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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Exploring the historic Pony Express Trail in Utah's West Desert

Photo: Jeromy Jessop
Article thanks to Jeromy Jessop and Links provided:
April, 2016 - SALT LAKE CITY — Back in the 1860s, Utah’s West Desert was a wild, barren, untamed land of dust devils, alkali plains, and sun blasted mountains which, for thePony Express Rider, held the possibility of a hostile encounter with Native Americans.
This area, from Camp Floyd to Ibapah, primarily in Juab and Tooele Counties, was noted on maps of the time as the “Great American Desert”. This desert had a reputation that spanned continents, capturing the imaginations of the greatest explorers and writers of the day. Horace GreeleySir Richard Burton and Mark Twain, all crossed the desert back at the height of its mystique and left entertaining records of what the periled crossing was like.
Over 100 miles of the Pony Express National Historic Trail exist in the West Desert of Utah and persons traveling this route today will remember it for the rest of their lives, just as certainly as the riders and explorers did. The road is bumpy, dusty, dry and remote – just as it was in 1860. As you travel over Lookout Pass, emerge from the Old River Bed or wind your way up Overland Canyon, it is easy to imagine bandits lying in wait to ambush the riders who amazingly lost only one package in the year and a half the express was in operation in the area.
Now, what was the Pony Express and why did it come about? Back in 1860, the U.S. was undergoing serious tensions. The country was on the brink of Civil War,Johnston’s Army was stationed at Camp Floyd to watch the Mormons, and America was growing faster than the mail service of the day could serve.
Before the Pony Express, it took six to eight weeks for a letter to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast. This was an unacceptable situation because the Federal Government believed good communication was vital for the purpose of preventing California from seceeding from the Union. Therefore, the entrepreneurs Russell, Majors & Waddell concieved and sold the idea of the Pony Express.
On April 3, 1860, the first riders headed east with messages from Sacramento, California, and west with messages from St. Joseph, Missouri. The length of the route was an incredible distance of nearly 2,000 miles. The Pony Express started with 80 riders, 400 horses and over 100 stations that were spaced every 10-12 miles along the trail.
The riders horses were mostly tough California mustangs and the company paid each rider $25 per week. Company recruiting posters stated the following: "Wanted: Young, Skinny, Wiry Fellows Not Over Eighteen. Must Be Expert Riders. Willing to Risk Death Daily. Orphans Preferred." Each rider was issued two revolvers, a rifle, a bowie knife and a leather bible. The average weight of the rider was 120 pounds. The express riders carried the mail day and night through rain, sleet or snow. Riders were switched out every 75-100 miles.
Other important figures such as Major Howard Egan, CPT James H. Simpson and Henry "Doc" Faust, carved the route the Express would follow out of a totally unforgiving wilderness. Egan's exploits, captured in the book, "Pioneering the West", are particularly interesting as he was the superintendant of the line from Salt Lake City to Ruby Valley in Nevada.
The lands where the incredible drama of the Pony Express unfolded are much the same as they were when the Riders carried the mail in the 1860s. Timeless bold mountain peaks pierce the sky, and incredible vistas to and from forlorn station sites unfold before the modern traveler. Sunflowers, fiery sunsets, star-filled skies, pungent sagebrush, wild mustangs, tumbleweeds, pronghorn antelope and the solitude and peace of the desert await the modern Pony Express Trail traveler in Utah's West Desert.
If you contemplate taking a trip out along the trail, be sure to do your research, take plenty of food, water, good maps, a spare tire and the tools and knowledge needed to change it because cell phones are unreliable in the desert.
A recommended starting point to see the Pony Express Trail is Camp Floyd State Park. Continue from that point west as far as you like, but understand you are entering a primitive country. Contact the Bureau of Land Management to enquire about road conditions as inclement weather can render portions of the route impassable. Be prepared, go out in the Great American Desert and follow the path of the Pony Rider. It will be an experience you will never forget.
For more information contact:
324 S. State St., Suite 200, Salt Lake City
2370 S. Decker Lake Blvd., West Valley City. The office is open Monday- Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 801-977-4300 for details about the trail.
Jaromy Jessop is a perpetual explorer, outdoor enthusiast, history nut, and Utah native. He can be contacted at

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