There is an old saying, “Paradise found is paradise lost.” So it is with some trepidation that I write this column.
There is also a recognition that what brings joy to my life might also enhance the life of others.
As background, I grew up on lakefront property in this fair town.
From my backyard on Upland Drive, I could see the Bonneville Shoreline, a terrace carved from an ice age lake that thousands of years later still outlines our lovely valley. As my legs grew, so did my wandering, working my way up the slopes toward Corner Mountain, always curious at what wild magic stirred around the next gulley.
As time went by, the ever expanding range of mountains and foothills became my playground.
I found beauty in the diverse animal and plant life and found wonder in the changing seasons. Curiosity led me to read up on the geology and history of the rocks.
But as time and responsibilities took their toll, I found myself elsewhere and the legs that once graced these hills lost their vigor and the frame that once seemed so lean lost all semblance of firmness.
But in 2013, I decided to rediscover the lost passions that had given me such youthful inspiration. Running and hiking became my new avocation. In the process I re-discovered lost treasures and discovered new ones that I had previously overlooked.
After careful consideration, I became aware of the extent to which we live in great proximity to wild and rugged places. I was hopeful that as a guy rapidly approaching 60, I could still follow deer trails and explore new rock formations.
What I really discovered, was that wearing out hiking boots was much more fun than wearing out recliners.
My fall through spring range are the west and southwest facing canyons in the Pine Canyon area. I’ve looked at the Pine Canyon area my whole life without ever really exploring it — until 2013.
By veering off of my usual path up Smelter Road, I discovered trail heads locally developed that lead to some incredible canyons. Now these places are as dear to me as the slopes leading to Corner Mountain.
Rugged, steep, wild and virtually untraversed, these mountains are home to diverse wild animals and plants.
From Swenson’s Canyon to Flood Canyon, you have a stretch of mountains that are just far enough away from motorized access to give you the most precious commodity we have in the busy and loud existence — namely solitude.
These canyons face mostly south and west and are accessible at least somewhat during most of the year. When the canyon bottoms are packed with snow, you can still slog up some steep south facing ridge, which is what the deer do. The views looking south are always sublime as you look at the snow covered north facing slopes.
There are also some incredible valley views as well. Within the cover of rocks, you can see groves of oak, curl-leaf mahogany, with understory bushes such as manzanita. Both mahogany and manzanitas are evergreen broad-leaved plants that provide green colors during the dreary winter months.
During most of the year a couple mile hike is required to get to the mouths of the canyons. But don’t devalue the foothills. Tremendous quantities of grasses and shrubs are heavily utilized by wildlife and it is not unusual to see large numbers of turkeys, deer and birds of prey in these amazing stretches.
The spring will reward you with the sounds of meadowlarks and the profuse blooms of our state flower: the sego lily.
Speaking of wildflowers, these hills put on an amazing show of wild flowers in the spring with Indian paintbrush, Wasatch penstemon, scarlet gilia, balsamroot, mule’s ears, and many other species. These provide nectar for large numbers of native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.
Now let’s talk about rocks. Rocks are so often overlooked, but the Oquirrh Mountains have amazing rock formations.
About 80 million years ago, thrust faults created a series of mountains that precede the ones we see today. Geologists refer to these as the Sevier mountain belt. Compression of the North American plate’s westward movement caused layers of rocks to crumple up at different vertical degrees.
When basin and range faulting later created our current range starting 15-20 million years ago, these vertical layers eroded at different rates based upon the strength of the rock — what geologists refer to as differential erosion — resulting in amazing formations.
A rock type known as breccia is extremely erosion resistant and forms some amazing features in the landscape in the Pass to Flood Canyon areas. The foothills leading up to these canyons are littered with remnants of these hard rocks.
Murray Canyon, a small canyon between Pass and Flood Canyons, has an arch and finding rocks with windows in them is not a rarity here. The massive rocks that line the southern side of Pass Canyon are noticeable features when you look east from Tooele and Pine Canyon
There are risks involved in hiking here as elsewhere. Mountain lions and rattlesnakes are common in this rugged, rocky terrain. One of my dogs suffered a rattlesnake bite last year that was traumatic for her as well as me.
Adequate water, good boots and hiking poles are necessary for this middle-aged mountaineer. As the weather warms, the need for water will increase in this area as it faces south and southwest and gets hot in the summer.
There is much to explore out there. Millions of years of uplift and erosion, climatic changes, species evolution, and all the other natural processes have gifted us an amazing palette to fill the canvas of our lives. If your health permits, explore and relish this wonderful land, and leave it as untouched as possible. The rewards are immense.
From a young age David Swan’s natural curiosity led him to explore and study the outdoor wonders of the place where he was born and raised. He currently lives on the southeast side of Tooele City with a view of the Oquirrh Mountains from his backyard.