the route. I believe that the campgrounds do not get much traffic except during hunting season and this part of Utah does not get the summer tour traffic that the south does. I look forward to returning to take advantage of the clear skies and broad basin topography for stargazing. With the ranges so distant, the horizons are comparatively low. Salt Lake City is also distant enough that there should only be low level light pollution.

Most of the territory here is BLM land and there is some good cross country exploring to be done in the ranges before the weather heats up too much. If the snow remains, water will not even be much of a concern.

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