Silver Island Mountains Loop
The Silver Island Mountains are so named because they resemble an island of mountains on an otherwise flat terrain. I don’t use the term “featureless terrain” because the salt flats are on the eastern side, while mud flats are on the western side. The “Scenic Byway” loop, most commonly taken anti-clockwise, heads north, then west, then south around the mountains. The official length of the loop is some 48 miles, though the completion to get back to the same spot (camp) is just short of 52 miles.
Basically, this loop is advertised as 2WD high-clearance vehicles only. 4WD is recommended if you take any side trails. This is true. Unlike the main trail, most side trails are not graded even occasionally, and can present surfaces where traction and slope can become an issue. The first half is car-friendly, as long as you don’t have one of those little front-wheel-drive sedans with a long, overhanging snout, or an old Austin-Healey 3000. I’d also rule out grippy, soft-rubber street tires due to the gravel and rocks. The BLM description says that some sections are suitable for bicycling, which I don’t get, since it all looked very do-able to me. All you need is decent tires and some camping gear. The Evelo could very likely do it on two batteries, being careful to keep speeds down to avoid disappointment. The combination of soft ground and sneaky-slow changes in elevation could be a capacity-sapper. Count on six hours.
The Hastings Cutoff was key to the Donner-Reed Party disaster of 1848, where a party of immigrants set out from Illinois to try to get to California as quickly as possible so that they could land grab the choicest areas that the ongoing Mexican-American War was making available. They made it to Green River, Wyoming and went on to Bridger, where Bridger himself recommended a new detour that was supposedly faster and would cut some 350 miles off the usual Oregon Trail route used by the parties just ahead of them. His ambitious lawyer pal Hastings wanted to become rich and politically powerful, and had published a book back east that pushed his new and better way to get to California. Trouble was, he’d never taken much of it himself, and was speculating.
A friend of the Donner-Reed party had gone ahead on this new route, returned, and left a letter with Bridger warning them not to take this new variation under any circumstances. Bridger palmed it, and sent the group of almost 90 on their way. It’s a long story. The main problem was threefold: the trail was, with proper guidance, technically do-able, but its passable weather window was much more limited than the main trail. Too soon, and you bog down in mud. Too late, and deep snow stops the show. The second problem was that Hastings had gone ahead with another party, and had left unhelpful notes in bushes along the way, one of which advised them to stop where they were and wait for him to show up to personally guide them around an impassible section that he had discovered on this, his first slog through his own route. He never showed, and when two of the party left to find him south of the salt flats, he refused to come back to help them. Thus, they were left to find their own way through terrain that was guaranteed to slow them to a crawl, largely guessing their way around and through upcoming mountain ranges. Third, they were, like most other such large families venturing west, inexperienced in the wild. When problems hit, they developed enough ego, animosity and violence toward each other to do some pretty heartless things. They broke up into separate groups, which laid them open to Indian attacks. Indians along the way, who had suffered earlier slaughter for mere sport at the hands of the military, crippled and killed most of their livestock that would be needed to keep them alive later in the journey. Not good. A little over half of them made it to California thanks to four rescue attempts from the California side, the rest succumbing to starvation, freezing, murder, and abandonment along the trail. Not a pretty story, and the Silver Islands Mountain Loop intersects the Hastings Cutoff at two marked points, just after they had begun their most serious difficulties in getting across the Salt Flats, where many loaded wagons bogged down and had to be abandoned.
Oddly, the Mormons who made it to Salt Lake just a year later credited the Donner-Reed party for their success at reaching the their destination just in time to grow one much-needed crop before winter set in, since that party had literally created the path by hacking their way through the trees and bushes.
About here, I came across a young couple sitting beside the road, and the guy was in camo uniform. “You’re out here for fun, or what?” I asked. It seems that a rockhound saw some iron and excavated around it to discover an unexploded WWII 500-pound bomb that had been dropped when Wendover served as a bomber training base and the initial facility for development of the first atom bombs. He’d recovered it and called the Air Force. I took the shot with the telephoto cranked all the way up, and later guessed that we three were probably just outside the thing’s half-mile “safe radius”.
The story about this find is here, and the follow-up is here. What’s especially interesting to me is that just a few days previously, I talked to the guy (Craig Alvord) who later found it! That’s when I was venturing down the loop with the Defiant in tow to check out a site possibility, and he stopped ahead of me to warn me that going more than a few miles ahead with a TT would not be a good idea. He was afraid that I was completely new to the area, and didn’t want me to get myself into a fix. Said he’d spent a year and a half here. I recognized his truck from the news report photos. Yep, just another boring day boondocking out in the wastelands.