My recent trip to Great Basin National Park took me right past the dune fields and 700’ Sand Mountain of Little Sahara Recreation Area. There’s something about sand dunes that’s always fascinated me. Call it a mix of growing up on the East Coast, where anything desert-related seemed exotic, and a deep-rooted desire to pretend I’m on Tattooine.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been wanting to make the drive out there to explore the park. At just 115 miles from Salt Lake City, in that vast wonderland that is the West Desert, it’s an easy day trip. Although it’s primarily a destination for ATVs and OHVs, I hoped to find some quiet spots to explore and hike.
Dan and I made the drive out there on a Sunday afternoon and found the park remarkably quiet. After a quick stop at the Visitors Center to chat with the rangers there about the best places to explore on foot, we headed down the paved drive to explore.
A handful of ATVs were rolling around the dunes, and a few RVs were just packing up, but most of the park’s hundreds of campsites were empty. With how quiet it was, we decided to head straight for the park’s crown attractions, Sand Mountain.
We decided to try hiking to the top of Sand Mountain. The road through the park ends at a large open parking area—I gave the new Subaru’s AWD a good test rolling up a sandy patch to park just below where we wanted to hike up, and then we loaded up on water and set off up the sand.
Rockwell Wilderness Study Area
We were hoping to explore Rockwell Wilderness Study Area, a 9,000 acre section of Little Sahara set aside as vehicle-free. It’s a proposed wilderness area, though it seems some of it is still fairly regularly used by ATV riders. Still, the promise and allure of untouched, wild desert is there.
The ranger at the visitors center offered up a set of cryptic directions, which were reiterated in a print-out pamphlet we grabbed from the brochure display. There’s no signs. The roads are dirt, rough. The ranger considered my Subaru through the window and guessed I could probably maneuver down the road, though he warned us about a couple of sand patches that we’d need to make sure we kept momentum to get through.
Dan asked what would happen if we got stuck out there, and he shrugged. “Call 911 and get pulled out.” Sounds like it’s not an uncommon occurrence.
We set our odometer to zero, headed out of the park and took a left onto Callao Road. The turnoff to Rockwell is at roughly 10.75 miles on the odometer from the visitors center, but the multitude of rough dirt roads, second-guessing of the directions we had, making wrong turns and backtracking got us completely off track. We eventually decided to come back another day, preferably after I’d equipped the car with a full size spare tire and some basic recovery equipment in case we did get stuck in the sand.
If I ever do make it back to find the Wilderness Study Area, I’ll update this with more details. For now, it remains a difficult-to-access mystery to me.