Monday, May 23, 2011

Still dancing with the devil.......

I am truely in awe with the Devils Garden. The most striking thing about the area is the silence. It is so completely quiet that besides the occasional rush of wind or tweet from a bird I have been in complete silence all the day. Nor have I seen a single soul all day. In fact looking at the prints left by other creatures I appear to be the only non cloven footed visitor in while. Perched high above the ground there are the nests of several birds. Actually a falcon could be seen flying over my head for a good portion of the day. I spent the day today just wandering around the area and running back to the Jeep When the thunderstorms would start picking up again. It was a fun day spending the sunny moments scaling and climbing rocks and exploring all the little nooks and crannies that I could find. When climbing around it is not uncommon to be climbing and put your foot down firmly only to be met with a hollow THUD. Its surprising how many hollow spots there are in the rocks.

The whole time I was walking around I kept saying to myself "This place is so cool, I cant believe nobody has heard of it." Sorry no pictures of the interesting things that I found today. I decided that climbing rocks and dodging thunderstorms was perhaps not a wise environment to be lugging around a camera

The Devils Playground would be a cool place to bring older children and spend time camping, exploring and climbing on the rocks. Although is would have to be with careful supervision. A misstep or slip could lead to at times a 20-30 fall in a region that is far from medical help. (the nearest hospital of any size is in Tremonton) The mountains to the west of where I am camped seem like they would be of interest to rock climbers. The cliffs seem well suited for this for climbing.

I just finished making dinner and in the nick of time too! Not two minutes after washing and putting away the last dish the sky opened up. I made it up to the tent with only getting a little damp. Peering out from under the flaps of the tent there are puddles forming everywhere and the Jeep is getting washed just the way mother nature intended. Well folks the battery on the laptop is waning, the rain is pelting the tent and the resounding thunder is making it difficult to concentrate on typing. Off to bed early it is for me. Tomorrow on to Lucin!

The most interesting place nobody ever heard of.

Today I woke up late due to spending several hours of the night sitting on the edge of the tent watching and listening to the coyotes hunt in the dark. I am glad I am spending my nights in a tent mounted 7' from the ground. Although I realize coyotes pose almost no danger to people its comforting to the mind to know that you are sleeping well above their reach. Well rested and anxious to cover some ground I packed up camp and headed westward towards highway 30 and my next destination: The Devils Playground.

The road that led me to Highway 30 paralleled a newly constructed natural gas line. Generally the road was in good condition and facilitated speeds of 50+ MPH. However suddenly there would be sections of the road covered in a sea of mud. These muddy sections required much slower speeds and the occasional use of four wheel drive to navigate. One particular muddy stretch lasted over 5 miles. By the time I had navigated the mud my entire Jeep were completely covered with mud. So completely covered that the only window to the out side world was the path kept vigilantly clean by the windscreen wipers. Before pulling onto highway 30 I climbed out of my now tan Jeep and checked the traffic both directions and proceeded onward.

The Devils Playground is a very seldom visited site in north west Utah. So seldom visited in fact that I seems nobody had ever heard of it or knew where it was. I discovered this place by happenstance surfing the inherent one day. The area appeared to have many oddly shaped and eroded boulders. A quick search on Google was semi fruitless, yielding only a few pictures, vague driving directions and several conflicting GPS coordinates. The Utah Geological Survey had a brief blip explaining that the rocks in the area are granite and around 36 million years old. The area is BLM managed so I called the Salt Lake field office to see if they could clear up some of my questions. After nearly an hour of being transferred from desk to desk I finally found someone that thought they knew about the area. The gentleman (sorry I forgot your your name) told me that the area was indeed BLM land, that dispersed camping was allowed and road to get there was likely gated off but not locked. Somewhat discouraged I pressed him for more information and was told he would call me back. To my surprise my call was returned and I was told that route crossed private property  but if I stayed on the road and left the gate as I found it I "should be ok." Armed with this nugget of information I crossed my fingers that the gate was unlocked.

I drove towards the GPS coordinate I felt held the most promise (it led towards Immigrant Pass road as per the UGS directions) and was met with a gate. Following the instructions I received from I let myself through the gate and proceeded up the trail. After winding up the slope I passed a rock formation that looked the same as found on the Geological Surveys website. I also passed several brown carsonite markers placed by the BLM that indicated that the route I was on was indeed legal. Shortly after that I arrived at the GPS location I had gleaned from the internet.....not quite resembling the pictures I had seen. So I pressed on down the trail and after 2 miles I found what I was looking for and set up camp:

I put on my boots and started working my way through the weird formations in the area.

