“While I relish our warm months, winter forms our character and brings out our best.”
The last several winters have had little snow, but this year Mother Nature has been generous. During these months of deep freeze, areas in Tooele County that we may not consider as recreation destinations, can offer some great outdoor adventure.
One is immediately east of Stansbury Park along the western slopes of the Oquirrh Mountains. There are several good points in this area where you can access the bench lands and canyon mouths.
The first one is at the east end of Bates Canyon Road where there is a large parking area. There is a gate that must be kept closed to ensure that range animals belonging to private property owners don’t wander off. Be respectful of the restrictions noted on the signs. Some require that trail users stay on established roads and trails, and prohibit shooting.
The other main access point is reached by following Foothill Drive south from Lake Point up and over the railroad tracks. Past the railroad tracks there is a gate on the left/east side of the road. This is the access point for the northern area of the range. Just like the Bates Canyon gate, please ensure that you close the gate after you pass through so that no animals get out.
Depending on the snow level, these access points may be your overall starting point. If conditions allow, you can follow the dirt roads through the access points up to the base of the mountains. If not, you will be on foot from these start points.
My dog Duke and I went to the latter access point near Lake Point. It had just dumped a bunch of fresh snow, but I have a decent 4X4 vehicle, so I plowed through the snow east a few miles to the boundary of the Bureau of Land Management’s North Oquirrh Mountain Limited Use Area. The area is marked off by a log rail fence.
At this point you can turn north and follow the fence line to the Big Canyon area, or turn south and follow the fence line to the mouth of Pole Canyon. The road climbs a steep little hill on the south route, but there is another track that bypasses this obstacle.
I headed south around the hill. Even though the snow was deep, a few vehicles had passed before me. I got half way up the hill when the back end of my vehicle slid a bit and I found myself stuck in over two feet of snow in a ditch. It was late afternoon and the high temperature that day was in the teens. I started to have uncomfortable thoughts about being stuck in this frozen land after sundown in subzero temperatures.
Before I panicked and spun my tires into a deeper mess, I got out and walked around my vehicle to see what were my best options. I angled the wheels the proper direction and, using gravity as my friend, I extricated my truck after a few tense minutes. I backed down the hill, thanked the almighty for good fortune, turned around and called it good. The point of all this? Don’t push your vehicle beyond what is wise, especially out in the freezing cold. Stories like this sometimes can have unhappy endings for people who can’t get out.
After that incident, I strapped on my snowshoes and set Duke free. The crazy mutt charged off through the deep snow, disappearing at times and not caring in the least. We followed the road southeast to where it takes a 90-degree turn south again and climbs another small hill towards Pole Canyon.
At this 90 degree bend, if you look due east, you will see some interesting limestone rock formations. They are part of an exposed reef that rises up from the gambel oak growing thick in this area. The limestone formation is a great landmark for anyone who wants to take a short cut into upper Coyote Canyon by scaling the front ridge.
Duke and I continued south on the road until the ruts ended. At this point we were breaking trail through 24 inches of fresh snow. The sun was shining but it was bitter cold. This can be problematic in winter. When you exert yourself, like you do when snowshoeing, you begin to perspire. If you don’t layer your clothing so that you can peel off some clothes as you get warm, you will get sweat soaked. This is bad news when you stop because then the cold creeps in and you can become hypothermic. Once you are wet out in the winter woods you are done! So do whatever it takes to avoid overheating.
Even though it was really cold, it was beautiful. We were some of the first creatures to make tracks after the storm. We spooked a few mule deer out of the oak brush and there were rabbit tracks in the snow. The wind had beautifully drifted snow over the rails in the fence, edge of washes and into small cornices on the tops of boulders. The sagebrush were completely frocked and drooping from the weight of the snow. From these Oquirrh bench lands, you have fine views of the Great Salt Lake and Stansbury Island to the northwest and the hazy, frozen Stansbury Range to the west.
Another reason why I like this area so much is because your four-legged friend can run free. Many trails in the Wasatch and other places prohibit dogs, but the North Oquirrh foothills are a great place to let your dog run and enjoy itself.
When it’s super cold out, even if the sun is shining, you have to listen to your body — feet in particular, and call it quits before you get hurt. Duke and I had a blast exploring the gambel oak woods around the mouth of Pole Canyon in the deep snow. This is a great little escape that is really close and convenient to most people in Tooele Valley.
In next week’s article, I will describe a route up and over the foothills from this point into Coyote Canyon where you can see some interesting geology.
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 and his family live in Stansbury Park.