[Wilderness at the Edge table of contents: short version
* long version
THE WAH WAH MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
From Crystal Mountain at the northern end of the proposed wilderness to 9,400-foot Wah Wah Peak at the south are 32 miles of rugged coves and canyons. The western escarpment of these mountains is a dramatic example of the blockfaulting that created most of the Great Basin mountain ranges. Standing out against the gray limestone, pure white Crystal Mountain is of particular interest to geologists because it is the last remnant of volcanoes that preceded basin-and-range faulting in this region. The Wah Wah Mountains also contain the only known Jurassic rock within the Great Basin (Stokes, 1986, p. 119).
Climbing and hiking in the Wah Wahs are excellent. While there are no trails, there is plenty of country to explore. Kelsey includes a hike up Wah Wah Peak in his Utah Mountaineering Guide (1986). He mentions stands of bristlecone pines along the main ridgeline and running water in a drainage or two. Deer are found in the brushy uplands and antelope on the benchlands. There are no serious mineral or ORV conflicts with wilderness designation.
The 109,700-acre proposed wilderness is divided into two units by Utah Highway 21 but retains an ecological integrity. The 60,500-acre North Wah Wah unit includes a 42,140-acre BLM WSA. By contrast, the central Wah Wah unit contains 49,200 acres of roadless land that the BLM failed even to recognize as having wilderness qualities. Together these two units include the bulk of wild lands in the Wah Wah Mountains.
NORTH WAH WAHS UNIT
-- The 60,500-acre North Wah Wah Mountains unit is extremely rugged, with rough-hewn, rocky slopes on the eastern side and steep cliffs on the west. At the northern end of the mountains, cool white Crystal Peak contrasts sharply with the surrounding land, a distinctive landmark in the West Desert. These mountains are frequented by many birds of prey and support cougar, deer, and antelope as well as a variety of smaller mammals. Two rare plants and a stand of ancient bristlecone pine are found in the unit, as are significant archeological sites and collectable fossils. From Crystal Peak, the unit extends south nearly 20 miles to Highway 21. This northern unit is the larger of the two that make up the Wah Wah Mountains proposed wilderness. The BLM (1986) stated that its Wah Wah Mountains WSA, which is included within the Utah Wilderness Coalition's proposal, is "one of the most remote, untouched mountain ranges in the West Desert."
Geology and landforms -- Unlike the surrounding mountains, Crystal Peak is white volcanic rock. It is a relic from the distant past, a reminder of the string of volcanoes that predate the block faulting responsible for most of Utah's present basin-and-range topography. Crystal Peak gives the Wah Wah Mountains an especially scenic character and is of interest to geologists. Fossils are found in the unit's sedimentary rocks
Plant communities -- The BLM recognizes that "the central portion of the range contains an important undisturbed biotic community representing a typical example of a desert mountain ecosystem" (BLM, 1987a). Exceptionally large bristlecone pines, some over 50 feet tall and more than 4,000 years old, grow on about 200 acres of the main ridge. Pinyon pine-and-juniper woodland is the most common vegetation type in the Wah Wahs, but mixed stands of ponderosa pine, white fir, and mountain mahogany also occur, as do small groves of aspen. Two sensitive plant species, the beardtongue Penstemon nanus and the globemallow Sphaeralcea caespitosa, may also grow in the area (BLM, 1986).
Wildlife -- Cougar, antelope, deer, chukar, and raptors such as the endangered peregrine falcon and bald eagle live in the unit. The benchlands skirting the mountains are critical habitat for antelope. The unit provides crucial yearlong habitat for golden eagles and prairie falcons. Good deer hunting is possible in the northern Wah Wahs.
Archeology and history -- According to the BLM, two archeological sites have been found near Crystal Peak, and the existence of additional sites is likely.
Recreation -- The sheer limestone cliffs and rough, secluded canyons of the Wah Wah Mountains provide challenging hiking, climbing, and sightseeing. Impressive views from the central ridgeline of the mountains give one a sense of the region's vastness and of the desert's profound solitude.