Many of the large boulders in the area are hollow and have been eroded into seemingly alien shapes. One particular boulder about the size of a car perched high upon the formation appears to be solid. That is until you climb up to it and discover it is completely hollow and contains a small room. The entire area is littered with hollow rocks, fins, spires and hoodoos. I am so intrigued with the place that I decided to spend an extra day and night to hike and exploring the area.

Cannibles, elephants and crocodiles, oh my!

I promise I am not on drugs! I did indeed see a crocodile and an elephant in the desert on i promise it will start to make sense. This morning I started by finishing up loading up the last little bit that I had left, drove out to the gas station and started on the adventure on the way to the gas station I encountered this:

The story behind the name of this street (as i was told by a lifetime resident) is that around the turn of the century down near the river bottoms near the end of this road there was a railroad work camp. The parents of Cove did not want their children hanging around the camp with such riff raff. Somewhere along the line a parent told their kids that the railroad workers were cannibles and that if they went down there they would surely become dinner. The name stuck long after the workers were gone.

I have long heard of a shortcut over to Box Elder County called the short divide, but had yet to try it. So that was the next destination! The road runs west from Clarkston over to Plymouth.

Most of the road is paved, but it appears to be seldom traveled. The road climbs up fairly steeply and at the summitt provides views of the valleys on both sides. Glad I tried it, I may have to use it more often.

Next stop ATK's rocket garden.

Motor used to stabilize sattelites once they are in orbit.

Looking at the business end of a 149 foot long solid booster rocket body.

ATK is best known as the maker of the solid booster rockets once used in the space shuttle program. The rockets are built here then broken down into sections and shipped by rail to Florida where they are reassembled and fired off into the blue yonder. (side note: my uncle has ridden this train before and my grandpa spent his entire working carreer here) Besides the space program ATK was a major player in the cold war era. The minute man and patriot intercontinental ballistic missles (ICBM) were built here. The Spartin defense missles were also built here. These missles sole purpose was to intercept an incoming russian missile should one ever be launched. As were the Pershing missles. (you will hear more about these at a later point on the trip)

ATK is currently working to build the new rocket that will be replacing the space shuttle. The aries series rocket will be the worlds largest ever built; designed to burn at 5000 degrees, 3,200,000 pounds of thrust and have the equivilence of 15,400,000 horse power! In fact the static test of this rocket in Febuary of 2010 melted all the snow off the mountain that was directly behind it!

I arrived at the nearby Golden Spike Historical site just in time to see Jupiter roll on down the tracks. It was a pretty unique sight to see. 

After checking out the steam train for bit I then wandered to the small displays and short video available at the visitors center offers and then headed out.

Next stop was Rozel Point and the Spiral Jetty. In the past Rozel Point has been the site of oil drilling. In recent years there has been talk about reopening the area for drilling but it was met with opposition. In the shallow waters and mud flats in this area the oil seeps its way to the surface naturally. Large blobs of tar are to be seen periodically littering the area.

These pilons soldier their way out into the salty mud flats and are the remains of a pier and likely a drilling platform:

Strange metal ball out in the mud

Around the corner is the Spiral Jetty:

(Trying to be all artsy fartsy with the camera)

"A work of art when placed in a gallery looses its charge and becomes a protable object or surface disengaged from the real world" -Robert Smithson

The Spiral Jetty is is a 1500 foot long 15 foot wide earth and basalt rock sculpture that coils out into the lake designed by Robert Smithson. As the story goes Smithson had some difficulty convincing contractors in the area that he was indeed serious and that they would be paid if they completed the strange job. Once a contractor was convinced the spiral was constructed in April of 1970. It took six days and $9000 to complete. The Jetty was mostly sumerged for 25-30 years until the droughts of the last decade casued the lake to drop substatnially. It is likely that the spiral will find itself under water once again very soon. The past winter brought deep snows, a wet spring and tempatures much colder than average. There is talk of widespread flooding like in 1983. In much of norheren Utah the snowpack is still 200% of normal with the heat of summer fast approaching. Its difficult to tell in the pictures because of the dark and overcast day but this part of the lake is extremely pink. This area is cut off from the rest of the lake by the Lucin cutoff caseway. This isolation has made the water extremely salty (27% salinity) the pink hue is due to a bacteria that thrives in such conditions

Then it was west along the rail bed of the first transcontenetal railroad towards the remains of Kelton.
(see I told you there was an elephant)

This brings us to all that remains of the town of Kelton, The cemetery.

