“Do not lounge in the cities. There is room and health in the country.”
Editor’s note: This is another installment in a multi-part series on exploring the Pony Express Trail through Tooele County.
Simpson Springs is one of the most interesting historical sites in Tooele County’s West Desert.
In 1860, famed explorer Sir Richard Burton traveled across the desert and described the types of express stations he saw:
“On this line there were two types of stations. The Mail Station, where there is an agent in charge of 5 or 6 boys and the express station — every second — where there is only a master and an express rider.”
Burton added, “It is a hard life, setting aside the chance of death, no less than 3 murders have been committed by Indians this year. The work is severe, the diet is sometimes reduced to wolf mutton, or a little boiled wheat and rye and the drink to brackish water. A pound of tea comes occasionally, but the droughty souls are always out of whiskey and tobacco.”
Sometimes, I think these poor station men out in the wilderness had no company, but the Overland Stage, emigrant trains headed to California, and army patrols from Camp Floyd kept this section of the Pony Express Trail busy.
The Overland Stages that stopped at Simpson Springs featured heavy Concord Stages with comfortable space for 6 passengers. Smaller “Mud Wagons” were used in the winter time. Stations, such as Simpson’s, greeted passengers with meals, and after the Pony Express, telegraph service.
The Concord stages rumbled regularly across the West Desert from 1861-69. The service came to an abrupt halt with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory, Utah, in May 1869. Simpson Springs activity dropped off significantly, not only due to the discontinuation of the stage contract, but the subsequent removal of the telegraph line to the route of the newly completed railroad.
For the next 50 years, stage service was sporadic in support of mining activities in the Dugway Range, Fish Springs Range, and at Gold Hill. As the mines died out, Simpson Springs became an important watering point on the sheep herders trail, from the winter grazing lands of the West Desert to the shearing pens at Tintic Junction and Jehrico.
In the 1890s, several buildings were constructed at Simpson Springs, including a small grocery store and the home of Dewey and Clara Anderson. Clara was the daughter of Pony Express rider George Wright, who settled on Faust’s creek in 1871. Unfortunately, Clara died while giving birth to a child on May 14, 1895, which may well be the saddest chapter in the history of Simpson Springs.
The ruins of the Anderson home remain behind a chain link fence with a faded interpretive marker telling the story. In the 1930s, Simpson Springs once again came alive, with the assignment of a Civilian Conservation Corps company from Clover Creek. Numerous structures were built and much work was done on improving the Pony Express Trail road, Stock Watering Ponds, and the Weiss Highway in particular. Numerous evidence of the camp remains today including a foreboding gateway with two large stone pillars marking the entrance to the camp.
When you are at the Simpson Springs, you will find a reconstructed stage station built in 1976 by the Future Farmers of America with the support of the Bureau of Land Management. While not an original structure, the building and the interpretive station marker, which is a stone obelisk, are picturesque on the desert.
The stone station marker was constructed in 1940 by the men stationed at the CCC camp at Simpson Springs. The men constructed most of the Pony Express Station markers at this time as well as the small concrete mile markers that dot the desert from Lookout Pass all the way into central Nevada. Unfortunately, these markers, large and small, suffer regular vandalism and it is a miracle any of them remain.
Across the road from the marker is a parking area with a vault toilet and a covered shelter that houses interpretive panels that tell of the Pony Express Trail and general history of the area. There is also a BLM campground with 14 camp sites that all have picnic tables, fire pits, gravel parking stalls, and tent pads. There are toilets at the campground, large cottonwood trees, and water from a spigot. But don’t drink it; the water is unsafe.
You may also notice some large green mounds of rock to the west of the CCC camp. A BLM geologist told me that the green rock is volcanic tuff quarried from an outcrop near a mossy spring that is still there but you have to do a bit of walking to find it. Back in the early 1970s, the rock was quarried commercially and sold as decorative rock in fish tanks. The green porous rocks are interesting and make a fine addition to an amateur rock hounder’s collection.
To the east, there is a wind hollowed cave on a knoll that overlooks the entire area. It is interesting to climb up onto the knoll, have a seat, look west, and think about the past. The entire expanse before you was covered with water a thousand feet deep and the mountains in the desert were islands. The bathtub rings left by the wind-driven waves of the ancient Lake Bonneville are clearly visible upon the barren ranges.
You can think about the American Indians, who must have used this vantage point, and carved petroglyphs into stone at Judd Creek in the Simpson Mountains long before white man ever came to the area. Or think about George Chorpenning, who lived alone in a Sibley tent at these springs, or Maj. Howard Egan and his mule blazing a lonely trail through the unknown desert.
You can also think about what Capt. Howard Simpson’s military wagons must have looked like, laboring across the desert towards the Old River Bed to the west, or the Pony Express Trail rider pushing his poor Mustang as fast as it can go with Indians trailing behind; or bouncing, red, Concord stages rumbling along the dusty trail; and work parties stringing what the Indians called “Talking Wires” — the transcontinental telegraph.
Lastly, you can think about the hard-working men of the CCC, who lived out here in the desolation for months at a time taking advantage of Roosevelt’s New Deal. If only you could turn back the wheels of time and observe it all from this knoll.
If you intend to visit Simpson Springs, inquire first with the BLM Salt Lake Field office at 801-977-4300 about road conditions. Also, take good maps, plenty of food and water, extra fuel, and make sure you have a jack, tire iron and spare tire. This is the most interesting station site on the Pony Express National Historic Trail in my opinion, and it is well worth a visit.
How to get there: From Tooele City, proceed south on state Route 36 south for approximately 30 miles and then turn right onto the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Continue west on the gravel road for 25 miles over Lookout Pass, across Skull Valley and Government Creek, around the point of the Simpson Mountains to Simpson Springs. Be wary of wash- boarded roads, sharp rocks and loose gravel as the stretch from Government Creek to Simpson Springs is renowned for causing flat tires.
Maps: USGS 1:24000 Quads – “Simpson Springs” and “Indian Peaks”
Sir Richard Burton’s account of crossing our West Desert can be found in his book “City of the Saints.” You can read it or download it for free at https://books.google.com/books/about/the_city_of_the_saints.html?id=shsJDNHap2QC.
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.