DESERET, Millard County — Does a likeness of Joseph Smith Jr., first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, exist in the vast desert of Millard County?
Some think so.
On a remote hillside in Utah's Sevier Desert, about four miles southwest of Deseret and some 17 miles southwest of Delta, rises a craggy volcanic outcrop. For almost seven decades, area residents and visitors have been attracted to the formation.
In it, they can discern the outlines of a man's features: head, brow, nose, mouth and even perhaps a high collar.
Welcome to the "Great Stone Face," or the "Guardian of Deseret," or "Keeper of the Desert." From a certain angle, notes the book "A History of Millard County," a 1999 entry in the Utah Centennial County History Series, "some see a resemblance to LDS Church founder Joseph Smith."
"Many Mormons see an uncanny resemblance of this naturally carved formation to profile pictures of church founder Joseph Smith," Millard County's official tourism site reads.
Whether or not it is partly the power of suggestion, there definitely is a face to be spotted here in the rocks, though some may argue whose face.
Visitors have to decide that for themselves here, about 150 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
Utahoutdoors.com states that since Native Americans settled in this area hundreds of years before the Mormon settlers came, "one can only assume that these local Indians also saw the face of their great chieftains portrayed in this natural stone formation."
A side trip to the natural monument "is well worth the time, especially if you are a Mormon or if you like Mount Rushmore," advises a past Millard County tourist guide.
One of the area's earliest histories, "100 Years of History in Millard County," published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1941, says the formation was first recognized in 1926 when LDS Bishop Joseph Damson of Deseret and Frank Beckwith, publisher of the Millard County Chronicle, spotted it from the desert floor and instantly saw a resemblance to paintings of Joseph Smith.
Today, even BLM topographic maps list the Great Stone Face.
The rock pillar sits some 150 feet above the Sevier Desert floor amid a field of lava rock and sagebrush, with a view to Notch Peak to the west.
A steep scramble along a 400-yard-long trail takes hikers to the base of the monument over loose rock. A rugged path, outlined by lava rocks, marks the way.
The profile image, about 32 feet high, faces southwest. The best view is from the steep hillside, some 50 feet below the formation.
Ironically, this area of lava rock, about one mile south of the winding Sevier River, was once called "The Devil's Kitchen." Even today, some local residents think the Great Stone Face has a bit of a split personality. When viewed from its east side, the formation is sometimes referred to as "The Devil's Chimney."
The north side of the rock formation is deeply pitted rocks and creates natural nests for birds.
Indian petroglyphs dating back about 1,000 years are found in the general area just north of the Great Stone Face. These markings are now highlighted by a new sign.
Although the formation has been getting a good deal of publicity, the exact number of visitors isn't known.
The Great Stone Face
To reach this natural wonder, travel to Delta and then go southwest on Highway 6
50 about five miles and turn south on Utah Highway 257.
Then travel about six miles south on U-257 to a signed turnoff to the west (right).
Go west on the gravel road and travel for almost six miles to the north edge of the black lava beds. The gravel road — passable by cars in dry weather, though there are washboard ruts in the road in places and three cattleguards to cross — loops around the west side of the hill and ends at a small parking area. There is no admission fee. The petroglyphs are located just a few hundred yards before the parking lot.
Hike south up the hillside, looking for the dominant rock. Those who can't or don't want to hike can still see the Great Stone Face from a distance, best viewed that way with binoculars.
Utah's Great Stone Face is also near the Gunnison Massacre historical site. No water or facilities are available near the site.
The term "Great Stone Face" is also a name used by many other U.S. features. For example, there's a Great StoneFace park in Berkeley, Calif. In Tennessee, there's a Great Stone Face in the Little River Gorge, Smoky Mountains National Park.
For more information, go to: www.millardcounty.co