West Desert Road-trip
We take a spring time trip through the Utah West Desert. Almost 300 miles of dirt road. We stop at a wildlife reserve, take a dip in several hot springs, look at funny shaped rocks and find a big hole in the ground.
Monday, May 4, 2020
We left home at around 10 am and drove straight west from Lehi for about 120 miles. After leaving the pavement near 5 Mile Pass, we were on dirt road for the next 220 miles. The first 90 miles of dirt were on the Pony Express Trail.
The minute we hit the dirt road, it was so washboarded that we could drive without shaking the van to pieces. So we stopped and lowered the air pressure in the tires. This made a huge difference and except for a few exceptions, we could drive 40-50 mph.
The trip along the Pony Express Route was nice and there was very little traffic or campers along the way. We probably only passed 4-5 other vehicles. It took us about 2-1/2 hours to drive to the Fish Springs Wildlife Preserve.
This preserve is in the middle of nowhere. It has over 10,000 acres of water and is pretty much the only water in the area. Therefore is it used by all kinds of migratory birds as a stopping point. I wish we would have brought a book to identified what birds we saw, but it was quite a variety.
Due to the pandemic, the visitor’s center was closed, but Eva was happy to see that the bathrooms were open. There were several houses where the rangers live, but we didn’t see any of them around. We drove out into the preserve and parked between a few ponds to eat lunch. We only saw one other pickup truck during out time in the preserve.
Unfortunately, it was a little too early in the year to be in the desert. I was hoping to see the green grass and wild flowers, but most plants were still dead from the winter, but near the water, the green was starting to come out.
From the preserve we continued west to Snake Valley and drove south through the valley. We continued through Trout Creek, which had a church and one or two other houses, and then through Partoun, where the West Desert High/Jr High/Elementary School is at. We heard from one of the ranchers that they normally have 1-2 graduates each year, but there were none for 2020, so they didn’t have to worry about canceling graduation due to the pandemic. There were several ranches spread out through the valley. Some look big and prosperous, and others not so much.
Our camp that night was at the Gandy Warm Springs. We arrived around 4:30 pm and had the place to ourselves. After getting camp set up we took a dip in both the lower pool and upper pool. Gandy is not a hot spring, but a warm spring. The water is around 80 degrees. It took a minute to settle into the water, but once you were in the water it was nice. The water is crystal clear and has none of the minerals or algae that many hot springs have. The upper spring is just below the hole in the mountain where the water comes from and is slightly warmer, so we spent most of our time there.
After soaking in the water, we sat around camp and Eva made fajitas for dinner.
May 5, 2020
Before breakfast the next morning we took a walk to up the canyon for a mile or so. It was a good way to stretch out for the morning. We ate breakfast and broke camp around 9:30 am. Our plan was to tour the Crystal Ball cave at 10 am. They require reservations, and I had called the day before, but was only able to leave a message. The cave is on BLM land, however, the Bates Family Ranch has contracted with the BLM to give the tours. The cave tours have been closed due to the Corniavirus, but had just opened a few days before. We drove to the ranch and talked to Gerald Bates. He is too old to give the tours now, so his kids lead the tours. They were out of town and did not get our message. So we will have to come back another time.
Gerald was glad to have some visitors so he talked to us for about 45 minutes and showed us the cabins and campsites that he rents out. He said he is usually full this time of year, but everything in slow due to the Cornavirus.
From the ranch we headed east along the old Hwy 6/50. It is completely dirt, but in nice shape. Our first stop was in Marjum Pass at an old Hermit Cave. The cave is a ways up a narrow and rugged canyon.
From the BLM web page: The Hermit’s Cave was constructed by a man named Bob Stinson. Bob served his country in World War I. Upon returning home from the war he learned that his girlfriend left and married another man. Heart broke he decided to travel to Delta Utah to visit his brother in 1929. While making his way through the Marjum Pass just 45 miles from Delta Utah; Bob’s house on wheels broke down. Looking for shelter Bob located a small natural cave in the side of a canyon. By using local rock, he enclosed the front of the cave which is now known as the Hermit’s Cave House, or Hermit’s Cabin. Bob was often called the Hermit of Marjum Pass. The government paid him to keep the pass clear of debris, as it was at the time the major east/west highway from Delta to Nevada. To earn extra spending money he trapped bobcats and coyotes, mixed poisons for the government to kill grasshoppers, and he even raised a handful of sheep. When Bob would have visitors, out of the greatness of his heart, he would offer them a glass of home brew. In 1951 Bob lost his road job when the new paved highway was built several miles to the south. Bob, then in his 70’s, moved into Delta to be near a few more creature comforts. At the age of 80 when Bob passed away he was cremated and his ashes were spread at the base of the rock house he built in Marjum Pass.
