Saturday, April 26, 2014

Climbing Pahvant Butte, the Volcano South of Delta, Utah--with Kids!

 Continuing on our Volcano-themed Weekend, after we finished with Sunstone Knoll and Clear Lake, we headed toward the big volcano. That's when I realized I didn't have much of a plan for what would happen next. I had read that the volcano was hikeable, but I didn't know where to start. So we headed down the marked road and eventually saw a track up the Lake Bonneville shoreline. We headed towards that track, but when we got to it, it was too steep for the truck. However, there was another track that entered the canyon.

What an adventure! The track twisted and turned up the narrow ravine, and the cinders were like driving in deep sand. I knew if I stopped, we'd be stuck, so I kept my foot on the gas and we kept going. Fortunately no one was coming the other direction. Then we popped up into the middle of the volcanic crater. (The white line in the image below is the driving line, the red line is the hiking route.)

The inside of the crater surprised me. I was expecting to see lots of black lava, but instead we saw lots of orangish rock. This orangish rock is a tuff, a combination of basaltic lava the size of sand and gravel.

One of the things that is so cool about this volcano is that it started erupting underwater about 15,500 years ago, when the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville covered the area. As the volcano erupted, it grew taller, eventually emerging from the lake. The parts of the volcano that were under the lake still have the black lava, and the lake interactions made a cool formation on the northwest side called the Lace Curtains (which we didn't have time to see this trip). For more about the geology, check out this Utah Geological Survey page.

We got our gear and started our hiking trip. Our basic plan was to walk around the top of the volcano. It didn't look too bad from the bottom, but as we started up the steep slope to the south summit, I started having doubts of how far we could go.

We could see the pillars up on the south summit, remnants of a 1923 windmill project. Some say that it was a scam, as it was never finished and the project was rather odd, with no power lines in the area. Others say it was an early renewable energy project, which put Millard County ahead of the times. Overall, there doesn't seem to be much documentation about it. The old structures make for a rather odd  but intriguing sight.

They also make for a well-visited site. We found 8 OHVs on the top of the south summit. They had taken a road up the east side.

After a long snack break, we continued towards the main summit, following an easy ridge. We took a little detour to find a geocache.

Indian paintbrush,  phlox, and more were blooming, adding some extra color to the hike. I was delighted to see the hummingbird moth near the cryptantha.

As we got higher, we faced some interesting obstacles, where the volcano rim had weathered away, leaving steep cliffs. We had to do some backtracking to find a way, but we eventually did. Here and there you can find a bit of a social trail, but overall this volcano is pretty wild and untracked.

We kept seeing different groups of OHVs arrive at the south summit (lots of people were camped in the area for the holiday weekend), but no one else was hiking. The kids were doing an excellent job. It probably helped that I told them that the reward for not whining was going to the Delta swimming pool later that afternoon.

Soon we saw the triangular metal structure at the summit get larger and larger. We were almost there! The summit is at 5,751 feet.

A rock wren greeted us. We took a long time trying to find a geocache without success.

The views were outstanding, looking out at the Sevier Desert. I was a bit surprised when I saw there was no road directly to Delta. I think the old lakebed will bog down vehicles, and it looks like the Sevier River still flows through that area. We had a good view of Clear Lake to the southwest and the Pahvant Range and Tushar Mountains to the east.

Desert Girl hiked the whole way by herself. (She knew she had to, which is a big motivator.)

After rehydrating and eating and enjoying the view, we started heading around the rim. I was a little more nervous about this part, because I wasn't sure if we'd reach some difficult obstacles. We had one part that was a little steeper than I like, but the kids are good rock climbers and managed fine. We found that it was a lot easier to descend, especially when we reached a section with cinders that made going down feel like running down a sand dune.

I estimate we hiked about 2.5 miles, taking about three hours. It was really cool to be on the top of a volcano, and now every time we go to Delta, we will have a special appreciation of that volcano to the south. And the kids got to go swimming, which was the best part of the trip for them.

Pahvant Butte from Highway 6 & 50 west of Delta.


Marilyn said...

This looks so fun! We visited Pahvant Butte awhile ago, but didn't get to hike up. Those windmill columns look so strange and surreal! We'll have to go back!

And the lace curtain is definitely worth seeing–beautiful and fun to climb on!

You can see our pictures of it here:

jhami said...

Looks like fun! We haven't explored that area yet.....

Desert Survivor said...

This was such a cool area that we'll be back! We'd love to link it up with the Lace Curtains, Devil's Kitchen, Tabernacle Hill lava tubes, and more.

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