A place called Indian Springs – Tooele County, Utah
One night after work, I decided to go exploring in the desert. I left my house at 8:30 pm and reached 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 encountered 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 slow and get them off the road.
I noticed that the lower peaks east of Big Davis Mountain are actually quite high above the valley floor from the eastern perspective of Skull Valley. I finally made it to the Pony Express trail and headed west through Government Creek. There was actually a pretty good flow of muddy water in the creek bed here and this was the first time I saw it run.
I drove around the northern end of the Simpson Range and noticed several interesting roads leading up its slopes to interesting rocky outcrops and even some hollows in the rocks that appeared to be caves. I carried on and after 19 miles from Dugway I passed 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 took a pretty decent trail south and the sign said “Death Canyon 12 miles; Indian Springs 5 miles.” I followed this road for about 6 miles and came to a small spur in the road on the west side that ran out about 70 yards from the main road to the edge of the escarpment that looms over the flat bank grounds above the old river bed. River. What a view of the desert, Table Mountain and Camel Back Ridge to the north. I studied the scene a bit and then determined that I had gone too far south for the Indian Springs road.
Then I went back north for about 2 miles and came to an old track 2 that I thought was the road leading to Indian Springs Canyon. I parked the truck, pulled my bike out of the trunk, looked over my shoulder into the waning evening light and the hazy, golden desert sky, penetrated by eerie rocky ridges, and started east toward the Indian Springs wash / canyon. Right after I started riding east, I spooked a couple of mule deer who seemed very surprised by my presence. I followed this path through Sage and dispersed Juniper until I came to a junction with a much better, steeper path coming from the northwest. I realized that this new path would be the path of choice if I were to visit this place again. I marked this junction with a white rock on 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 that I had traveled more than a mile and a half without still a trace of water in the dusty drain. By this time, all the daylight was gone, but the moon was full and there were only a few clouds, so the ambient lighting was very good and I continued. At about 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. The 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.
Later on, the barrel began to change noticeably. There were large pools of water on the road and then the fords came. 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 highest canyon, erosion was not very frequent here and the water was very cold and clear as it reflected the moonlight. He could see the stones at the bottom clearly.
As I ventured down the canyon, I considered the Indians who must frequent this place as Chief Peanum, Old Tabby, Chief Tintic, and others. I also considered the Emigrants on the Road to California who are said to have drifted south into this canyon so abundant in wood and water. I thought of Captain Simpson and his expedition and wondered if it was the water from the Champlain Mountains that saved their lives after the disastrous crossing of the Sevier Wilderness and Keg Mountain. And finally, I realized that I was treading the same ground as Colonel Patrick Edward Connor with his volunteers from the California Third Infantry on their way to the Salt Lake Valley. In fact, it was Connor’s men who, under his guidance, first cut the road to Indian Springs Canyon and then crossed the pass to Lee Canyon and Porter Valley. All these thoughts filled my head as I ventured into the canyon.
About 4 miles up the canyon in the middle of the fourth ford, my bike chain broke and hung behind me in the creek. I stopped abruptly and splashed knee-deep in the water. It was a warm night, so the water really felt good. I cleared the creek 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 walked my bike through the last 2 fords and came to a heavy cattle guard.
By then the canyon floor was damp, 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 well defined and clear and looked like some kind of gray / blue powder. The canyon opened a bit and I came to another fork in the road. 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 deteriorated enormously and there were violent rivulets of water running at full speed on each side. There was a much larger watercourse south of the road in the reeds. Just when 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 shocked when I came to a large juniper and saw an old building of look haggard. staring at me with its dark open door and windows from the shadows with the entire structure bathed in pale moonlight. As Louis L’amour once said “he was emaciated in the same way that a dead tree is emaciated.”
Surprisingly, he had no chills at all. He was elated that in the moonlight he had made his way all the way up to 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, incredibly rusty tin building. There were what appeared to be numerous bullet holes in the ceiling that allowed the 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 in the place 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 great saucepan shone bright and clear directly over the old town.
When the clouds passed in front of the moon, they caused an eerie appearance. It was like you had a dim switch on a lamp and the whole landscape would go dark and then light up again. I was expecting to see an apparition in the moonlight in the trees, but I tried my best not to think about those things. Instead, I considered the catamoons that might be lurking silently out of sight, waiting for their chance for a snack … ME! And I realized that this would be the last hike here in the desert that I would do without weapons.
I scrutinized a bit, but due to the large amount of water in the area, the low light, and the late hour, I didn’t look for any more structures. I got on my bike and went down the canyon. As I rode through the canyon, I became aware of the nightly sounds and smells of the cool canyon: crickets, night birds talking, and the fragrant smell of Big Sagebrush and Utah Juniper. I had to stop my useless bike and hike all the fords which turned my shoes into a soggy mess that I had to walk dry every time I heard the “Squish” “Squish” which could be quite annoying.
I finally got to my truck at 10:55 pm. The entire 8.5 mile adventure took me about 2 hours. It would have been considerably less if my bike chain hadn’t broken. I assumed it had gained about 2,000 feet in elevation to the site of the city. What an exercise and what a beautiful night. I will never forget Indian Springs in the moonlight of May.
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 are going. Also, if you walk at night, especially in summer, watch out for the many snakes found in the dark. Most of the old mines and buildings are probably private property and should not be disturbed. The main attraction here is the complete solitude and lots of water in the middle of the desert.