Editor’s note: This is another installment in a multi-part series on exploring the Pony Express Trail through Tooele County. Last week’s article entailed the Dugway Pass area.
The exciting adventures of Pony Express Trail riders make for interesting reading, especially around the Dugway station and Dugway Pass. But also interesting is the terrain on nearby Bittner Knoll and Pyramid Peak.
Just before you enter Dugway Pass, you will notice a round little sugarloaf-type peak that is separated from the rest of the mountains. This little mountain is Bittner Knoll. On the USGS Dugway Pass 1:24,000 Quad, a two track with an elevation mark of 4,883 feet above sea level, heads south towards this knoll and an old reservoir.
You can park near the old reservoir and then cross an old draw and make your way across country up to the summit. I visited this place several years ago. I found it interesting because it stands alone on the desert plain, separated from the Thomas and Dugway ranges, and it overlooks the old Dugway Pony Express Station.
It is a simple, but primitive climb to the top of the knoll. When you get there, you will be surprised to find a relatively flat area with scattered boulders. These boulders have dark, orange patches of lichens on them and some sandy areas with a little grass would make for an interesting primitive camp.
There were a few barrel cactus, and since it was springtime when I was there, some Indian paintbrush and other desert flowers made the place sort of pretty. The knoll’s summit is only 5,068 feet above sea level, but it is a great side deviation that may prove refreshing after long hours in the car along the Pony Express Trail. Not many people visit the site of the old Dugway Station and even fewer view it from the summit of Bittner Knoll.
As you head west over Dugway Pass on your Pony Express Trail exploration, you will descend and after a few miles will notice an interesting looking little peak off to the north that rises abruptly to a small, sawed-off summit. This is 6,120 foot-high Pyramid Peak. Ever since the first time I explored the Pony Express Trail many years ago, I was interested in climbing this peak. You can approach it in a variety of ways to include parking at a reasonable spot near Dugway Pass and then head north across country to the base of the cone and then hike up it.
The easiest way is to drive approximately two miles west of Dugway Pass and then turn north onto a two track that skirts the western base of the mountains. If you look at the Dugway Pass USGS 1:24,000 Quad, the road is marked by elevation 5069. Follow this two track for about .8 of a mile to where another faint trail heads east and ends at the foot of the mountains.
You will notice some large, erratic boulders in a little grassy bowl below some broken cliffs. These boulders, and the edge of the cliffs they broke off from, are strange and grotesquely weathered. In fact, much of the rocks in this area look like marshmallows that were hit by a blowtorch and melted. This little bowl on the edge of nowhere makes a good parking spot. I couldn’t see Pyramid Peak from this point, but I knew if I headed due east, up the first set of cliffs and a minor summit, I would be at the base of the peak. Fortunately, this turned out to be true.
The distance from the parking spot to the summit of Pyramid Peak is only 1 mile as the crow flies, but you will earn the distance and elevation. Many people would write this area off as uninteresting, hideous and to be avoided. However, I find sublime beauty in the lonely, empty desert. As my wife and I climbed over the ridge out of the bowl where we parked, I noticed some of the rocks were weathered all the way through making miniature arches and portals in the rock. Many of the rocks were covered with brilliant orange lichens as well.
Stunted, tortured sagebrush, prickly pear, and a few sparse and scattered junipers are the only plants strong enough to attempt life on the west slope of the Dugway Range. As we gained elevation, our vehicle looked picturesque among the boulders in the bowl with the great expanse of the Fish Springs Valley and West Desert unfolding behind it.
As we walked along the crest of the ridge to the base of Pyramid Peak’s summit cone, I noticed some of the ridges in the area were composed of an ash gray-colored rock as compared to the rest of the range north that had a light tan appearance. I’m not sure what the geologic differences are but it would be interesting to find out.
The hike to this point is easy across dry rocks and sand. As the rocks in this area shift under your weight, or fall against each other, they make a hollow kind of sound as some of them are surprisingly light.
At the base of the summit cone, the peak is incredibly steep on all sides and the rocks have been assaulted by eroding forces of wind, sand and rain resulting in tortured, razor sharp obstacles. These rocks are death to boots and would shred normal shoes in short order. Gloves are also necessary to prevent your hands from getting chewed if you have to use all fours as we did. The rocks have an other-worldly appearance. They remind me of the Star Trek episodes I used to watch with my dad where Capt. Kirk and the away team beamed down from the Starship Enterprise to an alien land.
The western point of the summit is sharp and dramatic. To get to the true summit, you have to go over or around this point. It didn’t take long to get to the summit, but it probably took a year off of my life as I nearly had a heart attack due to vertigo. Once on the summit, there is a small flat area, several acres in size with a small stand of ancient junipers on it. Cliffs fall away on all sides, and the summit reminded me of the biblical Masada Fortress. There were two large rock cairns on the summit and a nice, large, flat rock that had messages inscribed in it. The earliest I could read was 1964.
The form of these stacked rock pillars somewhat resemble the Pony Express Trail markers you see along the trail at the old station sites. We sat on this rock and ate lunch at the edge of the world with the Thomas Range spread out to the south before us. The sky was azure blue of the type Tennyson spoke of once in a poem.
Walking across the range and climbing Bittner Knoll, Pyramid Peak or any number of other interesting points out in the desert can be exciting and enjoyable. Make sure that you are prepared with good leather gloves, boots, plenty of water and food because remember, you are truly out on the edge of it all in the Dugway Range along the Pony Express Trail.
Maps: USGS 1:24,000 Quad “Dugway Range”
Jessop grew up exploring the mountains and deserts of Utah and has traveled to all 50 states, U.S. Territories and a dozen foreign countries. He and his family live in Stansbury Park.