THE HOUSE RANGE WILDERNESS
Extensive exploration has shown little promise for any mineral development within the proposed House Range wilderness, and off-road vehicle conflicts are few. While our proposal is similar in size to that of the BLM, we have eliminated some areas of conflict and added important antelope habitat in the scenic benchlands on the west. Our boundary carefully excludes vehicle access routes to currently used livestock corrals, developed springs, and other facilities.
The 139,400-acre House Range wilderness includes three units along the spine of the mountains. The most northerly unit is Swasey Mountain (57,000 acres). Immediately south is Howell Peak (25,000 acres) followed by Notch Peak (57,400 acres). The adjacent units are separated only by a dirt road, and remain part of a single ecosystem.
SWASEY MOUNTAIN UNIT
HighlightsAt over 9,600 feet, Swasey Mountain is the highest peak in the House Range and a prominent West Desert landmark. Our 57,000-acre Swasey Mountain unit is also the largest of three components of the proposed House Range wilderness. There are four limestone caves in the area as well as a nationally significant fossil collecting site. Mule deer, wild horses, and antelope are plentiful, hiking and scenery are excellent, and potable water is available at several springs. Swasey Mountain may be reached by travelling the Tule Valley road north from old Highway 50, which branches west from Utah Highway 6-50 10 miles west of Delta. Alternatively, from Highway 6 about 10 miles northeast of Delta, the Topaz Mountain road turns west; follow road signs to Sand Pass, which is at the northern tip of Swasey Mountain. Low-grade dirt roads parallel the range on either side, providing access to the ridges and canyons.
Geology and landformsThe range's rough-hewn ridgelines offer a spectacular panorama of desert ranges and wide flatlands that define the horizon. According to a Smithsonian Institution report, the Antelope Springs Trilobite Beds on the southwestern side of the WSA are "the most outstanding field for gathering fossils of the Cambrian geologic era in Utah and one of the most outstanding fields in the United States" (BLM, 1986). Forty species have been found. While much of the fossil collection takes place outside the proposed wilderness, more specimens occur within it. Protection of the fossil beds from further commercial exploitation is needed.
Plant communitiesVegetative cover is widely varied and includes Douglas fir, white fir, limber pine, ponderosa pine, and bristlecone pine in the highlands; pinyon pine, juniper, shrubs, and grasses grow lower down. Of special interest to botanists is a forest of mountain mahogany.
WildlifeSwasey Mountain contains important habitat for the estimated 100 antelope and 1,000 mule deer in the area. Bald and golden eagles, peregrine and prairie falcons, and other raptors live along Swasey Mountain or migrate through. The BLM considers all of the area to be crucial yearlong golden eagle habitat.
RecreationSwasey Mountain offers high-quality primitive recreational activities, including rock collecting, hiking, hunting, and horseback riding. The road leading west from Antelope Spring provides access to hiking routes up the southern and western sides of Swasey Peak, the highest point in the area. The area is also a prime destination for those who enjoy cave exploration. There are seven undisturbed caves within the proposed wilderness (three on a state-owned section), and there are probably others nearby awaiting discovery.
BLM recommendationThe BLM recommended 34,500 acres in 1986. Its final recommendation is expected to delete lands in the northern part of the area for a speculative gold mine, and add important natural areas in the southern and eastern parts, for a net reduction of 124 acres. Eleven miles of vehicle ways on the east side of the unit were considered substantially unnoticeable by the BLM.
Coalition proposalWe propose 57,000 acres of Swasey Mountain for wilderness designation. We cherrystemmed the Antelope Springs road to its end just southwest of Swasey Peak proper. Some of the benchlands on either side of the range should be designated as wilderness in order to protect important wildlife habitat from future ORV damage. In addition, shadscale-greasewood communities on this lower-lying land would add diversity to the Wilderness Preservation System. Mineral values and conflicts are low.
NOTCH PEAK UNIT
HighlightsThe 57,400-acre Notch Peak unit is the most dramatic and diverse of the three units that make up the House Range proposed wilderness. In addition to the scenic grandeur it provides, the area also supports rare plants, a stand of ancient bristlecone pines, and an abundance of birds of prey. A hiking route up Sawtooth Canyon to the summit of Notch Peak offers spectacular views of the surrounding desert. While this area is circumscribed by two-wheel-drive roads, it retains its wild character. Access is by dirt roads that turn north off Highway 6-50. The first road turns off the highway about 50 miles west of Delta, Utah, at Skull Rock Pass, and leads into Sawtooth Cove at the south end of the mountain. About four miles beyond the pass a second road proceeds north from the highway, paralleling the mountains on their western side.
Geology and landformsThe enormous western face of Notch Peak is the desert equivalent of Yosemite's El Capitan. According to William Lee Stokes in his Geology of Utah (1988), Notch Peak "rises vertically almost 4,450 feet and is one of the highest cliffs in North America." Rock climbers consider the face one of the finest and most challenging climbs in Utah. Striking bands of gray and white limestone decorate the sheer rock face, and twisting canyons give it dimension.
Plant communitiesWhile much of the Notch Peak unit is dominated by pinyon pine-juniper or sagebrush-shadscale communities, aspen and conifers grow at higher elevations. In addition, the highest ridges support a healthy population of ancient bristlecone pine. According to the BLM, the Notch Peak unit contains three sensitive plant species: two species of wild buckwheat, Eriogonum ammophilum and Eriogonum nummulare, and a milkvetch, Astragalus callithrix, which are candidates for listing by the Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened or endangered; a rare plant known as Primula domensis is also found here.
