Rising from the desert floor at an elevation of 4,800 feet to peaks over 12,000 feet high, the Deep Creek Mountains are indisputably Utah's most spectacular West Desert range. The contrast between the white granite of Ibapah and Haystack peaks and the colorful talus slopes of Red Mountain make the range both scenic and geologically unique. These steep, rocky, glacially scoured peaks often hold snow well into summer. For all their ruggedness, the Deeps also contain verdant alpine meadows and forested canyons that are an unexpected delight to desert travelers.

The enormous vertical relief -- greater than that of the Teton Range from Jackson Hole -- creates a variety of ecological conditions that foster biological diversity unmatched in Utah's desert mountains. Eight perennial streams flow from the rough-hewn canyons, allowing deer, elk, bighorn sheep, cougar, bobcat, coyote, and other wildlife to flourish. Antelope roam in small bands along the benchlands surrounding the mountains. Due to their isolation from other similar environments, the Deeps also support a dozen plant and animal species found nowhere else.

Recreational opportunities in the Deeps are excellent, with many rugged and remote canyons. Scientific and educational values are high, including opportunities to study endemic, threatened, or endangered species, archeology, geology, and desert ecology. The rare Bonneville cutthroat trout and ancient bristlecone pine trees are of special interest.

Past mineral conflicts have mostly been resolved; water development occurs at the fringe of the proposed wilderness but has little impact within it. We propose a 90,200-acre wilderness, while the BLM is expected to recommend 57,384 acres in its final EIS. The Goshute Indian Reservation adjoins the proposed wilderness on the west; wilderness designation is consistent with the management of the reservation.

Walking in Beauty

The easiest approach to the Deep Creek Mountains is by way of Interstate 80 to Wendover, then south on Utah Highway 93. Turn southeast off Highway 93 toward the town of Callao and continue south along the eastern side of the range. Dirt roads branch west into Granite Creek, Trout Creek, and Birch Creek canyons. A hike up any of these canyons or up Basin Creek is rewarding. The steep route up Granite Creek to the top of Ibapah Peak leads through stands of cottonwood into evergreen forest, aspen groves, alpine meadow, and bare granite, affording spectacular views all along the way. Hikes up Basin Creek, Trout Creek, Goshute, Red Cedar, or Indian Creek canyons are rugged and rewarding. Upland game birds, many non-game birds, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and antelope live in the proposed wilderness, and anglers may fish for native cutthroat in several streams. The Deeps also offer outstanding opportunities for mountaineering, rock climbing, photography, rock collecting, and geologic study. The BLM estimates annual use at 3,500 hunter days, 3,000 backcountry days, and 1,500 angling days.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles have left their mark in a few canyons where they clearly don't belong, but the scars will not be long in healing after roads are posted as being closed. The BLM has left open many miles of vehicle ways on steep, erosive slopes that should be closed to vehicles.

Birch and Trout Creeks, from their sources to their junction, are listed as Nationwide Rivers Inventory segments and are eligible for addition to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The BLM (1986) notes that "these segments possess excellent primitive recreation opportunities, unique geological features relating to ancient Lake Bonneville, a vertical granite canyon, Utah cutthroat trout, and bristlecone pine."

Deeps Ecology: Unmatched Biological Diversity

Since the Deep Creek Mountains are isolated in a sea of desert and present such a wide range of habitats, a unique assortment of plant and animal species has evolved here. Botanists divide the mountains into four plant areas: desert type (sagebrush and shadscale), xeric forests (juniper and pinyon pine woodland), mesic forests (coniferous forest), and alpine tundra (low-growing shrubs, herbs, and wildflowers). Sixty families of plants, including at least 431 species, live in the Deeps (McMillan, 1948). Although the BLM fails to mention it in the DEIS, the agency elsewhere identified at least 12 of these plants as endemic (found nowhere else); they include several varieties of wildflower and cactus.

In addition, the bristlecone pine trees found on high-elevation limestone soils in the Deeps "approach the size and appearance of the (bristlecone pine) trees in California's Methuselah Grove, home of the world's oldest living trees. There are also significant stands of young bristlecone pine that provide the WSA with a self-perpetuating community of significant ecological interest." (BLM, 1986).

The proposed wilderness provides crucial habitat for a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, critical summer and winter range for mule deer, and important year-round habitat for elk and pronghorn antelope. Cougar are relatively abundant in the Deeps, especially in areas such as Granite Creek Canyon where water is abundant and caves common. The mountains also support lynx, bobcat, coyote, fox, badger, porcupine, rabbit, and other small mammals (Durrant, 1952).

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the Deeps in 1984 by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). At about the same time, the animals had begun to recolonize the Deeps from a population in Nevada's Snake Range. In January of 1989, the UDWR supplemented the 22-member Deep Creek Mountains population with 17 more bighorns. Elk, a species not native to the Deeps, were introduced to the mountains by the Goshute Indians in 1988 and are expected to do well.