The oldest remaining wooden grave marker.

There is certainly a sad story accompanies these headstones, but the story may have been lost to the desert and time. From the headstones one can assume that the father died on new year's day and a few short months the wife died giving birth to a child . Hard lives were lived in this desolate country.

Kelton was started with the connecting of the rails in 1869. By the 1880's the town bosted 13 saloons and was the start of an overland stage to points northward. The stage line was proported to be the most held up of all the stages run by Wells Fargo. It was usually held up weekly, if not daily! The town began its decline in the 1900's when the lucin cutoff bypassed the town. In 1934 the largest earthquake in Utah history (mangitude 6.6) rocked the area. The earthquake and resulting aftershocks caused fissures to open and flow with mud. Many of the homes were damaged and destroyed. The town school was leaning severely, abandoned and demolished. The final blow to the few remaining residences came in 1942 when the railroad decided that there was not enough traffic to justify maintaining the line and the rails were scrapped for the war effort.

Nearby is the Wheeler Survey marker. The Wheeler Survey was an early attempt to discover what rescourses the western states had to offer. The groups charge was: "To ascertain evereything related to the physical features of the region"

  • Inventory the indian population (numbers and disposition)
  • Record locations for ruture millitary sites
  • Look for routes for future railroad and road systems
  • Discover the possible mineral resources
  • Record the water resources
  • Possible lands for agricultural uses
  • Record climate
  • Record Geology
  • Identify the vegetation

Early expeditions started in 1869 and continued untill 1879. The US Geological Survey took over control of the marker that remain and included them in the network of control points that surveyors use today
The marker was at one time carved with information, but much of the information has worn off by the hand of mother nature and gun toating hillbillies.

Nearby vertical control monument......some may not find this interesting but I am a surveyor after all.

I drove a few miles untill I found a short spur that left off of the main trail just north of crocodile mountain. I set up camp, made dinner and listened to the coyote howls serenaded me to sleep.

See I finally got to the crocodile!

Introduction to my adventure.

When I was a young kid I would read in magazines tales of the travels of the Turtle Expedition and their adventures traveling the world, pretending I was there with them. On family trips to southern Utah I look out the window lusting to see the canyons in the distance our van couldn't go. I read books that detailed amazing journeys and adventures that others had taken. I would oogle muddy 4x4's as I passed going the other direction wondering what adventures they had seen. I think is is safe to say I was bitten by "wanderlust" at a young age.

Fast forward to the last few years:
During my time in college I promised myself on many occasions that if I studied my hardest and passed a class I was struggling in and could manage a good grade I would reward the effort by going out and exploring. I would study my hardest, exceed my expectations and get excited about the reward. But then reality would sink was the end of the semester and I was completely broke and without the vehicle or equipment for such a proposition. Finally graduation day came: I worked hard and supprised myself by graduated with honors, but still hadn't gone camping. Time passed and I got a new Jeep, started rebuilding it and had saved up a little bit of money. I finally had the means to reward myself for all the effort that I had put forth into school. Only problem was was deciding where I should go? Sitting next to my computer was a growing list with pages of places that I longed to visit. Then the crazy thought struk me: "Why not just visit all of them?" "Have I gone crazy", I thought to myself.....but then started to realize that right now was the time in my life for do a trip like that. I am single, have only a few bills, no girlfriend, no apartment or lease, haven't started my career. It seemed there was really nothing tying me back. It struck me that a chance like this only happens once in a lifetime and its not likely that the stars would align again as they had at this time. I put my bills on auto pay and started researching: I did not want to live with the regret of not following my dreams.

Thats how we got here: me sitting in my roof top tent on the outskirts of the remains of a ghost town, in the middle of nowhere, hours from the nearest town, yet feeling the happiest I have felt in a long time.

I hope that you will follow me along my adventure as it unfolds. I invite you to share it with like minded friends and to ask quesions if any come up along the way. (I only ask you be patient, internet service is rather sparce on the dusty two tracks far from civilition. I may be a bit slow in responding) And thanks to all those who have helped me realize this dream by being supportive and helping me along the way!

-Daniel Milligan