[Wilderness at the Edge table of contents: short version * long version]


Rising abruptly 2,000 feet above seemingly endless salt flats, the Newfoundland Mountains loom out of the Great Salt Lake desert like a ship on the ocean. Although these mountains are separated from biological systems on neighboring mountain islands, there is enough water here to support diverse populations of wild plants and animals. Golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, and other raptors nest in the high rocky cliffs; on the benchlands are the nests of burrowing owls and ferruginous hawks. The BLM and UDWR plan to reintroduce desert bighorn sheep to the Newfoundland Mountains in the near future. Vistas across the snow-white Bonneville Salt Flats to the Pilot Range, Promontory Mountains, and a dozen other ranges, give one a powerful sense of solitude. We propose a 23,300-acre wilderness for the Newfoundland Mountains; the BLM failed even to designate this rough and unspoiled mountain range as a WSA.

To visit the Newfoundland Mountains, take Interstate 80 west from Salt Lake City. Turn north about five miles past Delle to the small railroad workers' town of Lakeside; from here follow the railroad tracks past the mothballed West Desert Pumps to the northern tip of the mountains. Cross the tracks where an unmarked dirt road leads in a southerly direction toward the Newfoundland Mountains. This road loops around the mountain range, but the military has closed it at the south end of the mountains. Hikes up any number of canyons or up Desert Peak from either side of the range present glorious views and wild country.

Recognized Wilderness Values

The Newfoundland Mountains offer a view of nature operating essentially unaffected by human actions. The BLM's wilderness inventory found "...an abundance of [raptor] aeries and potential aerie sites. Vertical cliffs, promontories and outcrops offer shelter and safety to nesting pairs and their brood .... Ecologic, geographic and scenic values are obvious .... Scenic vistas from the unit extend over many miles in every direction and are of high quality." With 4 perennial springs and 12 that run seasonally, these mountains support a remarkable variety of wildlife species. Deer, badger, fox, coyote, and many bird species and small mammals live in the Newfoundlands. Desert bighorn probably inhabited these mountains before the introduction of domestic sheep.

Historic evidence of mining for precious and base metals exists in the northern part of the mountains. A cablecar ore shuttle system up Dells Canyon is of historic interest, but in most places the effects of past mining are not noticeable. While little archeological survey work has been done in the Newfoundlands, the many springs in these mountains would likely have been used by prehistoric cultures, suggesting a high probability of significant finds in the future.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal

We recommend a 23,300-acre wilderness to protect the area's outstanding opportunities for hiking, camping, solitude, and nature study. The BLM dropped the Newfoundland Mountains from its initial inventory despite recognizing its substantial wilderness values. Conservationists appealed that decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals and gained for the area a reassessment of its values. The agency again dropped the area based on the intrusion of military airplane overflights. But Congress specifically excludes outside sights and sounds when considering wilderness designation; the area has fewer overflights than the Lone Peak Wilderness near Salt Lake City.

Mike Medberry