What's Out There?

Honoring Native Land

The Desatoya Mountains Wilderness is part of the traditional homeland and cultural landscape of the Nuumu and Newe People, who have been have lived in the area for countless generations. Lithic scatters, evidence of early native inhabitants, are present on many small knolls throughout the area. Fifteen aboriginal sites have been identified within the Wilderness.  





The early EuroAmerican emigrants utilized the path of least resistance across Nevada, detouring first north of the Great Salt Lake and then following the Humboldt River to the western side of Nevada. This trail was quite circuitous and a more direct path had to potential of shortening the journey by nearly 100 miles. The Desatoya Mountains created one of the many impediments to a possible central route through Nevada. In 1858-59, Captain Simpson's expeditions establish two possible passes over the Desatoya Mountains, one at the head of Smith Creek, called Basque Summit, and the other over what is today's Carrol Summit. On the 1859 Wagon Routes of Utah Territory map, the Desatoya Mountains are identified as the "Be-Day-E or Lookout Mts." The Pony Express Route from 1861 to 1861 bypassed the Desatoya Mountains entirely, passing around the northern end. The Overland Stage route utilized Basque Summit, while the later Lincoln Highway created a winding route over Carrol Summit and down through Road Canyon to Eastgate, which Simpson named "Gibraltar." The modern US 50 Highway reverted to the original Pony Express Route, bypassing the Desatoya Mountains and utilizing the low pass between the Desatoya mountains and the New Pass Range. The Cold Springs Pony Express Station is located just outside the Wilderness and an Overland Stage Station ruins can be found on the Edwards Creek boundary road. Woodcarvings made by Basque sheepherders on aspen trees during the early 1900s can still be seen in some of the drainages within the Wilderness.






Natural History

The rocks the Desatoya Mountains Wilderness are Miocene welded ash-flows tuffs.  Lava flows and intrusive rocks (in the southern portion of the Wilderness) are present in smaller amounts.  These rocks intrude or lie on a thick sequence of andesite lava flows, dated to the Oligocene and Miocene ages and form the basement rocks in the area.  The rhyolitic welded tuffs, lava flows, and intrusive bodies are products of a Miocene volcano that collapsed to form a large caldera located in the central portion of what are now the Desatoya Mountains. This caldera formed about 25 million years ago and has been greatly modified by subsequent basin and range faulting and later erosion.  Most of the physiographic and tectonic aspects of the caldera are obscured by later tectonic and erosional events.  

Wildlife such as mountain lion, mule deer, gray fox, sage grouse, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle and pika can be seen here. Cutthroat trout are present in Edwards and Smith Creeks; and brook trout are found in Big Dens Creek. Desert bighorn sheep were reintroduced in 1986.

img-placeholder.pngFrom the 1859 Wagon Routes of Utah Territory map


Pinyon-juniper plant community covers roughly 50% of the Wilderness in the lower and middle elevations and in places extend well onto the alluvial fan. Riparian vegetation, including aspen, willow, and several species of berries and wildflowers, is found along the eleven perennial streams in the Wilderness as well as along several intermittent stream channels. Isolated stands of mountain mahogany can be found in the upper elevations, particularly on the west side. The main ridge is vegetated by grasses and low growing shrub species such as low sage.