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Monday, December 02, 2013

Rockhound Utah's West Desert

I recently enjoyed a fun rock hounding trip to Fossil Mountain, in the Utah desert west of the town of Delta. I escorted a gaggle of kids and they had great fun finding rocks full of small fossils that could include brachiopods, trilobites, echinoderms, cephalopods and other ancient creatures.

Winter is a great time to explore our vast west desert, which is a very popular area for rock hounding. The desert offers many minerals, semi-precious gems and interesting fossils. The trilobites found around Antelope Springs are one of the most popular attractions. Topaz Mountain is another popular spot and topaz crystals are relatively easy to find on the mountain's slopes. Some are gem-quality. Read more about Utah rockhounding spots.

The west desert includes flat plains but also many low mountain ranges that are covered by sage brush and juniper trees. Wildlife is abundant. Wild horses roam the range in many areas and have become a fun attraction.

In the desert, winter days are often sunny with mild temperatures but nights can be very cold (down around zero at times during January). Snow falls occasionally but usually melts within a few days, so the rocks are usually exposed.

The area is remote with few services. Major access is via Hwy 6/50, which is known as the "Grand Army of the Republic Highway. It is also know as the "Loneliest Road In America." There are no services along the highway for about 90 miles, from the Delta, Utah area west to the Great Basin National Park area (on the Utah/Nevada border). Dirt roads crisscross the desert. Some are graded but many are rough and may be impassible during stormy weather.

To visit Fossil Mountain, follow the directions on this web page. A wash cuts across the north side of the mountain. If you have a high-clearance vehicle you can drive right to the wash at the base of the mountain. You can easily see the dark fossil-bearing rock where the road comes into the wash. If you hike a little you will find several other areas where that particular rock layer is exposed. At each of these spots it is easy to find fossils.

From Salt Lake or Las Vegas it is possible to visit Fossil Mountain as a day trip. It's more fun to combine it with a visit to Great Basin National Park and make it an over night or multi-day adventure.

I could wander for weeks in the west desert. I've explored many places there but still have many spots on my must-do list.

- Dave Webb


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