“I’d rather be in the Mountains thinking about God, than in Church thinking about the Mountains”
– John Muir
Every time I visit Round Station, I open the chain link gate and walk into the rock enclosure and look through the old rifle ports from the inside out and try to imagine how I would feel if I were under threat and sighting my rifle on an aggressor from this position. It would have been a super stressful situation, especially since this place was built after the destruction of Canyon Station and the carnage that occurred there. The personnel who worked here no doubt had those heinous recollections on their mind.
Past recollections notwithstanding, from the ruins at Round Canyon Station, you have a magnificent view of the east face of the mighty Deep Creek Range. Mysterious canyons that are heavily timbered on the northeast facing slopes trend away from this point to the south with peaks rising in successive, pointed, jagged, even fearsome summits, up to the King Peak called Ibapah at 12,089 feet.
Ibapah is a Goshute Indian word that is said to mean either “Clay Colored” or “Deep Down Water.”
These wonderful mountains are unlike any other in the Desert. They rise precipitously from the salt desert to a dizzying height where there is only tundra, ice, wind and granite.
Seven different types of coniferous trees and numerous healthy stands of aspen that blaze golden, orange, and crimson in the fall occur in numerous places in this range creating a most beautiful and unexpected environment in the Great Basin.
Cold perennial streams tumble over the rocks and down granite slabs in Granite Creek, Indian Farm, Tom’s, Trout Creek, and several other canyons where the rare Bonneville Cutthroat Trout survives as a living link to that long-vanished Pleistocene Lake that goes by the same name.
Looking east from the Ruins of Round Station, you have an unobstructed view all the way across the Salt Desert to Deseret Peak in the Stansbury Mountain range.
In the foreground is the wicked salt flat of the Great Salt Lake Desert with Granite Mountain seemingly floating on a ghost sea in the bottom of the lifeless desert. From the level flat of the salt plain to the top of Ibapah and Haystack Peaks in the Deep Creek Range, the difference in elevation is over 7,000 feet which is a greater rise than that of the Teton Peaks from Snake River plain.
This extreme elevation change results in numerous climate zone transitions from the valley floor to the summits. These zones consist of salt plain, sagebrush, pinyon/juniper, Douglas fir/ Aspen, Engelmann Spruce, Bristlecone / SubAlpine Fir, and Tundra.
As the Pony Express Trail passes the ruins of Round Station, it drops abruptly via a series of curves down into the bottom of Overland Canyon. Back in the days of the Pony Express and Overland Stage, this was the most dangerous spot along the trail that the Pony Riders and Stagecoach Drivers had to face.
The canyon bottom is narrow, and it makes some sharp turns around rock outcrops that would have provided perfect locations for ambushes by either Indians or bandits. Express riders were shot at numerous times along this route, and in one instance, the driver of the stagecoach was shot dead right on the box, which is what the top of the stagecoach was called where the driver and messenger would sit, and Howard Egan, had to take the reins of the stage and drive it on through to the next station.
Overland Canyon climbs to the west and then the terrain opens up into a wide high valley filled with large sagebrush and dry grass called Clifton Flat and it is named after the old Clifton Mining District that was established in the hills east of this flat in 1869.
Right at the point where the Pony Express and Overland Stage Route leaves Overland Canyon and enters Clifton Flat, there was a Stagecoach/Pony Express Station. This site is now marked by a white stone marker that is unique in construction and appearance as compared to the other station markers on the route that were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
This obelisk is hard to get to because the modern road is on the north side of the canyon mouth and the creek bed has eroded deeply between the two places making it difficult to access the old station site. If you do chance the drop from the high north bank of the draw and make it down without collapsing a bunch of dirt on yourself, you will have to make your way across the dry creek bed and then find a way to climb out of the gorge on the south side. Once you claw your way up that rise you will only have a short distance to walk through the sage over to the station site.
This site located at the base of the hill is the scene of tragic conflict between the Indians, Overland Stage employees and the soldiers that were stationed there in the summer of 1863. This conflict resulted in the destruction of Canyon Station, known thereafter as “Burnt” Station, and the death of all the soldiers and stage employees stationed there.
I’ve visited this place many times. I’ve walked the ground and listened to the wind in the Pinyon here pondering this conflict, what led up to it, and how it could have been prevented.
This tragic story will be told in detail in future articles but for now we will continue on.
The modern road heads northeast from the vicinity of Canyon Station across Clifton Flat to a road junction at a place called Skinner Springs. If you turn right here, in a few miles you will end up in the Ghost Town of Goldhill.
The Pony Express Trail tour route turns left here and in short order begins to descend to the West through what is known as Pony Express Canyon. It eventually dumps you out into Deep Creek Valley.
As you travel down slope into the valley you will wonder seriously if this place was misnamed but back in the 1860s there was a Deep Creek that had headwaters high in the mysterious west slope canyons of the Deep Creek Range. It flowed from south to north along the bottom of this valley for most of its length until it was absorbed by the desert sands.
Eventually the road runs into the paved Ibapah to Wendover Road. At this point the route turns left and follows this paved road south down the valley past the few ranches that continue to eke out an existence in this extremely isolated location as they have for over 150 years.
You will have to pay attention to the signs so that you stay on track if you continue to follow this road through the valley. The route will make a few 90 degree turns and will pass some long-abandoned ruins nestled in giant old cottonwoods along what remains of the creek.
Pay close attention because the Deep Creek Station marker is located across a flowing stream, nearly obscured by tall grasses just after the last right turn before the road heads straight west up into the hills towards 8 Mile Station.
Believe it or not, this area is where the most prominent and prosperous of all the stations along this route was located. Major Howard Egan, the superintendent of the Pony Express line from Salt Lake City to Ruby Valley, Nevada, made his headquarters and “Home Station” here.
Egan operated a large farm where he taught the Native Americans the art of farming and cultivation. Egan spoke several Indian languages and learned many of the Native customs and was well respected by most of the indigenous people.
There was a large general store here and eventually a telegraph station.
For the purposes of these articles, Deep Creek Station is the end of the line as the Utah/Nevada State line is only a few miles west of this place.
The view of 11,987-foot Ibapah Azimuth Peak looms large over the old station site to the east. The beauty of the rugged escarpments of the west face of the Deep Creek Range is simply stunning from this viewpoint. It is truly an awesome setting which will be described in detail in future articles.
Now that we have completed an initial description of the desert, mountains, and route, in future articles, we will dive into what the Pony Express was all about, get to know the riders, station sites, individuals and experiences that make this trail so fascinating.