Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Desert Destination: Crystal Peak

Usually I just do one desert destination a week, but for spring break we had fun going to lots of places, so here's another one.
Crystal Peak is located in the southeastern part of Snake Valley in western Utah, and is different from all the surrounding mountains. Made of Tunnel Springs tuff, the white volcanic rock contrasts with the nearby forest-covered hills and peaks. 

In the afternoon light, Crystal Peak looks like it's glowing. Early Indians clearly knew about it, as they told Mormon settlers of its existence. When the Mormons were looking for other places to live in this area, they called one such search the White Mountain Mission. 

Today Crystal Peak is part of a wilderness study area, requiring a hike to reach its base. During the Spring Break trip, Uncle Andrew set off with a quickly-growing Desert Boy in the backpack. As previous trips have shown, Uncle Andrew often has some memorable adventures. The Crystal Peak trip is another to add to his book.

Although from a distance it appears as if nothing is living on Crystal Peak, upon closer examination it's obvious it supports some life. One curious find are small ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) trees. Usually these trees are found at higher elevations and near riparian areas. The pockets in the rock apparently hold enough water to support these trees.

I saw my first native wildflower of the season blooming on Crystal Peak, but just one plant. It's a twinpod, also called bladderpod (Physaria unknown species), in the Mustard family. I was very excited to see something blooming.

One of the most common plants on Crystal Peak is this mat-forming plant from the Rose family, Rock spiraea (Petrophytum caespitosum). It's considered to be an evergreen shrub, even though it usually only grows to be 6-8 inches tall. It produces pretty white flowers that ascend on single stems above the mat. In the photo above we can see last year's flowers that have turned brown.

In addition to plants, we saw spiders, bees, flies, and lizards, but they all moved too fast to capture a photo of them.

Our goal was to climb Crystal Peak, and from a previous trip I knew the best (easiest) approach was from the southeast side. So we walked around the base of the mountain, admiring the interesting shapes of the rock. The mountain formed about 33 million years ago.

It took a long time to walk around to the back side of the mountain, and when we got to this ravine, Uncle Andrew thought this would be a good way to go up the mountain. So he took off like a mountain goat (I had the backpack by this point), with the rest of us following. From the bottom, it looked doable.

We scrambled up rock chutes, getting a close-up look at the Tunnel Springs tuff. The rock is quite crumbly, so what at first might seem like a good handhold could suddenly break off. The tuff has a lot of quartz crystals in it, but they are the size of sand, so it feels a little bit like climbing sand paper. 

Eventually we got to a point where it got really steep. Uncle Andrew and his professor were able to keep going up, but the rest of us decided we had reached our limit (even Desert Boy, who was quite vocal). We started our way down, which was definitely harder than going up. 

Eventually Uncle Andrew and his professor made it to the top, at 7,108 feet, after first getting to two false summits, finding thigh-deep snow on the north side, and getting an excellent workout.

Meanwhile, the rest of us enjoyed the views as we worked our way carefully down the steep slope. Even though we hadn't been able to make it to the top via that route, it was an experience we wouldn't forget.

We breathed a sigh of relief when we got to the less steep sections.

Surrounding Crystal Peak is Kanosh Shale, a rock type with lots of fossils. We didn't spend much time looking at them, but someone who is interested in fossils could easily spend an afternoon here. 

Here is a photo of the south side of Crystal Peak. The temperature for our adventure was perfect. In the summer, it can be quite hot on the mountain, and there is no water available, so you have to bring your own.

If you decide you want to climb Crystal Peak, the easiest way is to go to the southeast side of the peak and climb up the slope covered with trees, shown in the above photo on the left side of the photo. (This is also where there are lots of fossils.) Then cut over to the tuff and follow the ridge up to the top. There's not a trail, so watch your footing and take a map. Here are directions for how to get here. And have fun!


The Incredible Woody said...

Wow - you take us to the best places!! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

A short youtube clip of the climb.

Uncle Andrew

Anonymous said...

And a panoramic from the top.

Uncle Andrew

Desert Survivor said...

Love the panoramic and clip. They sure give a good sense of the spectacular views (and steep rock) on Crystal Peak.

Watcher said...

Wonderful! Both this peak and Crystal Ball Cave have been places I've been meaning to get around to for several years. These last 2 posts are super-helpful!

Thanks! -Alex

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