With the extremely mild winter so far, I was happy that I could squeeze in one last camping and hiking trip before the end of 2023 and before we had any significant snowfall. I initially considered going to the Moab area to spend a few days wandering around Arches National Park but the weather forecast for the West Desert was a little warmer. And besides, in stark comparison to Arches there would be essentially nobody in the West Desert. I’d recently learned of some rock art and geoglyphs in the area so it was also preferable to go see a sure thing rather than mostly random wandering in Arches. I took hundreds of photos on this trip and I don’t want to overload this post with them, so visit the photo album to see more.
I left home after work on Wednesday and drove southwest, fueling up near Cove Fort before hitting a gravel road westbound and finding a place to camp. I slept in the truck each night, and using two sleeping bags might have been overkill–often I’d wake up hot and have to slide my upper body out, then later I’d get cold and have to bundle up again. I was up at 7:00 on Thursday morning and, after a quick breakfast, I hit the road.
After about 15 miles I made my first stop of the day. I parked the truck and started hiking toward a waypoint that would be the first test of the information I’d gotten from an acquaintance. Looking at this spot in the satellite imagery it didn’t look like there were any rocks nearby that could hold rock art. As I neared the coordinates, however, I could see some basalt rocks at ground level, and even closer I started seeing the petroglyphs! I walked all around the small field of rocks and photographed the glyphs. The sun was still behind some clouds on the southeastern horizon but I occasionally caught a glint of light off an obsidian flake.
I returned to the truck and drove a bit more, stopping to hike to a spring and hoping to find some rock art near it. I didn’t have any information about this spot but it seemed like a promising area given the spring and a large outcropping of rocks. All I found were a couple of petroglyphs and a mylar balloon.
A fair amount of driving later and I began to hike to the first set of geoglyphs. I already knew the info I had on these was accurate because they’re visible in satellite imagery. These first two geoglyphs weren’t great. The first was indistinct and just looked like a clump of rocks in the middle of a small mud flat. The next one was larger and maybe had some structure to it, but it was still not obviously manmade. A nearby broken obsidian point at least confirmed the presence of prehistoric people at some point in time.
Next I visited some more rock art. It was this site that initially made me skeptical of the info I was following because the waypoint seemed quite far from any likely rock art locations. I first ran into some petroglyphs about a third of a mile from the waypoint and kept finding more and more farther away. So the info wasn’t perfect but it was close enough to lead me to the general area.
I ate lunch when I got back to the truck, then drove to different area to search for more rock art. On the way I stopped at the graves of Delbert and Margaret Carrington, then continued to Red Rock Knoll. Again the waypoint I had for the rock art here didn’t seem quite right. I parked as close as I could and started hiking, checking out the rocks around the base of the knoll along the way. I also scanned the cliffs higher up with binoculars. After walking along one whole side of the knoll, nothing was looking promising and I just wasn’t feeling it–I didn’t want to hike around the other side so I just headed back to the truck.
It felt like it had been a long day but I still had plenty of time left before the sun went down. The next thing on my list was another geoglyph that required only a short hike to reach. I walked across some railroad tracks but then ran into an obstacle I wasn’t expecting–the Beaver River. I guess while planning this trip I never even took the river into consideration, but I stood there on the icy bank watching water flow by. In the satellite imagery it looked just like any other dry wash in the desert. I looked at my GPS and realized I could get to the geoglyph by adding about a mile to a hike I was going to do the next day so I moved along to the next spot.
Moving along I visited one more rock art site before making camp for the night. The coordinates were half a mile off for this one but yet again it was easy to find. There were a lot of good petroglyphs and I spent an hour or so walking around through the boulders. I drove a short distance to the next rock art site but the sun had already gone down and I couldn’t make anything out in the low light so I stopped to camp for the evening.
Friday morning rolled around and again it took a long time for the sun to rise above the clouds. Once it finally did I started scanning the nearby boulders and cliffs for rock art but still couldn’t see anything. I hopped in the truck and started driving out of the area when I spotted a petroglyph. I got out and walked around the area and saw a couple more, but not the ones I was expecting to find.
I backtracked a bit near to where I’d gotten skunked by the river crossing the previous day. This time I was able to drive to the correct side the river, but I walked across the railroad tracks and damn if there wasn’t another flowing stream in my way! It turned out to be a canal that fed into the Beaver River that wasn’t shown on the USGS topo map. Luckily I went upstream a bit and found a footbridge that I used to cross over. I climbed up onto a mesa and walked to another geoglyph, and this one was without a doubt manmade. I hiked along the edge of the mesa and spotted a few petroglyphs just below the rim on the way to the next geoglyph, which was about 100′ long. Finally I hiked to the last geoglyph which I’d tried reaching the day before, but there was nothing there! In the satellite imagery this one looked similar to the others, but there wasn’t even a single rock on the ground nearby.
I hiked back to the truck, this time following the base of the mesa where there were a lot of petroglyphs, and I found a mano as well. I got back to the truck and, while I was eating lunch, I spotted a broken arrowhead on the ground. It was clearly modern and had been knapped from a piece of glass.
I’d spent the last day and a half in the same relatively small area, but for the rest of the day I drove farther away and visited several other places. The first was an old pumice mine where I picked up several pieces to take home. Then I visited three petroglyph sites that were all close to a road and only required very short hikes.
Sundown was coming so I started looking for a place to camp, which I found on a small dry lake bed on the aptly named Clear Spot Flat. There were some nice colors at sunset, both in the clouds and on the distant Pahvant Mountains.
On Saturday I only made a few quick stops on my way toward Delta before heading home. First I poked around the old townsite of Clear Lake. I also used binoculars to look for rock art along the south side of Pot Mountain but didn’t spot anything. Next I went to Sunstone Mountain and walked around picking up pieces of labradorite. Finally, I stopped at Fort Deseret before heading into Delta for fuel and then home. It was a great trip and a nice end to 2023. I over-planned for this trip and didn’t get to see everything I wanted to, which leaves me with plenty to look forward to next time I’m in the area.
Photo Gallery: West Dez III