White Rock is a wonderful place where you can lay your troubles down and consider topics larger than yourself. This is especially true when your heart is pounding from the ascent, and you look at the rugged and wild beauty of the desert and mountains around you.
To get to White Rock from Tooele City, head south on state Route 36 until you reach state Route 199. Turn right on this road — otherwise known as the road to Dugway Proving Ground — and follow it over Johnson’s Pass. As you descend from the mountains to the tiny hamlet of Terra, look for a paved road on the right hand side that heads northwest down into Skull Valley. This is the old Lincoln Highway. Turn right and follow the Lincoln Highway to the bottom of the valley where it terminates at a junction with state Route 196 or Skull Valley Road. Turn right and north here and follow Skull Valley Road for just more than a mile.
On the right hand side you will see a brown Bureau of Land Management sign that says “White Rock.” Turn left and head west on a decent straight road across the valley for about 10 miles or so. In the summertime you will raise giant clouds of dust from your vehicle along this road. Other times you will be flipping mud chunks into the air or skimming across several inches of snow on frozen ground. This road eventually hits the base of the mountain and the main track makes a hard left to the south and then goes west up through a low canyon, around corners and then the terrain opens and the bulk of White Rock is before you.
I had the chance to visit this place and climb the rock about a week ago before the current warmth and rain arrived. It was cold and there was a lot of snow on the ground as I approached the rock. I have a really good 4X4 vehicle, so even though the snow on the road was deep and crusted, I was easily breaking drifts and hurling snow chunks and crystals into the air as I rolled toward the rocks.
I was a bit worried that hiking on the rock would be treacherous due to the amount of snow that was covering it. I examined the hills around however, and noticed that most of the snow on the southwest facing slopes was melted off. So I assumed that the back side of the rock would be relatively snow free as well. This was a big chance to take as the north and east facing sides were completely covered with snow and appeared treacherous.
I usually go around to the back or west side of the rock near the pond and hike up a large canyon from there. But due to the amount of snow, I didn’t go back there because I didn’t want to hit a stump and flatten my tire way out in the middle of nowhere. The sun was getting ready to set, so I parked near an old fire ring directly south of the main rock and another smaller rock to the south.
I started hiking along the base of the main rock through deep snow that was several inches of powder upon an old, much thicker layer of snow. I wanted to keep my boots as dry as possible, so I angled up the rock along a steep face and somewhat ledged myself up 100 feet above the valley floor. At this point I had to wedge myself down a crack in the rock and Spiderman across a slant where if I slipped it would probably be a death fall. When I say “Spiderman,” I did just that — I hugged the rock moving inches at a time, checking each hand hold and foothold carefully before proceeding.
The geology of White Rock is crumbling Rhyolite, which is a type of flakey lava rock that tends to be extremely solid in most areas but can weather easily and crumble in others. It is important to first test footholds and hand holds before you put your full weight on them to make sure they won’t fail.
After this short nerve racking stretch, I was home free, walking upright along the cracks and humps of the amazing and massive granite extrusion that is White Rock. There were patches of snow here and there, but it was an easy thing to avoid them. In some places, water had created black streaks on the rock, which reminded me of the canyons of Southern Utah and how the red rock of those ancient and mysterious places are beautifully stained by water.
As I climbed higher the snow became more difficult to avoid. I picked a central spine of rock that separated the main canyon from a minor one to the south, and I climbed that snow-free rock back. It was really steep and there were a few weathered rock knobs that had to be negotiated. I could now see the high point of White Rock and it was snow covered and looked massive in the freezing early evening winter sun. It was clear as a bell but it was bitterly cold.
The peaks off in the distance in the Stansbury, Onaqui and Simpson Ranges were all snow covered and smooth looking. Immediately around the rock were bunches and patches of old dark green juniper trees that were thicker still on the foothills of the Cedar Mountains to the west.
White Rock is only about 400 feet tall from the valley floor to the summit, but it seems massive when you climb it. When you top out on one of its rocky knobs, you will be winded and filled with a genuine sense of accomplishment as you survey the scene.
There are wind/rain hollowed caves all over the rock. Some are deeper than others but none of them go back more than a few feet. The floors of these caves are made of weathered out, chipped rhyolite. These areas make an amazing place to sit and think about the Indians and the archaic peoples before them who once wandered this land.
I also think about the bandit Carlos Murray who fled across the desert being pursued by Marshal Wall and his posse after murdering a group of emigrants. George Bean and Porter Rockwell passed this way in 1854-55 as well looking for a good route for Col. Steptoe and his command to proceed on to Oregon. George Bean marked the rocks on the map he made during this adventure and it is on file at the LDS Church History Library.
Lastly I consider the scientists of the Gilbert survey in the 1880s, who made an extensive reconnaissance of the Cedar Mountains and were fascinated by White Rock making note of it in their journals. I’m sure that many, many others passed by this rock, climbed it and sat there as a winter sunset painted Desert Peak shades of pink and gray just as it did on this evening in Feb. 2014. It’s amazing how cold it gets and how fast it occurs once the sun dips behind the ridge. It was so completely quiet out there and there was no wind.
By the time I got back to my truck, I was thankful for the heater but I was also thankful for the opportunity to once again climb on White Rock and enjoy the solitude and silence of the west desert in the winter time.
If you visit White Rock bring plenty of food, water, some matches and warm clothes. This is no place you want to get stuck, but if you do, make sure you can survive for a bit so you don’t become part of the historical narrative in a bad way.
Make sure you pack out all of your trash, too, because nothing ruins a wilderness experience faster than a water bottle on the ground that some lazy fool didn’t pack out. Don’t climb on the rock if it’s wet or snow covered. Keep your boots dry, layer clothing and take layers off as you begin to sweat on your ascent. Lastly, take a camera and shoot some pictures. This place is completely out of place in the Cedar Mountains — a little slice of Southern Utah in our Tooele County Desert. Be prepared, Be safe and go enjoy it.