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With the days growing longer, there's no better time of year to explore the Beehive State – especially the culturally rich West Desert. Unique both in topography and history, the arid landscape of the West Desert is the perfect backdrop for an impromptu adventure.
Because of this year's severe drought, the West Desert is more barren and dry than usual. It's still a great place for adventure, but please be careful to ensure that your activities don't lead to a devastating wildfire.
From camping to dirt biking to rockhounding and historical sightseeing, there's an adventure for everyone in Utah's West Desert.
Pony Express Trail
You know the name from middle-school history class, but if you want to get an authentic feel for the kind of efficiency required for horses to carry mail from Missouri to California in just 10 days, head to the West Desert to experience the Pony Express Trail, a national historic trail.
Visit Utah suggests experiencing the Pony Express trail with a two-day itinerary starting and ending in Salt Lake City. Since the trail is a "bumpy, dusty and remote dirt road," you'll want a four-wheel-drive vehicle, good maps and a whole lot of road-trip snacks. Keep in mind cellular service is spotty in the West Desert – but hey, if the horses could hack it, so can you.
Dugway Geode Beds
If you're into rocks, you can definitely roll in Utah's West Desert. The Dugway Geode Beds in Juab County are, according to the Bureau of Land Management, a "rockhounding hotspot." Amateur geologists – or anyone who enjoys sparkly things, for that matter – can get a lot of bang for their buck less than three hours outside Salt Lake City.
Situated about 50 miles down the Pony Express Trail, it's easy to find the turnoff to the Dugway Geode Beds. Bring a pick and a shovel to dig for geodes. Look for places where other people have been digging and you might find discard chunks on the ground or close to the surface. You can crack the geodes with a hammer or take them to a rock shop to have them cut open.
For more information about the geode beds, or tips for getting a successful cache, visit Utah Geological Survey.
Nature lovers, birdwatchers and history buffs unite! Fish Springs, a national wildlife refuge in Utah's West Desert, has it all – including an oasis of wetlands in the middle of the desert. Established in 1959, Fish Springs is a 17,992-acre habitat for migratory birds, with 10,000 acres classified as wetlands, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
For amateur historians, Fish Springs also holds cultural significance. According to Explore Utah, the region served as an important way station on the Pony Express thanks to its constant water supply. Today, the habitat is divided into nine sections, with road access to each of these.
If your speed is more about, well speed, a visit to Utah's West Desert isn't complete without a stop (and a go) at Fivemile Pass Recreation Area. Bring an OHV, ATV, mountain bike or other two- or four-wheeled adventure machine and get set to play in a desert playground less than an hour's drive from Salt Lake City.
If you've got more than a day, be sure to pack a sleeping bag and a cooler of treats and spend the night under the stars (or in a tent), as dispersed camping is permitted in the recreation area without a fee, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Bonus: you'll even find a few toilets there.
Old towns and ruins
There's no better place to stumble into a page out of a history book than in the West Desert, where the mining industry built up the kind of towns you only see in western films. Some places that were once thriving communities are now ghost towns. Others were lone cabins where earlier inhabitants tried to scratch a living out of inhospitable conditions.
One of the better-known ghost towns, Silver City, lies in the heart of the Tintic Mining District and showcases the remains of a booming silver-mining trade during the late 1800s. Several ruins – including an ore sampling mill – remain today. Two other towns where the new and old are both evident are Eureka and Ophir.
Be aware that many of these Old West locations are on private property and many also still have active mining claims. Your desire for adventure doesn't give you license to trespass. Stick to designated public roads, leave everything like you find it and be careful around any old structure or mines.
Summer's nearly here, so if you're up for an adventure, pump a full tank of gas and head west – where adventure abounds in Utah's West Desert. And don't forget that drought conditions this year mean an increased chance for wildfires. Please follow safe practices when you recreate in Utah's backcountry.