West Desert Ramble & The Pony Express
This itinerary is a slow-paced, yet adventurous drive into one of the few wild frontiers left in the world. It brings together unique scenery, history and wildlife all along the fascinatingly desolate Pony Express National Historic Trail.
Utah's West Desert is sparsely inhabited. Unless we're talking wild horses and stories, then there are more than a few of those. (Read the story along this trail: What Hasn't Been Found)
This itinerary is a slow-paced, yet adventurous drive into one of the few wild frontiers left in the western United States. It brings together unique scenery, history and wildlife all along the fascinatingly desolate Pony Express National Historic Trail.
Utah’s West Desert covers history from a handful of angles. There’s geological and film history in the form of the Bonneville Salt Flats and the unique Basin and Range topography. There’s cultural and religious history in the form of early frontier, Mormon and stagecoach history. There’s even World War II history, and the boom-and-bust tales of mining ghost towns.
The Pony Express National Historic Trail is a bumpy, dusty and remote dirt road. This itinerary requires preparation, but thoughtful travelers shouldn’t hesitate to go out and follow the path of the Pony Express riders. It will be an experience you will never forget.
Preparing for West Desert Travel
This itinerary suggests a loop starting and ending in the Salt Lake metropolitan area. It can be approached from either direction, and done in two days, or even one. Lehi, Tooele or Wendover are the nearest supply points, depending on which section of the trail you depart from.
This route is best attempted by a four-wheel drive vehicle. You should take plenty of food and water, good maps, a spare tire and the tools and knowledge needed to change your tire because cell phones are unreliable in the desert. Ensure your gas tank is full and it wouldn’t hurt to have a 5-gallon gas can and several extra gallons of water in your vehicle. There is no potable water or food available between Camp Floyd State Park and Ibapah (near the Deep Creek Range) on the Pony Express trail. Contact the Bureau of Land Management to inquire about road conditions in wet weather.
Pony Express Historic Trail
First: stock up on water, food and fuel in Lehi. It's going to be awhile before you see civilization again. Then, head toward Camp Floyd State Park Museum, which occupied the same time period in history as the Pony Express. The Stagecoach Inn near the museum served as a stagecoach stop and, during 1860–1861, a Pony Express stop. Afterwards, head out on the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Stops along the trail include the Simpsons Springs historic site, Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge and the Deep Creek Mountain Range. Along the way, keep your eyes out for wild horses. The only option for an overnight stay is camping. Check out the Civilian Conservation Corps campground in Callao or find a spot near the trailhead to Ibapah Peak.
The Deep Creeks to Wendover
Wake up and explore the Deep Creek Range, a green oasis that has been an anchor to nomadic peoples for more than 8,500 years due to the abundance of water, pine nuts, game and shelter. These granite peaks are the rocky guardians of the Deep Creek, include the 12,000-foot Ibapah Peak, the fifth-most prominent summit in Utah. On your way to Wendover, pass through Gold Hill, a near-abandoned mining town that boasted 3,000 people in its heyday. Spend the afternoon exploring the Historic Wendover Airfield, where captivating history of another era (World War II) is on display. Overnight in Wendover
Bonneville Salt Flats to Tooele
This day takes you through Utah's legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, a 30,000-acre expanse of hard, white salt crust on the western edge of the Great Salt Lake basin. If you're cruising through in the summer you might catch a racing event such as Speedweek, where professional and amateur teams from around the world compete for land speed records. If nothing else, stop for photos and enjoy the unique backdrop that has become internationally known through a number of Hollywood films. Drive to Tooele for one last historical stop at the Benson Grist Mill, an early Mormon pioneer structure from 1854. Now in Tooele, consider driving or hiking to the Bingham Mine Overloop or attending a weekend star party at the Stansbury Park Observatory. Overnight in Tooele or Salt Lake City