WildlifeWildlife in the Notch Peak area includes mule deer, antelope, cougar, coyote, badger, chukar, and a variety of raptors. The area provides crucial habitat for golden eagles and for the endangered bald eagle and peregrine falcon.
RecreationThis southern end of the House Range offers excellent opportunities to hike, rock climb, study nature or geology, sightsee, ride horses, and take pictures. Year-round water is available from springs in scattered locations. As forbidding as Notch Peak may appear, there are several hikes that open up stunning scenery in return for a modest expenditure of time and energy. Hikes up Hell'n Maria Canyon from the west side, Sawtooth Cove from the south, or Sawtooth Canyon from a road on the east side toward Notch Peak are all rewarding. Solitude is easily found, even just off the road; what few two-lane ways exist are of little consequence and seldom travelled. The Notch Peak massif is cut by several deep and narrow canyons; the most commonly hiked are Hell'n Maria and Sawtooth canyons. Military overflights do not detract significantly from the area's solitude.
BLM recommendationIn its Resource Management Plan for the Warm Springs Resource Area, the BLM nominated 9,000 acres of Notch Peak as a National Natural Landmark and an ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern). These designations would include closure to ORV use and withdrawal from mineral claims. BLM management objectives would entail protecting "the area's outstanding examples of ecologic and geologic features and other natural values for educational, recreational, and inspirational benefit" (BLM, 1987, p. 43). Although the agency views these designations as an alternative to wilderness management for the area, we seek more permanent concurrent designation as wilderness. The BLM identified 20 miles of ways in the southern and eastern portions of the WSA but considered these "substantially unnoticeable." The BLM's wilderness recommendation (28,000 acres) would unnecessarily cut wild land in the southern section of the WSA on the assumption that this land lacks outstanding wilderness characteristics. The southern third of the WSA, with the exception of Sawtooth Cove, is much like other parts of the WSA that the BLM supports for wilderness designation. All of the Notch Peak unit is isolated and the topography varied; it most certainly offers outstanding opportunities for solitude.
Coalition proposalOur 57,400-acre proposed wilderness unit incorporates the wildest country in and around the BLM WSA and eliminates significant resource conflicts. Compared to the WSA, our proposal excludes roads in Sawtooth Cove at the south end of the unit and adds the benchland on the western side, which is excellent antelope habitat. We include unimpaired benchlands on the north by moving the boundary out to the edge of a powerline corridor. We recommend cherrystemming about half a mile of the mine access road to the Brown Queen mine on the south side of Marjum Canyon. The mouth of Hell'n Maria Canyon is included in our wilderness proposal but is outside the WSA.
HOWELL PEAK UNIT
HighlightsThis unit at the mid-section of the House Range is little known and offers cave exploration and hiking in solitude. Mule deer browse the highlands and canyons, while antelope graze the lower, flatter margin of the unit. Howell Peak may be reached from old Highway 50, which leaves the new highway 10 miles west of Delta, Utah. This dirt road leads through dramatic Marjum Canyon between the Howell Peak and Notch Peak units. The Antelope Mountain road departs from old Highway 50 about four miles east of Marjum Pass; it aims north, forming the WSA's eastern boundary. West of Marjum Pass the Tule Valley Road turns north from old Highway 50 and follows the mountain range along its western flank.
Geology and landformsThe unit takes in seven miles of the 3,000-foot-high striated limestone escarpment that culminates in 8,348-foot Howell Peak. The area contains about 10 acres of fossil trilobite beds and is full of caves, including Council Cave near Antelope Mountain.
Plant communitiesVegetation includes sagebrush and shadscale at lower elevations, with pinyon pine and juniper trees dominating the higher slopes.
WildlifeAntelope frequent the sagebrush and grassy flatlands below the House Range escarpment as well as the gentler countryside to the east. While the animals commonly live in the playas between mountain ranges, little of this habitat is currently protected from mining, ORV use, road construction, and the increased hunting pressure that accompanies human use. As use increases, protection of antelope habitat will become increasingly important. Wild horses, deer, cougar, coyote, both American eagles, and the peregrine falcon are also among the inhabitants of the Howell Peak unit.
RecreationSpelunking, fossil collecting, hiking, and hunting are the most significant recreational uses of this area. Since the area is not heavily used (even the roads around it are not often travelled), this middle portion of the House Range offers plenty of solitude. Military overflights are infrequent. Access into the Howell Peak area is possible from Marjum Canyon or from the roads on either side of the range.
BLM recommendationThe BLM claimed that 9,920 acres of its 24,800-acre WSA -- the benchlands on the east and west sides -- do not have outstanding opportunities for solitude due to their flat, sparsely vegetated terrain. But the BLM's wilderness study regulations do not allow the agency to drop areas because they lack one characteristic of wilderness. Furthermore, the BLM's claim neglects the importance of protecting wildlife habitat as a component of wilderness management and advances the prejudice that flat or gently rolling land cannot be wild. These nearly 10,000 acres are appropriately part of the House Range wilderness, adding a poorly represented biotype to the National Wilderness Preservation System and protecting important antelope habitat from ORV damage. The BLM has identified five additional miles of ways that it determined to be "substantially unnoticeable."