A Place Called Indian Springs – Tooele County, Utah

One evening after work I decided to go exploring in the Desert. I left my house at 8:30pm and I arrived at the mouth of Indian Springs Canyon at 9:10pm. This canyon is located in the Simpson Mountains which are a compact range just west of the Sheeprock Mountains. They are named for Captain James Hervey Simpson who explored the desert in the late 1850’s. On the way out I ran into the Onaqui Mountain wild horse herd on the Dugway / Lookout Pass road. There were at least 150 horses and I had to go very slow and move them off of the road.

I noticed that the minor east summits of Big Davis Mountain are actually quite elevated above the valley floor from the Skull Valley east perspective. I finally reached 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 had ever seen it running.

I drove around the northern end of the Simpson Range and noticed several interesting roads heading up into their foothills to interesting rock outcrops and even some hollows in the rocks that appeared to be caves. I continued on and after 19 miles from Dugway I passed through Simpson Springs and thought about Chorpenning, Major Egan, James Simpson, Clara Anderson, and all of the other history of the place as I passed through.

About 5 miles west of Simpson Springs I followed a pretty decent road south and the sign read “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 went out about 70 yards from the main road to the edge of the escarpment which looms over the flat bench lands above the Old River Bed. What a view of the Desert, Table Mountain, and the Camel Back Ridge to the north. I surveyed the scene for a bit and then determined that I had gone too far south for the Indian Springs road.

I then backtracked north for about 2 miles and arrived at an old 2 track which I believed was the road up into Indian Springs Canyon. I parked the truck, took my bike off of the rack, looked over my shoulder at the waning light of evening and the misty golden desert sky, penetrated by mysterious rocky ranges, and started east up into Indian Springs wash / canyon. Just after I had started riding east, I spooked out a couple of mule deer who seemed very surprised by my presence. I followed this road through sage and scattered Juniper until I came to a junction with a much better and more pronounced road coming in from the north west. I realized that this new road would be the road of choice if I were to visit this place again. I marked this junction with a white rock in the grey dirt and continued east up the canyon.

I had read reports of a great amount of water being present in this canyon and I was disappointed that I had gone over a mile and a half with still no sign of water in the dusty drainage. By this time all light of day 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 on. At about the 2 mile mark I heard the gushing and gurgling of water. As I continued I noticed a large gorge open up on the south side of the road. The moonlight will play tricks on your depth perception and height / distance estimations but I would say that this gorge was at least 60 feet deep in places and the bottom was full of water. The road in this area will more than likely be lost in a few more years due to the massive erosion occurring here.

Farther along the canyon began to change markedly. There were large 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 from 6 to 40 feet long and some were fully knee deep. Due to the changing geology from the desert to the higher canyon, erosion was not very prevalent here and the water was very cold and clear as it reflected the moonlight I could see the stones on the bottom clearly.

As I ventured up the canyon, I considered the Indians that must have frequented this place such as chief Peanum, old Tabby, chief Tintic and others. I also considered the Emigrants on the Trail to California who it is said went out of their way south to this canyon so abundant with wood and water. I thought of Captain Simpson and his expedition and wondered if this was the water in the Champlain Mountains that saved their lives after the disastrous crossing of the Sevier Desert and Keg Mountain. And lastly, I realized that I was treading the same ground that Colonel Patrick Edward Connor did with his 3rd California Infantry volunteers on their way to the Salt Lake Valley. In fact, it was Connor’s men who at his direction first cut the road up Indian Springs Canyon and over the pass down into Lee Canyon and Porter Valley. All of these thoughts filled my head as a ventured farther up the canyon.

About 4 miles up the canyon in the middle of the 4th ford, my bike chain broke and dangled behind me in the creek. I came to an abrupt halt and splashed into the water up to my knees. It was a warm night so the water actually felt good. I cleared the stream and assessed the situation. It had been dark for an hour but there was good light from the moon, the temperature was comfortable, my brakes worked fine, and my tires were in good condition so I decided to continue on. I walked my bike through the last 2 fords and came to a heavy cattle guard.

By this time the ground was moist in the canyon, there was good grass in spots and the sound of running water filled the night air. At this point I looked directly north and noticed the west face of the Indian Peaks looming large above me. In the moonlight they were well defined and clear and appeared a sort of powder grey / blue. The canyon opened up a bit and I came to another fork in the road. I followed the fork with the water cause I had heard that the source of this water was one of the old mines of the long forgotten mining town of Indian Springs.

The road deteriorated greatly and there were violent rivulets of speeding water gushing down each side. There was a much larger course of water just south of the road in the bulrushes. 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 came around a large juniper and saw a gaunt looking old building staring at me with it’s dark gaping doorway and windows from the shadows with the whole structure washed in pale moon light. As Louis L’amour once said “it was gaunt in the same way a dead tree is gaunt”.

Amazingly, I did not have the creeps at all. I was elated that by the light of the moon I had come all the way up Indian Springs Canyon to the old town site. I parked my bike on a large patch of thick grass which was abundant in the area and walked over to the old structure and peered in. It was an old tin building and incredibly rusted. There were what appeared to be numerous bullet holes in the roof which allowed the moonlight to penetrate the thick blackness within. I decided against entering the old building but I admired the workmanship of an old steel hinge in 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 gorgeous. The big dipper shone clear and bright directly above the old townsite.

When clouds passed in front of the moon it caused an eerie appearance. It was like you had a dim switch on a lamp and the whole landscape would go quite dark and then light again. I fully expected to see an apparition in the moonlight out in the trees but I tried best I could not to think of such things. Instead I considered the catamounts that could be lurking quietly just out of view, waiting for their chance at a snack… ME! And I realized that this would be the last hike out here in the desert that I went on un-armed.

I snooped around a bit but due to the large amount of water in the area, poor light, and late hour, I did not search for anymore structures. I got on my bike and coasted down the canyon. As I rode down the canyon I was aware of the night sounds and smells of the cool canyon – crickets, night birds talking, and the fragrant odor of Big Sagebrush and Utah Juniper. I had to stop my useless bike and walk all of the fords which turned my sneakers into a soggy mess which I had to walk dry each time listening to the “Squish” “Squish” which could be quite annoying.

I finally arrived back at my truck at 10:55pm. The entire 8.5 mile adventure took me just about 2 hours. It would have been considerably less if my bike chain wouldn’t have broke. I figured I gained about 2,000 feet of elevation up to the town site. What a work out and what a beautiful night. I will never forget Indian Springs in the Moonlight of May.

If you decide to venture out into one of the many Simpson Mountain Canyons, make sure you have good maps, plenty of water, and that you tell someone where you are going. Also, if you hike at night, especially in the summer time, beware of the numerous snakes that are out and about in the dark. Most of the old mines and buildings are probably private property and should not be disturbed. The main attraction here is complete solitude and a lot of water in the middle of the desert.

Leave a Reply