Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

April 26, 2023
Desert Odyssey: Moonlight in Lookout Pass

“Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the World”

Oscar Wilde

One evening in May, I took a drive out to Lookout Pass and decided to go for an evening hike. 

Even though I had been to Lookout Station Site a dozen times or more, I stopped there again to think about the past and everything that occurred at or near that place. As I stood next to the station marker obelisk, a giant round white moon rose directly over the pass to the east with a robin’s egg blue sky behind it while it was still light. All kinds of tweets, whoos, squawks, chirps, whistles, toots and many other crazy bird noises that I can’t describe began a chorus which is typical of the desert mountain woods when sundown approaches. 

I then heard the whoosh whoosh of a large bird’s wings in the otherwise silent desert mountain air. The waning sunlight then started to turn the desert mountains and all their trees and shrubbery gold. The junipers appeared deep green against the tan hills and their bluish sage brush. I remained there for some time, leaning against the old station marker watching the wispy clouds obscure the moon over Lookout Pass while a crow cawed in the distance. The wind started to pick up just as the sun was getting ready to set and I admired the last light of day reflecting off the timeless cliff face of Black Mountain behind the station site to the north east. 

The Onaqui Mountains are absolutely beautiful at dusk. According to the “History of Tooele County Volume II,” Onaqui is a Goshute Indian word that means “Pine Tree Mountain” and is pronounced “On-go-pi.”

By 8:37 the sun had set but there was still a bit of light in the western sky. The constant and methodical chirp of the crickets and “who who” of a bird somewhere out in the woods was calming as I surveyed the scene. I took a walk from the marker over to the area where I think Horace Rockwell’s water tanks must have been. I thought about the poor lad who lost his father, uncle and brother here in this peaceful little valley who now lay buried in the so-called “pet” cemetery across the road. 

Every time I think of that poor boy crying while watering the team here at the station, I get a cold chill. Not a scarry one but one of utter sadness, loss, and despair. I kinda hate some of these stories because I know their pain all too well and someday, my ghosts will come to call but they didn’t come this day. … only birdsong, crickets, a slight ever colder breeze and a glaring white judging moon. I decided to shrug off the unpleasant thoughts and take a moonlight hike up to Lookout Pass from the old station site and little valley where I often camp in the Cedars only footsteps away from the cemetery.  

I shouldered my rucksack, grabbed my kbar and a cold beer, and as the crickets chirped loudly in the background, I started my hike at 9:26pm. I began hiking up the canyon, walking in the middle of the road and listening to my boot fall crunch on the gravel. A few moments later, I heard a vehicle approaching from somewhere down in the canyon so I took the tree line so as to stay out of sight. I don’t particularly like the idea of other people knowing that I’m walking out in the middle of nowhere in the desert… the dark. I blended in with a juniper shadow and waited for the vehicle to pass…as I stood there, I admired the powder blue marble like berries on the juniper tree. I then started again. 

After a while I noticed a concrete Pony Express trail marker on the south side of the road out in the sagebrush. The moon was incredibly bright and it cast a dark shadow of me and everything else. It is crazy just how pitch black those desert moonlit shadows can be but it was super peaceful out at that lone marker. I leaned on it for a spell and looked up at Black Mountain. I heard another vehicle approaching so I took the tree line again and it gave me time to think about how I had observed several hundred wild horses out in Skull Valley earlier that evening as I was heading towards the pass. They were just west of the Dugway access road near Davis Mountain Round Top. I didn’t really care how long I hung out near that maker because I felt at home out there in the sage and the junipers in the bright moonlight. Looking up at Black Mountain, I remembered all the times I hiked up to the Black Mountain ridge from the pass and walked across the top of the cliffs with my wife, scouts, friends, and soldiers on different occasions. 

As I continued walking up the canyon, I thought of how apprehensive and even scared the Pony Express riders must have been because when you walk these areas you realize there are all kinds of draws and washes — folds in the earth with trees and tall sage brush on them — ambush could have come from anywhere as the Pony Rider charged up and down this pass. One legend has it that the pass got its name because the west bound rider yelled to the eastbound rider as he was emerging from the mountains to “look out” because there were Indians in the pass. 

I left the gravel road and hiked up the old road grade which is just north of the modern road. I passed two toad ponds and stopped several times to admire pioneer engineering where they shored up the road with securely packed stone embankments and rip rap. I followed the old road trace over the pass and down the Vernon side a ways and noticed a Seibert stake, which is a plastic BLM lathe, that announced I was on the original path of the Pony Express. 

There were large juniper growing up through the middle of this section of the old trail. I then walked out in the modern road and followed it west back up to the pass thinking about the “Cahues and pitch holes” that Sir Richard Burton described as he bounced up this road in an Overland Stage Coach back in the late summer of 1860. By 10:26 p.m. I was up in the pass listening to a bird call with the constant drone of crickets in the background. I sat on a big rock that is near the old rail fence and noticed the Ray Staley memorial plaque reflecting brightly in the moonlight. 

While walking up the steep grade of the pass I thought of how hard it would be for teams to pull the stage up and over it and how it could have worn Pony Express horses right out depending on how fast the rider was pushing them. It was dead calm up there in that pass and the sagebrush shone silver in the moonlight. I noticed the sign up there that states the elevation is 6,205 feet with the Dugway lights flickering in the distance. At 10:38 p.m. I was on the trail again. 

When I reached the station site I stopped at the Pet Cemetery before I hit the rack and looked around a bit. The moon light was bright to an unbelievable degree and it was reflecting brightly off of the burial plot marker. I looked around at this little valley and thought about how the emigrants who lie buried in this cemetery made it this far on their journey to California only to die in this place and remain here forever. I did however note that if you had to die somewhere … and be buried … this is as good a place as any with a wicked view across to the express station and Black Mountain rising behind it. 

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.

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