One-hundred eighty-five species of birds live in or migrate through the Deeps, according to the BLM (1986, p. 21), including the endangered bald eagle and peregrine falcon, and a rare variety of blue grouse. The proposed wilderness is crucial yearlong habitat for the golden eagle.

The Bonneville cutthroat trout, which has been nominated for protection under the Endangered Species Act, is found in Birch Creek and Trout Creek. This fish, once common in streams of the Great Basin, has been eliminated from most of its historic range by habitat destruction and hybridization with rainbow trout. A private developer, BMB Enterprises Inc., has received a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a small hydroelectric project near the proposed wilderness. While this project will not affect the wilderness, it will dry up 3,200 feet of Birch Creek, habitat for the Bonneville cutthroat.

Also found in several streams in the Deep Creek Mountains is a rare insect, the giant stonefly, which is only found elsewhere in watercourses flowing to the Pacific Ocean. Some cite the presence of this insect in the Deeps as proof that streams on the west side of the mountains once drained into the Columbia River.

8,500 Years of Human History

A 1977 archeological survey of the southeastern portion of the Deeps identified 28 archeological sites, including cave and rock shelters, pictographs, campsites, and open lithic scatters. The variety of artifacts found suggests semi-permanent occupation by Archaic, Sevier, and Paiute-Shoshone Indian populations for more than 8,500 years (Lindsay and Sargent, 1977). The likelihood of other archeological finds in the proposed wilderness is high, but no other inventory work has been done.

Jedediah Smith, the first white explorer to come across the Deep Creek Mountains, did so in the spring of 1827. He and later travellers used the Deeps as a landmark and source of water. The Pony Express route skirts the northern end of the mountains.

Mining Conflicts

Although there has been a great deal of mineral exploration within the proposed Deep Creek Mountains wilderness, little production has resulted. According to Stokes (1986, p, 181-2), "The Deep Creek Range is a potential producer of gold, silver, copper tungsten, beryllium, and mercury. There has been a great deal of prospecting and exploration in the area, but to date production has been minor." Mines near the Deep Creek Mountains have produced a variety of both precious (gold and silver) and base metals (copper, mercury, lead, and iron), but due to the remoteness of the tracts and probable small size of deposits, further mineral production is unlikely. Extensive exploration for uranium in the Deeps during the 1970s stirred controversy but turned up no minerals of value.

The BLM is acquiring two patented but unproductive mining claims at the north end of the mountains. Acquisition of these properties, the Dewey and Roy mines, would diminish perceived mineral conflicts and allow the agency to expand its wilderness recommendations to the northern boundary of the WSA. The Dewey and Roy lands are little more than prospects that didn't pan out, and our proposal already includes this land. Both the BLM and our proposals exclude the Oro Del Ray mine and its access road up Goshute Canyon from the wilderness. Exploration for gold during the summer of 1988 near the mouth of Horse and Granite canyons disturbed about four acres and showed no development potential; reclamation of the land, we are promised, will be more successful.

There are currently 46 unpatented mining claims within or overlapping the Deep Creek Mountains WSA, 32 of which were filed after the passage of FLPMA in 1976. Validity determinations will be made on all of these claims if the area is designated as wilderness. Due to the intrusive granitic stock, the likelihood of oil and gas discoveries in the Deep Creek Mountains is low, and no pre-FLPMA leases exist in the area.

The presence of any minerals in economic quality or quantity within the proposed wilderness is unlikely. Regardless of mineral values, however, the proposed Deep Creek Mountains wilderness is a perfect example of an area where preservation of unique natural values and solitude outweighs the value of potential mineral development.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal

Our proposal includes the entire WSA and adds additional undisturbed wild land for a total of 90,200 acres. The Coalition proposal extends north to the road through Pony Express and Overland canyons and also adds wild land on the east and south sides of the range to include unroaded antelope habitat. We've added 3,200 acres in The Basin that The Nature Conservancy purchased and deeded to the BLM. In addition, we include mixed-jurisdiction roadless land on the southwest side of the range to protect rugged mountainsides adjacent to the Goshute Indian Reservation and the lovely upper reaches of Birch Creek with its alpine meadows and aspen groves.

The BLM initially recommended only 51,000 acres of its WSA for wilderness designation, leaving off undeveloped lands in the northern and eastern parts of the range. (The agency's final recommendation is expected to be 6,400 acres larger.) The agency claimed that the omitted lands had less outstanding wilderness values and higher potential mineral values. We believe these lands are an integral part of the wilderness and that the entire range should be protected rather than only those parts that lack commercial uses. Our boundary excludes recent mining activities, although they have not shown economic deposits.

Our proposal cherrystems the road up Granite Creek to the stream crossing where there is room to park a few cars. The developed spring is easily accessible from here on foot or horseback and should be maintained without mechanized equipment. Access roads to the Dewey and Roy mines are unnecessary, as are roads up Basin Creek, Art's Canyon, and Blood Canyon to the spring. The road up Birch Creek extends only to the spring development and is a primitive way beyond there; this should be closed to all vehicles.

Mike Medberry