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Lookout Pass renowned for stories of Indian ambushes, pet cemetery   PDF  Print  E-mail 
Written by Jaromy Jessop  
Thursday, 15 December 2005

THE PONY EXPRESS TRAIL

Faust Station Lookout Pass

Those who dream by day

Are cognizant of many things

Which escape those

Who only dream by night

-Edgar Allen Poe

Continuing on our exploration of the Pony Express Trail, if you head south on state Route 36 from "Faust Station Marker," after a mile you will come to the entrance of the "Pony Express National Historic Trail & Back Country Byway." Turn right and follow this road for about 1.2 miles and you will notice an interpretive site on the north side of the road. Situated on top of a small hill is a parking area with interpretive panels dedicated to the Pony Express. These panels talk about what the Pony Express was and how long it was in operation. There is also a panel that shows a map of the entire length of the route.

You also have good views of the expanse of Rush Valley, 9,274 foot Black Crook Peak, the highest point in the Sheeprock Mountains, the Vernon area to the south and the Onaqui Mountains to the west. The vault toilet located here makes this a particularly good pit stop.

Continuing west for six miles along the wonderful pavement you will come to a fork in the road at the base of the mountains. As you approach the mountains, notice the large stands of Douglas Fir high up on 8,516 foot Red Pine Mountain looming large to the south. The left fork of this road heads to the town of Vernon. Stay on the main road where the pavement ends and climb the last 1.5 miles to the summit of Lookout Pass. The road is very bumpy and rough in this area. Sir Richard Burton described it best in 1860 when he said "Ensued a rough divide, stoney and dusty, with cahues and pitch-holes; it is known by the name of General Johnston's Pass."

Captain James H. Simpson named this pass in honor of the Commander of Camp Floyd during his exploration of the west desert in 1859. I imagine that the local Mormon community was more than happy to replace the name of this pass with Lookout Pass. While there is an interesting view of the desert to the west from the summit of the pass, it is said the name instead is derived from a tale that a Pony Express rider racing east told the Express Rider heading west as they passed each other to "look out" for hostile Indians as he had just escaped from an ambush attempt.

The pass itself has an elevation of 6,192 feet. There is a BLM sign-in sheet there and a picnic table which makes this another good stopping point. It is recommended to sign in if you are planning on heading farther west because you are completely leaving all modern comforts and services if you travel farther west from here. It is also recommended that you look behind you to the east and gaze for a moment at the seemingly perfectly matched triple summits of Mount Nebo.

At the base of the sign-in sheet pole is a boulder with a plaque dedicated to Ray E. Staley. This man was one of the pioneers of the sheep industry in the west desert and the plaque is dedicated in his honor and tells a bit about the important sheep trail that the Pony Express trail was historically and remains so today.

The landscape of the pass is one of cheat grass, rocks, sparse juniper and sage. There are rocky ledges on the Onaqui Mountains to the north where along the summit visible from the pass, I have found some interesting fossils. Lookout Pass is the dividing line between the Onaqui Mountains in the north and the Sheeprock Mountains in the south. It is not uncommon to see mule deer in this area and there are often lizards on the rocks, hawks circling above and desert toads in the ponds.

The road descends precipitously from the pass .7 miles down to one of the more interesting spots on the trail, old Lookout Station. The interpretive plaque and medallion are both in place upon the conical marker that was constructed by the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps back in 1939. The station site is on the north side of the road and about 20 feet behind the marker is a large rectangular depression where the station once stood. Farther up the tiny draw is an even smaller spring, which is the reason why a station was located here. A two track heads up to the top of a small bald hill behind the marker to the northwest. I can imagine the station operator positioning a "Lookout" on top of that hill to watch for marauding Indians.

Across the road to the south is a tiny open valley, surrounded on all sides by low hills covered to their bases with junipers. If you look carefully south across this open space from the marker, you will notice a curious stone structure partially obscured by the trees. This is Aunt Libby's Pet Cemetery & more about that in a bit. Back to the station itself, Frederick W. Hurst, an employee of Major Howard Egan, stated in his journals that the station was called "Jackson's Station" and that it was quite busy during the Pony Express days. There is not much known about the activities that transpired here during that time but there is plenty of information around about the next tenants here at Lookout.

Horace Rockwell (brother of Porter Rockwell) and his wife Libby lived at and operated the station from the late 1860s until 1890. Aunt Libby as she was known was quite a character. She and Horace didn't have any children but she had several dogs and loved and cared for them as if they were her children. She regularly had the traveling doctor treat her animals (much to his chagrin) and when they finally passed away, she buried them in the fine little cemetery that the Rockwells constructed for that purpose.

This little cemetery among the trees is a curious place. According to the BLM and the Tooele County website, there are supposedly three emigrant pioneers buried just outside the stone wall. These people apparently died on the way to California and were buried where they perished. I have not been able to find concrete evidence of this but it is a widely accepted tale.

If you visit Lookout Station and Lookout Pass, take a moment to walk through the juniper forest and through the hills of the Onaqui and Sheeprock mountains. It isn't pine forest, there are no streams, and it can be downright hot or freezing cold depending on the season; but this is the high desert at its best and you probably won't have any competition for your piece of solitude. You may even encounter a rattlesnake, badger, or tarantula. Lastly, if you visit the area, be respectful of the historical resources all around.

For more information on the trail and road conditions contact the Pony Express National Historic Trail at:

HYPERLINK "http://www.nps.gov/poex/" http://www.nps.gov/poex/

And the BLM Salt Lake Field Office: 801-977-4300

HYPERLINK "http://www.ut.blm.gov/saltlake_fo/" http://www.ut.blm.gov/saltlake_fo/

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 December 2005 )

 
   
     

 
 

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