Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adventure to the Oro Del Ray mine:

Last night sure was a sleepless night! The wind blew so hard that the Jeep and tent shook violently the entire night. I am again pleased to report that the tent was robust enough to withstand the elements. Although I am sure in a ground tent set up sheltered from the wind by the Jeep would have been far better........one strike against the roof tent.

I made up some coffee to help me feel more civilized and headed to the west. My GPS was suggesting a route that took me to the south cutting across a corner of the Wendover bombing range. The route looked like it would shave off ten or so miles and would be all dirt instead of pavement. Unsure if the route was legitimate I hopped in the Jeep and drove on. The road did cut through the bombing range however it was fenced on both sides and marked with these signs every few hundred feet:

After driving for awhile I made it to the bustling metropolis of Gold Hill.



Gold Hill was settled in 1892 with the discovery of gold in the hills to the east. The area is home to many minerals: gold, copper, arsenic, tungsten and lead. The need for arsenic was great during WWI for its use as a pesticide in the south for cotton crops and this area had plenty. The railroad built a spur in the area in 1917 and the town boomed. At its peak the town boasted 3000 people stores, a school, a pool hall and even a newspaper. This boom lasted until cheaper (foreign) sources of arsenic were discovered and the town started to decline. The town lingered for a few decades until WWII when the need for tungsten grew. Tungsten was in short supply and badly needed for steel production and as the element in light bulbs. The town came to life for a few short years until the demand waned. I drove around the area and explored some of the mines in the area. Most are abandoned. However a few show signs of recent activity, likely due to the high of price of gold.





In some places you really need to watch your step. Some of the old pits are very unstable and unmarked. Some of mine sites I wandered had literally hundreds of small exploratory pits. It was interesting to see the rocks, they vary from a dark rust color, white and even a bright green.

After exploring the area for awhile I made my way across the original Pony Express route towards Callao. Callao was originally named Willow Springs, but the residences decided that it was too common of a name. A miner from Gold Hill said the area had a striking resemblance to Callao, Peru so that's the name that stuck. The town has a long history of being small and isolated from the world around it. Most of the homes in the area are the original log cabins that the settlers built. If you replaced the pickup truck in the driveway with a horse and buggy you would think you were transported back 100 years. The town was at one time a stop along the old Lincoln highway but it has long since been bypassed by the interstate system.



There is a story behind the "do not hump" painted on the side. It was not applied because the locals teenagers get really lonely.....its a railroading term. "Humping" train cars is letting the cars roll free and bang into each other to couple. Now storage sheds were once used to cover the rail cars that carried the space shuttle booster rockets from ATK to Cape Canaveral Florida. You can see now why this is something you probably don't want to hump ;)

My uncle worked at ATK for years and had ridden the train before. (pictures of train gleaned from the internet)

I then started to navigate my way towards the Oro Del Ray mine in the Deep Creek mountains to the east. I once saw pictures of this mine on Expedition Utah and decided that it looked like a really interesting place to check out. I found the coordinates via Google and was unable to find much about the condition of trail to get there. Looking on Google Earth I determined that there were 14 switch backs that went about strait up a hill. I did find a short blip online saying that it was either a long strenuous hike or a long bumpy ATV ride to get there. The trail is the boundary of a wilderness study area and it is signed with a BLM map stating that the route is indeed legal to travel for the time being.

The trail to the mouth of the canyon is littered with rocks and is bumpy and slow. I spent the better part of an hour creeping along in low range with the speedometer rarely raising off of zero.

Ore chute at the mouth of the canyon

Once in the canyon I was greeted by a trail that was inundated by the water of the wet spring we are having.

There were also several downed trees across the trail. Cutting, chaining and dragging them from the trail took well over an hour.

The trail began to get worse and worse until I was rock crawling my way up a swift and rocky river bed. I babied my little Jeep up the rocky incline as the water and rolling rocks resisted progress. Along the way my poor muffler got in an argument with a rock and lost.......a gash punctured the bottom. I decided that forward progress would probably be quicker on foot (and be less abusive to my Jeep) so I pulled over to the side and began hiking. The trail was steep, rocky and wet. Eventually I hiked to the base of the switchbacks and discovered two really neat cabins


After a brief break exploring this camp I decided to press on up the switchbacks. I knew that the hike ahead was a long steep one and that I would be gaining over 1200 feet in elevation from the point I was currently at....three long hours later I found myself at 9000 feet and at the mine!




A shack with a VIEW!

The hike offered vistas of the valley floor almost 5000 feet below and of the surrounding snow capped mountains.

Most of the hike up from the cabins was fairly easy.

