To go where nobody is. That’s what I wanted. Where would you go? We headed west. West of the Salt Lake Valley, west of the next valley and into the valleys yet further west again. Out there lies vast open desert where people are as scarce as the water.
Once leaving the city of Tooele (Pronounced To-will-a), the traffic took a sharp drop off on the darkening Saturday night. When we turned off from the two lane highway just north of the small town of Vernon, the traffic and the daylight had disappeared altogether. And when the pavement ended, we were on own from then on.
The dry, graded, oft washboard-rattling, dirt road, following the path of the 1860’s Pony Express, climbed to Look Out Pass. Ironically, although in yesteryear the 10-day mail delivery service brought revolutionary communication to the country, once past Look Out Pass, all cell service ends.
The moon rose high and full and provided plenty of light beyond our headlights. We dodged many daredevil Jack Rabbits that challenged our speed with last minute sprints across the roadway. A pair of Antelope watched us drive by with limited but cautious interest. We remarked that with the entire desert in which to run, why hang around the road side?
We crawled up and over the last pass of the Dugway Mountains, crossing at the same place the Ponies, stage coaches and the Lincoln Highway all shared through time. Marks remain visible on the hillside during the daytime, if you know for what to look. We descended into the last valley, the clock pressing hard against the midnight hour.
Our favorite place to camp, lies nestled between two hills of the west side of the Dugway Mountains. A little piece of our own paradise. Armed with only a small two wheel lane road, mostly overgrown with sage brush, a dry wash bed and a lone Juniper Tree, the place would catch the attention of few. But it’s our place and we love it there.
We set up camp by setting out our two lawn chairs, unrolling our sleeping bags onto them and climbing in. Over our head the sky entertained us with stars playing hide-and-seek in the cloud windows that drifted, shifted and blew along. We ourselves drifted off to sleep sometime around 1am. The air cooled to necessitate a beanie cap but out bodies were plenty warm. The only sound- the gust of breezes that always occupy the night and changing of the guard of air temperatures.
The morning brought the warming sun rise, ham and eggs, and pan toasted homemade Sourdough bread. We relaxed and enjoyed what the Sabbath Morning offered to us. I climbed to the top of the north-bordering hill for the first time ever.
I learned that the post I could see half way up, most likely was a mining claim. The summit reveled a man-made pile of large rocks, indicating I was not the first to climb it. I also found a Tunnel Web spinning spider that did not show any fear to try to shew me away from its trapping grounds. I admit, I was more afraid of it then it of me.
We packed the truck, checked the Kayaks still tied to the top. I knew if anyone should see us, the look of a 4Runner carrying Kayaks across the middle of the dry, ancient lake bed would seem pretty comical. The layers of dust built up on the boats even seemed ridiculous to me.
We passed some rock hounds with Colorado and Utah plates, digging along the road. They gave us a curious look over as we passed and offered a friendly wave. They had geodes to find and didn’t waste too much time to figure out what Kayaks were doing in the desert.
Back onto the Pony Express trail and another 30-40 miles brought us to our oasis, the Fish Springs Wildlife Refuge. A single car parked at the picnic area was the only human life we saw. We drove out along one of the levees that form the waterfowl ponds filled by the natural spring. We untied our Kayaks and paddled out into our own private tour of the waterways that few ever see.
The birds nesting in the weeds did not express their love for us, but sang at us the whole time. Almost the whole trip, the songs of birds filled our ears. In a lifeless desert, it amazes me the amount of teeming life that never got the message.
We paddled to and around the many islands. We saw ducks, the “Royal Coot Navy Flotilla”, and countless number of other birds. We drifted with our feet dangling into the water. We explored a few back bays, and occasionally caught a ride on the gusts of wind. If you eliminated the surrounding brown, rock-faced mountains with near no vegetation, I would have believed we were exploring marshes boarding thick tropical forests.
A few cars passed, doing their tour of the levees and looking at the ponds from the edges as we had done on previous trips. We laughed and thought how they must’ve seen us out there on the water and dreamed how fun it must be. The percentage of people that will ever venture out to that remote refuge is only dwarfed by the number of people who will also pack their boats to explore beyond the shores. I’m sure the birds are happy about that fact and I confess I find some joy in it as well.
We packed the boats and started the 104 mile trip back to Tooele (do you recall how to say it?). We stopped just below Look Out Pass where the old Pony Express station once stood. We pulled out the grill and had chicken, marinated in Caribbean Jerk marinade during the day in the cooler. We added some potato and pasta salad for a delicious lunch/dinner. The sun was out but the shade and slight wind cooled our sun baked skin.
We lounged and enjoyed our lawn chairs for a short spell and watched the few campers emerge from their own secret places in the hills and head back home along the trail. A convey of military vehicles constituted for the only traffic heading back out into the desert.
We made it to Tooele and on to our home in Salt Lake. We were exhausted and once the truck was unpacked, we showered and collapsed.
A night under the stars will impress upon you how small you are. A drive through the desert will enforce the idea of how big this world is. A foray into the wild will arouse the fact that people are not wanted or needed. You become just a part of the scene and not the center piece.
Perspective can be garnered, a remembrance of how unimportant so much around us really is. Except that which we choose to be important.
What do you consider important? Spend your time there.