Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 9, 2023
Desert Odyssey: Exploration along Government Creek

“Old roads, old dogs, old folks and old ways, still have a lot to offer in this sped up world we all live in”

– Unknown

I decided to take a drive out into the desert to see what I could see one evening after work as I often do. I started out on the trail about 6 p.m. and I noticed more cattle on the range than I think the desert can handle all spread out across southern Skull Valley.

A large livestock hauling truck passed me along the road towards the Pony Express Trail. It made such a tremendous plume of dust behind it that I had to stop for a minute because I was completely engulfed and could not see anything through the kicked-up dust. These big trucks, that I assume are hauling sheep off of the winter range, have pulverized the road into a fine talcum powder that explodes when you drive through it. This is super frustrating because when you get home, your whole rig is covered in dust and it takes some work to clean it all off. 

The mountains all around the valley were still streaked with snow or in the case of the higher peaks, still snow capped which is unusual for this time of year in the desert. The west facing benches of the Onaqui were particularly pretty — lined with lingering snow along the edges of the ridges. The lower, snow free, juniper clad Davis Knolls and the short green grass all over the valley in the foreground made a most picturesque scene. Due to the heavy snowfall during the winter I decided to head over to Government Creek along the Pony Express Trail and see if there was any flowing runoff.

I drove along the road down into the creek bottom and sure enough, there was a roiling, chocolate milk looking churn of water flowing through the bottom of the draw. I stopped my truck and got out and took a hike along the bank of the creek for a ways, admiring the unusual scene of running water in the desert with the high snow covered peaks of the Sheeprock Range rising in the background. This part of the creek originates from the west facing canyons and draws of the Sheeprock Range towards Erickson Pass. There are several perennial springs in that area and even a tiny flowing stream or two at the base of Black Crook Peak but nothing like what I was looking at on this day. 

Walking a bit farther west through the wash I came upon another stream that joined into the one I had been following. This stream came in from the south and west and no doubt drains the Simpson Mountains. There was even more water in this stream than the one I had been following and when they both came together, they made a respectable, rushing creek that headed swiftly off to the desert sinks. It is hard to believe that all of this water simply disappears but it does. 

Along the edges of the creek bank which was pretty high in this area, I noticed beat down trails where numerous animals made their way off the flat down to the water. A few moments later I heard the clang of a bell and some commotion and then I saw them. Hundreds, maybe over a thousand baaing sheep were coming over a low rise to the west and down into the Government Creek wash. I’ve heard of cattle drives but this was a sheep drive and one lone cowboy mounted on his horse and his team of three trusty dogs were herding the mass of sheep along and keeping them in a tight group. 

Two of the dogs were longer haired, small black and white, low to the ground things but dang they could move fast! They were darting this way and that along the edges of the herd and breaking into an all out run when necessary to keep the sheep bunched up and moving in the preferred direction. I’ll bet these dogs run 10 times the actual distance of the movement of the group due to the fact that they are darting around every which way to maintain order. 

The third dog was a large long haired white dog and this animal sat off to the edge of the flock and a little above, surveying the whole scene. The cowboy who appeared to be Hispanic, sat his horse calmly and never went faster than a slow canter as his dogs had the situation well in hand. I was surprised how many sheep there were and they were quite large and had their thick wool coats still on them. I was similarly surprised by how fast the entire group was moving. They didn’t mess around getting to where they were going. 

I stood there and watched their progression through the bottom of Government Creek along the south slope of Davis Mountain and considered the fact that for well over a hundred years, sheep have been wintered on the West Desert range and then have been driven along the Pony Express Trail back to their mountain summer range. It is something to hear about it but it is something else entirely to see it. It was an enjoyable thing to watch this operation with the desert mountain scenery all around as a backdrop to the commotion. 

When the flock had passed, I continued west along the Pony Express Trail, admiring the snow-capped Indian Peaks in the Simpson Range which were dominating the view to the south. I came upon a sheep camp just as I emerged on the western rim of Government Creek near the Winter Springs Road. It consisted of two small white trailers and a truck that had a few tanks on it that were likely water for the animals. One trailer was a square box on four wheels with a pintle and may have been full of feed. There was a poor mangy looking horse tethered to this trailer. The other trailer was a white round top trailer with a small stove pipe sticking out the top of the back of the trailer. 

There were a few windows on this trailer, a propane tank and it looked as though it had everything someone would need to be comfortable living in the desert. It would be a hard life for sure but imagine having your home on wheels and rolling to a different and amazing remote camping spot in the desert every night. That sort of life would drive most people crazy as silence and solitude are things that people in a modern age don’t deal well with. Sounds kinda like heaven to me until I realize that these modern-day cowboys probably work from can’t see to can’t see making sure that the herd stays in one place and all accounted for. 

May day came to an end as I approached Simpson Springs but not before I witnessed another large flock of sheep numbering again in the hundreds or over a thousand animals, trailing about 5 miles behind the one I saw on Government Creek. It was a nearly identical scene with one mounted cowboy and three energetic dogs moving the group along. The ridiculous baahing noises of all of those sheep talking to each other is something I can’t describe. You have to hear that nonsense for yourself!

As I sat there listening to the desert wind blow through the windows of my truck, listening to a strange bird call somewhere out in the coming dark, I reflected that all in all it was a great spring evening on the Desert and it ended with a spectacular molten sunset over the Simpson Buttes as these desert adventures usually do.

Jaromy Jessop has been a frequent contributing writer to the Transcript Bulletin. He enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for the West Desert with our readers. 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 can be followed on Facebook at “JD Jessop” and on his Facebook group “American Tales & Trails.” Jessop retains the rights to his writing and photographs. His permission is required for any republication.

One thought on “Desert Odyssey: Exploration along Government Creek

  1. Thank you for this series. I love the West Desert and just happened to come across these articles after a trip to the Simpson Mountains a couple of weeks ago. I’m happy to read about someone else who loves the area as much as I do.

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