Tired from the hike, exploring and with the sun getting low in the sky I reluctantly decided that it was time to head back to the Jeep. After 1.5 hours of hiking I was back, exhausted and not looking forward to the bumpy ride out of the canyon. I pressed onward as the light slowly faded, slipping off the rutted trail in the process. I was totally high centered on my axles with two wheels aimlessly spinning in the air. Tired, wet, cold and hungry I was not too happy about my current predicament but I broke out the highlift jack and shovel and went to work anyway. 45 minutes later I was rolling again and glad to be heading towards a graded county road. I was grumpy enough that I decided to hell with taking a picture of the Jeep stuck..........

Ecstatic to be on a decent gravel road again I decided against making camp nearby and made my way up the Overland Canyon road towards Gold Hill then on to Ibapah Road towards my next adventure: a desert race!

A visit to the local blood bank:

Wanna see why I was dressed in snorkeling attire heading out into the desert yesterday?

The destination for today is Blue lake. This desert oasis is a series of geothermal fed ponds right on the border of Nevada and Utah, due south of Wendover. The area is actually part of the Wendover testing range and is managed by the BLM (and open to the public) because of its importance to local wild life. The reserve is surrounded on three sides by the bombing range and Nevada on the third. This is the reason the lake hat to be accessed from the Nevada side.

I prefer the series of lakes not usually frequented by SCUBA divers, as they are my favorite to snorkel. Each of these small ponds are interconnected by narrow and shallow channels. I spent several hours snorkeling, free diving and exploring the ponds. Some ponds are warmer than others. Some portions one pond are warmer than the remainder. If you look on the bottom for small depressions in which the silt seems to be boiling you are right above a point where the warm water mixes with the cold. If you pause in these areas you warm up quickly. Even though I was visiting during a cool spring with temperatures only reaching into the 60's I was still comfortable without a wetsuit. The slightly salty water is also home to several kinds of fish:  blue gill, bass, sun fish and talapia. The only word of caution I offer is be careful not to stir up the silt in the shallows or while swimming the shallow connecting channels. The silt kicks up easily and can take upwards of an hour to settle back down.

Blue lake is popular with local SCUBA divers. It is used to train for open water certification. It is also one of the only bodies of water that is warm enough most of the year. In fact this is where I certified to become a SCUBA diver back in 1997. Surface temperatures are 60-75 and the temps near the bottom hover near 85 year round. In the main lake there is a sunken boat, skeletons, road signs, platforms and other things to keep a diver busy. If memory serves me the lake reaches a depth of 65 feet. Here are some pictures of the large lake that is primarily used for diving and swimming activities:
As you can see its significantly larger

Local divers have added docks, ladders and a boardwalk through the swamps to help make the area more usable.

Late fall and early spring are the best times to visit because the algae and mosquito's are not as bad. When the algae is in bloom visibility is bad as 3 feet. If the bottom is stirred up you cant see six inches. A word about mosquito's......they can be downright horrible here! Bring your best repellent and still expect to get eaten alive. When the breeze picks up you are free to wander around at will. But when the air is still you are an all you can eat buffet. During my visit I was confined to the roof tent till about 11 am, but once the breeze picked up and I was free to swim, cook and wander around without worries of being sucked dry.

Even using a polarizing filter to cut the surface glare my pictures still fail to show how blue the water really is (hence the name of the lake I suppose)

Once I was to tired to swim any longer I was treated to a show put on by the United States Air Force. Approximately 5 miles to the east I watched as two fighter jets practiced maneuvers in a mock dog fight. The jets swooped, turned and dove quickly. When one jet would be in a position to make a "kill shot" you would see the flame and smoke trail of a simulated rocket. It was a spectacular sight to see and helped to pass the time. Since the dog fight was so far away, and I don't have an awesome telephoto lens your just going to have to use your imagination. This display of prowess should come as no surprise since the lake is bordered on three sides by the still active Wendover Testing Range.

A glimpse into utah's atomic history.

Today started out on the wrong foot. The Jeep and I spent the night tucked between semi trailers at a local truck stop seeking shelter from the wind. The wind occasionally blew with just the right direction and velocity over the exhaust stacks of the surrounding trucks, causing them to resonate like big tin flutes. Between the wind, sound of idling diesel motors and a sick stomach from the casino buffet it was not a restful night. The sun began to rise and the whole parking lot of diesel engines seemed to fire up and rumble in unison.  Unable to sleep and having a fistful of zip ties for my ailing throttle cable I decided that a short trip into the nearby Silver Island Mountains was in order.

