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DAY HIKE TO SNOWY DESERET PEAK AFFORDS POSTCARD VIEWS OF UTAH

SHARE DAY HIKE TO SNOWY DESERET PEAK AFFORDS POSTCARD VIEWS OF UTAH

Tooele County's Deseret Peak is a moderately strenuous day hike. However, for comparison, it requires only about 60 percent of the effort of a Timpanogos Peak hike and about 40 percent of the endurance a Mount Nebo trek demands.

The Deseret Peak trailhead is about 40 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Take I-80 west and exit at Grantsville. Take Main Street to the west side of town and turn south where a prominent U.S. Forest Service sign indicates the way to North and South Willow canyons.Approaching the Stansburys you may wonder which summit is Deseret Peak. While it certainly is the highest point in the vicinity, it is not that easy to pinpoint - until you've hiked to its summit.

A location key in all but late summer and fall is to look for the peak with the most snow lingering upon it, in the southern section of the range's tallest summits. North of Deseret are what some locals call the "Willow Peaks"; these top out at 10,525, 10,012 and 10,129 feet, but are not listed on most maps. These, along with an unnamed 10,694-foot peak to the south, can make singling out Deseret Peak confusing.

Be sure to take the second recreational turnoff on this route, southwest of Grantsville - the one to South Willow Canyon. This road is paved for several miles, though the westbound lane is only half a road's normal width, judging by a yellow center line paved on the narrow highway.

After the gravel begins, it's about five miles to the trailhead parking lot. The road is wash-boarded to a degree, thanks to the many horse trailers used in the area, but passable for cars if they go slow.

Several private residences sit in the lower canyon before a string of six Forest Service campgrounds appear - Intake, Boy Scout, Lower Narrows, Upper Narrows and Loop.

South Willow's Narrows are accurately named, as they are indeed tight slits between rocky cliffs through which the road passes. The Upper Narrows chasm is the most scenic, creating a perfect photographic frame of a portion of the Stansbury peaks.

On a summer weekday, use of the six campgrounds and trails is light, but weekends can be crowded.

At the Loop campground, a small parking area is available for hikers where the road begins to loop back to the east. Restrooms and a trailhead map and sign are there. The most convenient drinkable water is a couple of miles back, in front the Forest Service Ranger Station.

Expect cool mornings at the trailhead. This low pocket in the Stansburys may be one of the coldest spots in the area. Frost was evident on at least one midsummer morning this year.

How long is the Deseret Peak hike? Opinions vary. Patty Kline, recreation manager for the Salt Lake District of the U.S. Forest Service, believes it is four miles one way to the top but says that it feels more like a five-mile effort. One Utah hiking book states six miles to the top, while another says only 3.25 miles. Whatever the exact figure, expect the experience to feel like five or six miles, one way.

Properly called the Mill Fork Trail, this hike begins at a 7,400-foot elevation through a tall aspen forest. This side of Deseret Peak was proclaimed a wilderness area in 1984, so no mountain bikes or motorized vehicles are allowed. Still, it's a little unsettling how many different names have been carved in dozens of aspens along the lower portion of the trail.

After 3/4 of a mile, the trail crosses a stream. Shortly afterward, the trail forks. The best trail to Deseret Peak is to the left (south). The other goes to Willow Lakes (2.5 miles away) and is a possible return trail.

The Mill Fork Trail isn't particularly wide, with overgrowth often closing in, but it is clearly visible. The trail gets steeper near a mountain saddle, and snow patches lasting into August could block the trail.

Paul Dart, a 27-year Forest Service veteran from Tooele, said the Deseret Peak trail is passable in most years by the Fourth of July. This year's cool spring pushed that back several weeks. By late September, early snowfall could again block the trail. Prickly plants - nettles and such - are found all along the trail, so some hikers may not want to wear shorts here.

As the trail climbs, aspens disappear and pine trees take over. Relatively soon, postcard views of the Great Salt Lake appear to the northeast, framed by the Stans-bury mountainsides.

About five miles out and at 10,000 feet above sea level, the trail reaches a saddle, with the Tooele area on one side and Dugway and Skull Valley on the other. A side trail is found here, with a sign identifying the way to Antelope Canyon.

For exhausted hikers, this long ridge offers some excellent views, even if they decide not too continue to the summit. From here the south section of Deseret Peak is visible as a majestic cliff, but the actual summit still cannot be seen. Just 400 yards north up the slope is where the largest snow patch in the area is located - usually blocking the trail most of the summer. If you don't want to cross the snow, head left, not right, to best intersect the continuation of the trail.

The last mile in thin air climbs 1,000 feet to the summit. This portion of the trail is reminiscent of parts of the upper hike to Timp, with shale rock piles, no trees and lots of deep breathing. (And the solitude found here compared to Timp is refreshing.)

At the summit you can confirm your arrival by locating two metal U.S. Geologic Survey markers imbedded in the rock, installed in 1938. A crude rock shelter, possibly the ruins of an old heliograph station, can also be found.

The Salt Lake Valley itself cannot be seen behind the Oquirrhs, but just to the east is the top of Timpanogos, looking as much like the figure of a sleeping woman as from anywhere else. Nebo, Lone Peak, Francis Peak, Thurston Peak, Mount Ogden, Ben Lomond and the Wellsville mountains are all easily seen as well.

On a clear day, Pilot Peak, just over the border in Nevada, can be glimpsed to the northwest. Skull Valley and the Cedar Mountains beyond show up on the west side. Farther west, the snowcapped Deep Creek Mountains rise above the desert haze. Stansbury, Antelope and Fremont islands also are clear in the Great Salt Lake.

Insects flourish on top of Deseret Peak. Bees, flies and butterflies all seem to thrive on the summit, which is specked with small flower patches. Small birds whiz by occasionally.

Nearby snow patches and cornices are also reminiscent of Timp, and the cliff-face drop on the peak's east side is comparable to the Timpanogos-Emerald Lake escarpment, though there are no glaciers to slide down here.

Leaving Deseret Peak, hikers have two options. They can return the way they came or, with a bit of faith, head farther north along a little rougher return trail.

This section is not well-maintained and has a few eroded slopes where the use of hands is required to lower oneself safely to the next trail section. Several patches of snow block parts of the trail as well, but it is along this route where a herd of elusive wild horses the Forest Service can't even count with a helicopter might be spotted on a lucky day in the western valleys below.

This return trail also lacks a couple of key signs. At one such point, where only an old post now stands, some hikers - seeing an uphill section ahead - elect to head down a very rough and steep trail through a natural chute to the Dry Lake area, 1,000 feet below.

Be warned! This often precipitous trail, more like a game path, has loose rocks and is difficult to follow. It eventually crosses a stream near a lone pine tree and then heads down through a small swampy area before becoming a reasonable trail once again.

The better alternative is to keep going up a bit over a summit to Pocket Fork and down a second natural chute to the valley on a better trail. Both routes soon intersect the Mill Fork Trail, after which it is less than a mile to the parking lot.

Plan four to five hours for the hike up Deseret Peak and three to four hours for the return trip.

The Deseret Peak trail was built in the 1930s as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project with the aid of mules.