Desert Discoveries

I love the desert landscapes of western Utah. It’s a place of emptiness yet full of great things to discover.

On my recent trip out there, I had some pretty simple goals: do some rockhounding at Topaz Mountain or other nearby areas and find the hot springs out near Fish Springs Wildlife Refuge. It gave us plenty to do but left plenty of time to enjoy and discover what else the land might offer us.

We got in late and set up the tent during the last hour of good light. I was trying out my new tent, which was much easier and faster to set up, but ultimately the tent became our storage area because we wanted to sleep under the stars.

The remote desert offers some of the best night skies. The bright light of Venus shone after sunset, casting shadows until it set later. Jupiter and the Milky Way shone in the sky throughout the night along with thousands of stars. It was incredible to gaze up at it as shooting stars and satellites whizzed by.

I was up a bit before sunrise the next day to try and get some good pictures. I think I got a few. We also wanted to get in most our hiking and the tougher rockhounding in early, but had little luck in finding any topaz. According to everything I've seen or read, you need to expose new pockets in the rhyolite but we broke apart dozens of seams and cracks in the rock only to find nothing.

In the future, I might try the further back parts of the mountain because the front side near the easy camping spots seems too picked over to yield anything good without using some heavy-duty equipment.

It was getting hot and we were getting hungry so rather than dwell on the lack of good finds, we headed to Fish Springs for lunch. It’s the perfect place for a quick break and one of the few places in the entire area with any trees tall enough to give some good shade. We drove around the auto tour loop but it wasn't the right time of day or year to find all that many birds.

But our main goal in the area was the Wilson Health Springs a couple miles to the north. This area truly did feel like the middle of nowhere. The only sign of mankind there are the dirt roads, some crumbling artifacts, and the things left to help mark the way to the hot spring. These reminders of civilization seem small in comparison to the massive salt flats to the north or the stark mountains that surround the spring.

The spring itself was enjoyable. It’s very salty and quite hot. Also there isn't any shade, unless you bring your own. It was relaxing, even in June, but I think it would be more enjoyable during the cooler times of year or during the evening or early morning.

Now that we were out in the middle of nowhere, we had to get back to civilization. Along the way, we picked up a few fun photos, including a surprising encounter with a family of badgers, as well as some jasper pebbles, obsidian, and Apache tears at a rockhounding site. We also searched for Joy, a ghost town that my rockhounding book mentioned but the directions in the book were too bad to find the old town, so we decided to head home.

West Utah seems to fill you with the massive landscapes and stark scenery. It’s great any time of year but best in spring or fall. I know I’ll be back again in the future, searching for more great experiences and hidden minerals.