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Juab has a lot of land to explore

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Most of the residents in Juab County live along the easternmost border, along the I-15 corridor.

Which, of course, opens up a lot of land to the west — a lot of land — to explorers.

What you know:

Roughly 25 miles, as the birds fly, is the Little Sahara Recreation Area, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, and typically gets little mention except around Easter when the dunes become a virtual parking lot of trucks, campers, all-terrain vehicles and dune buggies.

Thousands of people show up over the holiday to enjoy what is normally good weather and lots of soft sand. The 60,000-acre pocket of sand is managed for off-highway vehicles, meaning everything from buggies to motorcycles.

Blowing winds constantly move and change the terrain, which is yet another reason people are attracted to the area pretty much year-round.

The center of attention is Sand Mountain, which is a mound of sand roughly 700 feet high. The challenge is, of course, to climb from bottom to top in the soft sand. Within the area there is also a spider web of trails for hiking, biking and/or motoring.

For those without motorized transportation, the dunes have become a playground for those who like to play in the sand, which would include everything from building sand castles to a new sport called sand surfing.

Also inside the managed land is the Rockwell Outstanding Natural Area, which is a wilderness study area and is off limits of motorized vehicles. This is a desert ecosystem that is about 9,000 acres in size.

Along with riding, people can also camp onsite. There are 100 campsites with access to flush toilets (vault in the winter), drinking water and fenced play areas. There are also paved areas for trailers and picnic areas with shade armadas.

A section of the Pony Express Trail that remains pretty much as it was a century ago begins in Tooele County but crosses the border about 15 miles southwest of Simpson Springs.

Aside from the dirt road, little has changed from what the early riders saw as they carried the mail from station to station, which was a desert landscape of sand, sagebrush, deep ravines and only the hardiest of animals, like rabbits and lizards, moving about.

The trail passes Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge and has, as one of its stops, Boyd Station. What remains today is a portion of the rock wall that was once the station. The man who tended the station, Bid Boyd, continued to live onsite long after the pony express stopped running in 1861.

Down in the southeastern corner of the county is Yuba Reservoir, a popular spot in the summer for boaters, swimmers and anglers.

Yuba is a reservoir that covers about 10,000 surface acres. Most of the shoreline takes on more of a desert-like appearance, with lots of sagebrush and a few trees.

The reservoir was drained in the summer of 2003, but it is back up now and open. Plans are to make this one of the top perch fishing spots in the state. Trout have also been planted.

Yuba State Park offers improved camping with modern restrooms. Painted Rock camping area is less developed but does have restrooms.

Sections of the Uinta National Forest are found on the eastern border of the county. The high country forest offers a range of summer and winter activities, ranging from snowmobiling to mountain biking to hiking.

The Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway starts, or ends, depending on the direction, in the town of Nephi, located inside the Juab County line. It ends, or begins, again, in Payson.

The highway winds up into the Uinta National Forest and offers a picturesque look at Mt. Nebo (11,877 feet), which is the highest peak in the Wasatch Range.

Along the route are a number of popular trailheads for hiking and biking. There are also some popular equestrian trails leading into the forest. Along the way there are six individual overlooks with viewing scopes. The road from Nephi to Payson is 32 miles long. This is an especially spectacular drive in the fall.

What you don't know:

Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge is not nearly as well known as its bigger sister, the Bear River Bird Refuge in Box Elder County, but it is not lacking by any means in its offerings.

It may seem impossible, but of all the wetlands in Utah, Fish Springs, in one of the hottest, driest areas of Utah, has no water worries whatsoever.

This may sound strange since annual precipitation is only 8 inches and annual evaporation is 50 inches. The difference comes from alternative water sources.

And here is one of the more fascinating facts about the refuge: The water it receives comes from snowpack from nearby mountains that melted anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 years ago. It takes that long to filter into the aquifers and back out onto the wetlands. It's called "fossilized water."

Even in the driest years, the water supply here varies very little, which is good since 278 different species of birds make annual stops at the wetland refuge located in the western desert. It is, in fact, known for having a number of rare bird sightings each year.

Between 60 and 70 of the birds identified are classified as "accidental." This means, in all likelihood, they flew off course and made it to Fish Springs accidentally.

The fact that the springs hold the only trees within 25 miles of the nearest water makes it a natural draw to passing birds. Fish Springs covers about 17,992 acres, of which 10,000 acres are marshlands.

Toward the western side of the county is the Deep Creek Mountain Range. This is a very remote mountain range. The best way into the range, in fact, is by way of Wendover, Nev.

Many consider the range a biological island. It is home to Utah's only native species of trout, the Utah cutthroat, along with five species of rare plants and a native species of blue grouse.

One of the state's most popular rockhounding areas is Topaz Mountain, for both amateur and professionals, located near the center of the county.

It is, of course, where that Utah state gem, topaz, can be found. On sunny days, the topaz crystals, which are nearly of the same hardness as diamonds, sparkle like diamonds.

There are also other gems found in the mountain, including garnets, red beryl, pseudo-brookite, needles, bixbyite and hermatite.

Visitors are welcome to pick up these rock gems on the surface or dig with their fingers but need a permit if they opt to dig for the gems with tools.

Few people realize it, but sections of the "Loneliest Road in America" pass through Juab County. The road, which starts just over the border at Tintic, runs south past Silver City and Jericho and into Millard County near Lynndyl.

Several publications, including Life Magazine and National Geographic, have dubbed the road the loneliest. It does offer access to Little Sahara, but the drive between towns and services can be long and desolate.

Juab County may be remote and some of its sites located off the beaten path, but in many cases, it simply adds to the experience.

Juab County

Well known: Little Sahara, Yuba Reservoir, Nebo Loop

Unknown: Fish Springs, Deep Creek Mountains

Contact: 435-623-5203, www.utahreach.usu.edu/juab

Next week: Salt Lake County

E-mail: grass@desnews.com