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A Place Called Indian Springs – Tooele County, Utah

One night after work I decided to go explore the desert. I left home at 8:30 pm and arrived at the mouth of Indian Springs Canyon at 9:10 pm This canyon is located in the Simpson Mountains, which are a compact range west of the Sheeprock Mountains. They are named after Captain James Hervey Simpson, who explored the wilderness in the late 1850s. On my way out, I came across the Onaqui Mountain herd of wild horses on the Dugway/Lookout Pass road. There were at least 150 horses and I had to go very slowly and get them out of the way.

I noticed that the eastern minor peaks of Big Davis Mountain are quite high above the valley floor from the eastern perspective of Skull Valley. I finally got to the Pony Express trailhead and headed west across Government Creek. In fact, there was a pretty good flow of muddy water in the creek bed here and this was the first time I’ve seen it run.

I drove along the north end of the Simpson Range and noticed several interesting roads leading up its slopes towards interesting rock outcroppings and even some hollows in the rocks that appeared to be caves. I kept going and after 19 miles of Dugway I passed through Simpson Springs and thought of Chorpenning, Major Egan, James Simpson, Clara Anderson and all the other history of the place as I passed.

About 5 miles west of Simpson Springs I followed a pretty decent trail heading south and the sign said “Death Canyon 12 miles; Indian Springs 5 ​​miles”. I followed this trail for about 6 miles and came to a small fork in the trail on the west side that ran about 70 yards from the main trail to the edge of the escarpment that looms over flat bank lands above the old riverbed . What a view of the desert, Table Mountain, and Camel Back Ridge to the north. I surveyed the scene for a while and then determined that I had gone too far south of Indian Springs Highway.

I then backtracked north for about 2 miles and came to an old 2 track that I thought was the trail to Indian Springs Canyon. I parked the truck, got my bike out of the rack, looked over my shoulder at the fading afternoon light and hazy golden desert sky, punctured by mysterious rock ridges, and headed east toward the Indian Springs wash/canyon. Just after I started riding east, I startled a couple of mule deer who seemed very surprised by my presence. I followed this trail through scattered sage and juniper until I came to a junction with a much better, steeper trail coming from the northwest. I realized that this new trail would be the trail of choice if I were to visit this place again. I marked this junction with a white rock in the gray dirt and continued east through the canyon.

I had read reports of a large amount of water present in this canyon and was disappointed to have gone over a mile and a half with no sign of water still in the dusty drainage. By this time all the daylight was gone but the moon was ¾ full and there were only a few clouds so the ambient lighting was very good and I continued. Around the 2 mile mark I heard the gurgling and gurgling of the water. As I continued, I noticed a large gorge opening up on the south side of the road. Moonlight will play a trick on your depth perception and height/distance estimates, but I’d say this gorge was at least 60 feet deep in places and the bottom was full of water. It is very likely that the road in this area will be lost in a few more years due to the massive erosion that occurs here.

Further on, the barrel began to noticeably change. There were big puddles of water on the road and then came the fords. The creek crossed the road 6 times along my route and 4 of these crossings were 6 to 40 feet long and some were knee deep. Due to the changing geology from the desert to the higher canyon, erosion was not very frequent here and the water was very cold and clear as it reflected the light of the moon. I could clearly see the stones in the background.

As I ventured through the canyon, I considered the Indians who must have frequented this place, such as Chief Peanum, Old Tabby, Chief Tintic, and others. I also considered the Emigrants on the California Road, who are said to have wandered south to this canyon so abundant in wood and water. I thought of Captain Simpson and his expedition and wondered if this was the water from the Champlain Mountains that saved their lives after the disastrous crossing of the Sevier Desert and Keg Mountain. And finally, I realized that he was treading the same ground that Colonel Patrick Edward Connor did with his 3rd California Infantry volunteers on their way to Salt Lake Valley. In fact, it was Connor’s men who, following his instructions, first cut the trail to Indian Springs Canyon and crossed the pass into Lee Canyon and Porter Valley. All of these thoughts filled my head as I ventured further up the canyon.

About 4 miles into the canyon in the middle of the fourth ford, my bike chain broke and hung behind me in the creek. I stopped abruptly and plunged into the water up to my knees. It was a warm night, so the water really felt good. I cleared the stream and assessed the situation. It had been dark for an hour but there was good moonlight, the temperature was nice, my brakes were working fine and my tires were in good condition so I decided to continue. I hiked my bike through the last 2 fords and came to a heavy cattle guard.

By this time, the canyon floor was wet, there was good grass in places, and the sound of running water filled the night air. At this point, I looked directly north and noticed the west face of Indian Peaks looming over me. In the moonlight they were sharp and clear and looked like some kind of grey/blue powder. The canyon opened up a bit and I came to another fork in the trail. I followed the fork with the water because I had heard that the source of this water was one of the old mines in the forgotten mining town of Indian Springs.

The road had deteriorated badly and there were violent rivulets of water gushing down each side. There was a much larger watercourse just south of the road in the rushes. Just as I was about to admit defeat in my goal of reaching the old town, due to the fact that the whole place was turning into a slippery swampy mess, I was startled when I ran into a large juniper tree and saw an old building of gaunt appearance. staring at me with its dark entrance and open windows from the shadows with the entire structure bathed in pale moonlight. As Louis L’amour once said, “He was emaciated the way a dead tree is emaciated.”

Surprisingly, he had no chills at all. He was elated that, by moonlight, he had come all the way up Indian Springs Canyon to the Old Town site. I parked my bike in a large patch of thick grass that was abundant in the area, walked over to the old structure and looked inside. It was an old tin building and incredibly rusty. There were what appeared to be numerous bullet holes in the ceiling that allowed moonlight to penetrate the thick blackness of the interior. I decided not to go into the old building, but admired the workmanship of an old steel hinge where a door had been long ago. I went back to where my bike was and looked up at the sky. The stars were absolutely beautiful. The Big Dipper shone clear and bright directly over the ancient town.

When the clouds passed in front of the moon, it caused an eerie appearance. It was as if you had a dim switch on a lamp and the whole landscape went dark and then light again. She expected to see an apparition in the moonlight among the trees, but I did my best not to think about such things. Instead, I considered the catamounts that might be lurking quietly out of sight, waiting for their chance to grab a bite to eat… ME! And I realized that this would be the last hike here in the desert that I did unarmed.

I poked around a bit, but due to the high amount of water in the area, the low light, and the late hour, I no longer looked for structures. I got on my bike and went down the canyon. As I rode through the canyon, I was aware of the nocturnal sounds and smells of the cool canyon: crickets, talking night birds, and the fragrant smell of Big Sagebrush and Utah Juniper. I had to stop my useless bike and walk all the fords which turned my shoes into a wet mess that I had to walk dry every time I heard the “Squish” “Squish” which could be quite annoying.

I finally made it to my truck at 10:55 pm The entire 8.5 mile adventure took about 2 hours. It would have been considerably less if my bike chain hadn’t broken. I figured I gained about 2,000 feet of elevation to the town site. What a workout and what a beautiful night. I will never forget Indian Springs by the light of the May moon.

If you decide to venture into one of Simpson Mountain’s many canyons, make sure you have good maps, plenty of water, and tell someone where you’re going. Also, if you walk at night, especially in the summer, beware of the numerous snakes that roam around in the dark. Most of the old mines and buildings are probably private property and should not be disturbed. The main draw here is the complete solitude and plenty of water in the middle of the desert.

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