We drove another 20-30 miles of dirt road to the West Desert Sinkhole. The last 5 miles, Google maps took us on an ATV trail, but it was not too bad to drive the van on. We ate lunch at the sinkhole and then continued on towards Delta. After about 220 miles of dirt road, we were on pavement for the last 50 miles to Delta.
Before we got to Delta we stopped at the infamous RaPower-3 solar site. This is the site of a large scam against the government that made the owner millions of dollar. All that is left on the solar site are the decaying ruins of the solar collection towers, lenses, equipment and buildings. I am not sure how it was supposed to work.
We then drove to the site of the Topaz Internment Camp. The entire camp is surrounded by a fence, but nothing is there by sagebrush and foundations. There was a parking area in the north-west corner that had several monument that told the history of the site.
After getting gas in Delta we drove 20 mile north to the Baker Hot Springs to camp for the night. These springs were not a clear and fresh as the Gandy springs, but they were hot. There are three concrete tubs that had a small ditch of very hot water running down the side. You could regulate the temperature by opening or blocking the hot water inlet into the tub.
We took a dip in the hot tubs before dinner and it was real nice to soak in the hot water. There was only one other guy camped in the area and we only saw him later in the evening while we ate dinner as he walked over to the tubs.
It was a nice evening and a pretty warm night.
May 6, 2020
I went for a short walk this morning to try and find the source of the hot water, but the trail turned into a wet marshy area that I could not get through. We left camp around 9 am and drove to Delta. Delta has the cheapest gas we have seen, so we topped off the gas tank.
From Delta we drove south on the Pahvant Valley Heritage Trail. This is an all-purpose trail, through the west desert, that starts in Delta and ends near Fillmore. The first stop was Fort Deseret, just south of Hinkley. There is not much there, but the ruins of the adobe fort walls from an 1800’s era fort the pioneers built.
We then drove through the Clear Lake Wildlife Refuse to the Lace Curtain rock formation on the north side of Pahvant Butte. This was pretty interesting and we spent some time looking at the rocks and walking through the area.
Our next stop was the Devil’s Kitchen Petroglyphs. We had a little trouble finding the place. We had GPS coordinates from the internet, but they were totally wrong. It appears everyone on the internet copied the wrong coordinates. However, we passed a county sign on the main road that pointed in the direction of the petroglyphs. There were a couple of miles on the ATV trails, and no more signs. We finally arrived at the site and was able to explore the rock formations and the petroglyphs. After eating lunch we drove back to the Clear Lake road.
We continued south to the Meadow Hot Springs, however, there were a lot of people there and more were arriving, so we decided not to get in the water. It was about 4 pm, so we drove to our planned campsite near the Tabernacle Hill Lava tubes. The last 3-4 miles were pretty rough, but we finally set up camp on the mesa in the middle of the lava flows. We started to relax and read, but not long after setting up camp, the wind started to blow. It was blowing pretty hard and the weather forecast predicted high winds until midnight. So we quickly packed up and drove back down the road a mile to a spot that was in a small valley. The wind was much calmer there, however, it still blew for most of the night.
May 7, 2020
We were up early and drove to the hot springs. We hoped there would be no one there, but to our surprise, there were 10-11 campers/RVs in the parking lot. The last time we stopped at these springs there were No Camping signs in the area, but I didn’t see any this time, so camping must be allowed.
Fortunately, most of the campers were still asleep or in their RVs. When we got into the water, there were 4 guys from Park City, and a few others showed up later. It was not too crowded and for a few minutes there were only 3 of us in the water. We talked to several of the campers and it is amazing how many people live in their camper full time and just travel around.
After about an hour in the water we walked back to the van. Since we were driving on pavement the rest of the way home, I re-inflated the tires back to the highway pressure. We drove about 300 miles of dirt road for this trip. Nothing was too rough, and some of the roads were smooth enough to go 50-60 mph. But there were still a lot of areas of washboarded roads.
We drove home, but only for a few hours. We needed to meet Kayla and family at a campground in Morgan for the rest of the week. Since the van was so dusty and dirty I sprayed off the outside, while Eva wiped down the inside of the van. We both took showers and then we were off for the rest of our road trip.