I headed towards Donner-Reed pass. This is where the party reached solid ground after struggled their way through the mud of the salt flats. This shortcut was known as the Hasting Cutoff and it was rumored to be quicker, however if the mud and salt was not solid it was most certainly not. The Donner- Reed crossing of the mud flats caused them to be stuck often, caused lengthy delays and death of animals that caused them to get caught in the snow of the Sierra Nevadas.
Looking to the east across the salt flats.

Then a short jaunt to the north to explore the remains of a tungsten mine I discovered while exploring the area on Google Earth. (A+ trip planning tool in my book)







They certainly don't make tires like this anymore. Worn well into the cords, completely sun rotten and likely sitting for decades. Yet it still holds air!

Not much remains of the tungsten mine. Mostly its just abandoned cars, the stripped carcass of a dozer and the concrete foundation of the mill. A pack rat has a home inside many of the cars. There was an old International truck, an Oldsmobile, a Chrysler, a Ford falcon, a Chevy sedan and a panel wagon (International?) I hiked the area looking for signs of the original mine to no avail. There are a few small scattered diggings in the hills nearby but no one large excavation site. This was probably a mining venture that was not very successful.
Perhaps this is where the mine shaft was, however there is no tailing pile nearby.

I stopped by the Bonneville Speedway on my way back into town. The flats are under water right now but I do plan on visiting them this august when they are having speed week. Sorry no pictures, just imagine water and you basically have the idea.

Wendover airfield: you wouldn't know it by looking at it today but in 1943 was the largest military reserve in the world. It was home to 20,000 airman, 668 buildings and encompassed 3.5 million acres. Power to the airbase was provided by a power generation plant that housed 7 diesel generators. The area was so remote that the plant was leased to the local utility company in 1957 and remained in use until 1980. There was also an underground "tank farm" that held 300,000 gallons of fuel

After the war the need for training bombing crews decreased sharply and subsequently so did the use of the base. 1977 the airforce handed over the airfield to Wendover City and in 1999 Wendover handed it over to Tooele county. Today the base is a collection of 100 buildings in various states of disrepair

They still allow you to climb the 67 steps up to the original air control tower. If you are scared of heights and "high performance safety wire" on the railing the climb may not be for you.



If you have ever seen the movie "Con-Air" this may be familiar to you:


(apparently I forgot to take a picture of the whole exterior.....oops)
This plane was used as a prop for the movie and therefore carries markings of the "US Marshall" This flightless plane was once mounted to a bus chassis and used for the taxi way and static shots. Unfortunately during filming the plane collapsed, killing one. The FAA was called in to investigate the accident (non-working prop or not it was still an airplane) The investigation took so long that the plane sat on the tarmack that it was forgotten by Disney and eventually found a home as a display.

This is an actual bomb sight that would have been used here at the base.

The staff at the museum/ operations desk were very accommodating and informative. After signing in and chatting a bit they showed me a map of the area, where to visit and the code to open the doors to the other exhibits. There is a private company that also offers 1 hr tours for $25. Personally I don't think its worth the money. I overheard the tour and she just explained the displays and photographs (which the plaques and movie already do well) However you do get to see the inside of the Enola Gay hanger and see the pit used to load the bombs.

Since talking with the staff at the operations building I started wandering around the base. The remains of the base are owned by The Air Force, Tooele County, Wendover City, a cement company, and many various individuals.



These cars (and barracks) are owned by the individual that owns the local news paper and local oval race track. He is apparently a car collector, but rarely shows the cars that he keeps in the barracks and in the fenced in compound behind. From the control tower you can see some interesting looking collector cars back there.

The barracks of the base.

This is part of the hospital that was once on base. The hospital was a series of small buildings (similar in construction to the barracks) but they were interconnected with covered walkways

Picture of the hanger that once housed the Enola Gay bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.

As I mentioned before the base was the training center for WWII bombers. 21 heavy bomber groups trained here. Perhaps the most historically significant are the bomber crews that flew the "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar." These are the bombers that delivered destructive nuclear payloads upon Japan. In fact the bombs were loaded here and were carried on board until they were dropped on their targets. It is a little known fact that a third atomic bomb was loaded in bomber and was on its way to deliver yet another bomb on Japan. However Japan surrendered while the plane was in route and was turned back. The bomb was sent back to Wendover, disassembled and sent to Los Alamos.

A quote that sums up the significance of this area to me:
"If the radiance of 1000 suns were to burst into the sky, that would be the splendor of the mighty one"
-Bhagavad Gita

I got a phone call saying my throttle cable was in eager to get out of Wendover I made a b-line to the parts store! Since my plan is "fluid" and I was antsy to get out of town I headed west into the dry dusty sage brush......dressed in the proper attire for desert exploration of course: