For many people, including me, some of fall’s best parts are leaves in resplendent colors, fresh apples that make the tongue tighten from crisp tartness, and milkshakes and lattes deliciously imbued with pumpkin spice.
And if there ever was a time to experience fall’s best colors in Tooele County, this week and coming weekend may be the last shot. The oak, maple and aspen trees in local canyons and mountains are turning bare as vibrant red, orange and yellow leaves fall away with the wind.
But there is another best part of fall that I savor like a plump and juicy honey crisp apple: With the sun lower on the horizon, its light, especially during late afternoons and evenings, varnishes any given landscape with a subtle, orange and purple luminance punctuated by shadow.
When such soft, fall light and shadow blankets one of Tooele County’s grand landscapes, whether it be desert, mountain or the Great Salt Lake, the sublime contrast can inspire awe and introspection. Sometimes, it creates a brief portal to see into the county’s geologic past. Such a gateway I experienced during a recent road trip to Ibapah in remote southwestern Tooele County.
On Oct. 2, I made the 166-mile trek from Tooele City to Ibapah for a photo assignment. The subject was rancher Kyle Bateman, who has a successful cattle ranch there, but has also been the school bus driver for Ibapah Elementary for nearly 45 years. His dedication to the school and students is remarkable. Much to the school and students’ benefit, he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
It was around 4:30 p.m. when I shot my last photograph of Bateman and started the drive back to Tooele. With the Deep Creek Mountains in my rear view mirror, I headed north on Ibapah Road, a 30-mile long, two-lane ribbon of broken asphalt that winds through low hills and buttes, and connects isolated Ibapah and the nearby Goshute Indian Reservation with the rest of the world. I drove moderately so I could watch the landscape and sky — and keep an eye out for hidden potholes.
While heading north on U.S. 93 in Nevada, I marveled at the view outside of my vehicle’s front windshield and side windows. The lowering sun lit the surrounding landscape and scattered cumulus clouds in the sky with soft fall light. While descending the long, last hill on U.S. 93 toward Wendover, the luminance sweetened even more. The combination of light and shadow across the Great Salt Lake Desert to the east, and Silver Island Mountains to the north, made for a breathtaking tableau.
And for a step back in time.
With a deeper look, the shadows across the desert floor made it appear I wasn’t looking at a barren expanse of endless salt, but an enormous body of water that reached to the horizon. It was as if ancient Lake Bonneville, which submerged the Great Salt Lake Desert under nearly 1,000 feet of water during the last Ice Age, had made a brief return.
I felt I had been given a gift, because if time travel ever becomes possible, I’ll be first in line for a ride back to when Lake Bonneville made Tooele County look like Lake Michigan — but even better with an archipelago of mountains.
I have driven that stretch of U.S. 93 in Nevada several times over the years. But sometimes, you have to look in from the outside to see a place anew. Thanks to that lonely stretch of roadway, and a fall afternoon filled with special light, Tooele County’s desert and mountain landscape remains a place of wonder and mystery to me.