Utah Adventures with Maverik: Exploring the Western Desert
With the days getting longer, there’s no better time of year to explore the Beehive State, especially the culturally rich Western Desert. Unique in both topography and history, the barren landscape of the Western Desert is the perfect backdrop for an impromptu adventure.
Due to the severe drought this year, the Western Desert is more arid and drier than usual. It’s still a great place for adventure, but be careful that your activities don’t lead to a devastating forest fire.
From camping and ATVing to rockhounding and historic tours, there is an adventure for everyone in the Western Desert of Utah.
Pony Express Trail
You know the name of the college history class, but if you want to get an authentic feel for the kind of efficiency required for horses to haul mail from Missouri to California in just 10 days, head to the wilderness. from the West to discover the Pony Express. Trail, a national historic trail.
Visit Utah suggests exploring the Pony Express Trail with a two-day itinerary starting and ending in Salt Lake City. Since the trail is a “bumpy, dusty, lonely dirt road” you will need a 4WD vehicle, good maps, and plenty of snacks on the road. Keep in mind that cell service is spotty in the Western Desert – but hey, if horses can hack it, so can you.
Dugway geode beds
If you like rocks, you can definitely ride the Utah Western Desert. The Dugway Geode beds in Juab County are, according to the Bureau of Land Management, a “rockhounding hotspot”. Amateur geologists – or anyone who likes sparkly things, for that matter – can get their money’s worth in under three hours outside of Salt Lake City.
Located about 50 miles on the Pony Express Trail, it’s easy to find the exit to the Dugway Geode Beds. Bring a pickaxe and shovel to dig geodes. Look for places other people have dug and you might find pieces of junk on the ground or near the surface. You can smash the geodes with a hammer or take them to a rock store to have them opened.
For more information on geode beds, or tips for getting a successful cache, visit Utah Geological Survey.
Nature lovers, bird watchers and history buffs, unite! Fish Springs, a national wildlife refuge in Utah’s Western Desert, has it all – including a wetland oasis in the middle of the desert. Established in 1959, Fish Springs is a 17,992 acre habitat for migratory birds, with 10,000 acres classified as wetlands, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
For amateur historians, Fish Springs is also of cultural significance. According to Explore Utah, the area served as an important crossing station on the Pony Express thanks to its constant supply of water. Today, the habitat is divided into nine sections, with road access to each of them.
Col de Fivemile
If speed is more about speed, a visit to the Utah Western Desert isn’t complete without a stop (and one way) at the Fivemile Pass Recreation Area. Bring an OHV, ATV, mountain bike, or other two- or four-wheeled adventure machine and get ready to play in a desert playground less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City.
If you have more than a day, be sure to pack a sleeping bag and a cooler of treats and spend the night under the stars (or in a tent), as scattered camping is allowed in the recreation area without fees, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Bonus: you will even find a few toilets there.
Old towns and ruins
There is no better place to stumble upon a page of a history book than in the Western Desert, where the mining industry has built the kind of cities you only see in Western movies. Some places that were once thriving communities are now ghost towns. Others were isolated huts where the first inhabitants tried to make a living in inhospitable conditions.
One of the best-known ghost towns, Silver City, sits in the heart of the Tintic mining district and features the remains of a booming silver mining trade in the late 1800s. Several ruins – including a factory ore sampling – survive today. Two other cities where the new and the old are both evident are Eureka and Ophir.
Be aware that many of these Old West locations are on private property and many of them still have active mining claims. Your desire for adventure does not entitle you to contravene. Stick to designated public roads, leave everything as you find it, and watch out for old structures or mines.
Summer is almost here, so if you’re up for adventure, fill up your gasoline and head west – where adventure abounds in the Western Desert of Utah. And don’t forget that drought conditions this year mean an increased risk of forest fires. Please follow safe practices when recreating in the Utah backcountry.