BLM recommendation -- The BLM (1986) recommended 36,382 acres of its 42,140-acre WSA. Although there are five miles of vehicle ways within the WSA boundary, the BLM judged these "substantially unnoticeable" during its intensive inventory. The BLM also noted that Crystal Peak is "an area of exceptional scenic splendor and is a unique undisturbed geologic landmark." Recognizing these values, the agency has nominated 640 acres of Crystal Peak as an Outstanding Natural Area and ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern) and 5,970 acres in the southeast portion of the WSA as a Research Natural Area and ACEC. Both areas would be closed to ORV use and withdrawn from mineral entry if they were so designated.
Coalition proposal -- Our boundary follows topographic contours more faithfully than does the WSA boundary and is expanded on the southeast side to include the roadless land north and east of Wild Horse Corral. Mineral development conflicts are minor. The BLM states that there are no known deposits of leasable minerals in the WSA. The same is true for locatable minerals with the possible exception of clay and silica deposits. These commonly occurring deposits are of uneven quality in this region and there is little current demand for them.
CENTRAL WAH WAHS UNIT
-- Looming above the desert flats, the Central Wah Wah Mountains consist of a primarily north-south running ridgeline with weatherbeaten sidecanyons falling off to the east and west. This 49,200-acre unit completes the proposed Wah Wah Mountains wilderness; it contains deer, cougar, and antelope habitat and offers a variety of recreational opportunities. As an ecological unit embracing important plant and wildlife habitat, the Wah Wah Mountains wilderness would be incomplete without both the northern and central portions of the range. The Central Wah Wahs are most easily accessible by travelling west from Milford on Utah Highway 21. One-and-a-half miles east of Wah Wah Pass, a short dirt road leads southwest to the northern boundary of the proposed wilderness.
Geology and landforms -- The main ridge has 15 separate peaks along its 12-mile length, creating a rough and diverse topography. Perennial streams flow in a few drainages. Some of the sidecanyons are rocky, steep, and boxlike, while others are wider.
Plant communities -- The rugged sidecanyons are forested with juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, and fir. Bristlecone pine grow on the highest ridges.
Wildlife -- Among the wildlife found here are deer, cougar, chukar, and, on the flatter land, antelope. Bald and golden eagles have been sighted in the proposed wilderness, and the threatened Utah prairie dog lives on the flats west of the main ridge.
Archeology and history -- No thorough surveys of cultural resources have been done in the area.
Recreation -- Recreational activities in the central Wah Wahs include hiking, photography, birdwatching, backpacking, rock climbing, sightseeing, and hunting for chukar and deer. Solitude is easily found in the topographic relief and vegetative cover of the central Wah Wahs. Hikes along the main ridge may start from points along the dirt road leading southwest from near Wah Wah Pass. High peaks along the ridge rise to well over 9,000 feet and present long views of the surrounding desert to climbers who reach the top. From any of the ridgetops a visitor has a commanding view of the Great Basin Desert and feels the isolation of these remote mountains.
BLM recommendation -- During its intensive inventory, the BLM concluded that the Central Wah Wah Mountains lacked "an outstanding opportunity for solitude" and offered no "outstanding opportunities for primitive and unconfined types of recreation." The agency claimed that "the opportunity for avoiding the sights, sounds, or evidence of other people on the ridgetop or slopes within the unit is limited and considerably less than outstanding." Conservationists twice appealed this determination to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, stating that there is indeed abundant solitude to be had in the central Wah Wahs and that the area deserves designation as wilderness. The unit is undeniably rugged and remote with plenty of room to find solitude. The IBLA, however, supported the BLM's final opinion. Today the central Wah Wahs are not protected by WSA status and are therefore vulnerable to development.
Coalition proposal -- The Central Wah Wah Mountains unit includes 49,200 acres of the two-parcel, 109,700-acre proposed Wah Wah Mountains wilderness. Just south of the proposed wilderness is the Tasso Mine, an area scarred by roads and mining. These intrusions are the only major disturbance in the central Wah Wahs and are outside the proposed wilderness. About six miles of vehicle ways run into the proposed wilderness. We agree with the BLM that their impact on the naturalness of the area is insignificant.