“Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles”
Heading west along the Pony Express National Historic Trail with the Fish Springs Range in the rear view mirror, your view will be dominated by the most incredible scenery you will encounter upon this entire adventure in the form of the magnificent Deep Creek Range.
Over a dozen peaks rise above 11,000 feet in this range and the two highest peaks top out over 12,000 feet. There are perennial streams and seven different kinds of coniferous trees harbored in deep canyons that protect these oasis from the relentless punishment the sun doles out on the rest of the desert. Even though this range is located in the arid Great Basin, its elevation demands precipitation from whatever storms pass through the region and its peaks are snow capped into late June most years.
Cruising along the trail with these mountains in the foreground you will cross a wide open valley that stretches away into the oblivion of the Great Salt Lake Desert to the north and clear down south to the benches of the mighty Snake Range in Nevada where on a clear day you can see 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak, which is the crown jewel of Great Basin National Park.
This giant valley is called “Snake Valley” and it contains the tiny communities of Baker, Nevada and Gandy, Trout Creek, Partoun and Callao, Utah.
About 5 miles out into this valley, west of the Fish Springs Range along the Pony Express Trail, you will come to a road junction at the base of a tiny knoll. This is what was known as Pleasant Valley Junction back in the days of the Pony Express and Overland Stage. Off to the north side of the road here are the remains of Boyd Station. Howard Egan directed George Washington Boyd to build this station sometime in 1861 to provide a change of mounts for the Pony Express riders between Fish Springs and Willow Springs.
Every time I visit this place, I park at one of the stalls provided by the Bureau of Land Management near the Station ruins. I walk across the road to the south and climb up the little knoll to survey the situation. From that vantage point you can see the old tracks that were carved into the Salt Desert that go direct from Boyd Station to Willow Springs. The modern road continues due west and then turns north on a few 90 degree angles to get to that place.
You can also see the road that heads off to the southwest towards Pleasant Valley where the Overland Stage Route passed through in 1859. Looking to the east, the high point of the Fish Springs Range, George H. Hansen peak, looks like a sawed off, tilted anvil from this vantage point. Wild and broken hills and knolls trend off towards that range to the south.
One of my favorite stories comes from Pleasant Valley when Henry Jacob “Doc” Faust was station keeper there.
Famous editor and newspaper man Horace Greeley was passing through this area on the Overland Stage in 1859. The notes he took on that trip were incorporated into his book titled “An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859.” Greeley was a veritable celebrity of the time and when Doc Faust heard the news that Greeley would be staying the night at his station. It is said that he and his wife hid all of the candles because they knew that if Greeley had a light source, he would get lost in his manuscripts and books and would not want to be bothered.
So legend has it that Greeley, unable to read, kept the Faust’s entertained late into the evening with exciting tales of all kinds.
In 1860, when the Pony Express started operations, the trail was rerouted to the North West through Overland Canyon, leaving Pleasant Valley in total obscurity from that point on.
It is an interesting thing to ponder these things while sitting on the knoll above Boyd’s station. After I do so, I walk down to the station ruins, open the gate and stand inside the old station house footprint that is crumbling bit by bit, stone by stone, day by day.
While standing inside the rock wall outline of the old building, I imagine the station keeper feeding sticks and logs into the fireplace to keep the building warm or to heat up a meal. This would be a lonely place no doubt for the station keeper but the view of the majestic Deep Creek Range would at least provide the keeper something awesome to look at.
Heading west from Boyd Station, the road eventually brings you to the area that was known as Willow Springs back in the 1860s but is now known as Callao.
The change in the terrain is abrupt as the cracked salt desert with heaped saltbush dirt mounds gives way to lush, green grass that is fed by perennial springs in the area. Giant old cottonwoods adorn some of the ancient homesteads, most of which consist only of tumbled down old log cabins that still have the crude mud or adobe packed between the logs to keep them warm in the winter.
Half a dozen families still call Callao home and the old Willow Springs Pony Express Station site is marked with a stone obelisk that was erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in 1940. All of these sites such as Willow Springs, and the characters who operated in and around them, will be described in detail as we continue on this journey into the old west over the next several months.
The road through Callao will come to a T and at that point you turn right following the signs for Overland Canyon and Ibapah. The road will climb up onto the high bench of the northern Deep Creek Mountains and finally arrive at what is known as “Round Station.”
Round Station is perched on a bench which overlooks the entire desert east towards Granite Mountain. It also has a commanding view of the Deep Creek bench lands to the south and down into Overland Canyon to the north. This is another one of the most amazing views you will encounter anywhere along the trail.
A two track dirt road heads off from this place towards the northern Deep Creek Mountains and its mysterious canyons. One of the canyons is called “Riley” Canyon after William Riley, a character who worked at several different stations throughout the desert in the time of the Overland Stage who met his end at Canyon Station in the summer of 1863. There is always more to the story when you see a name on a map and in future articles we will get to know Riley better.
The tiny rock fortress here on the high bench was constructed, complete with rifle ports, after Canyon Station was destroyed by Indians back in 1863.
There are several parking spots near this ruin and an awning that shades some Pony Express Trail interpretive panels from the sun. The view out on to the Salt Desert and of Granite Mountain and the desert ranges beyond is dreadful yet awe inspiring at the same time.
In next week’s article we will finish our initial trek across the desert from Camp Floyd to Deep Creek with an in depth description of the Deep Creek Range and the old Overland Canyon you have to pass through to get to Ibapah and the site of Deep Creek Station.