Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh), stretching west from the edge of Salt Lake City and Provo to the Nevada border, is filled with raw nature. The county offers skyscraping mountain ranges, wide sagebrush-covered basins dotted with grazing horses, flat pans of gleaming white salt, still water reflecting blue sky, and historic sites that remember the Old West. If you want an authentic Utah adventure, then head out to Tooele County. Here are five reasons to make Tooele your next favorite place. And don’t forget, if you want to sound like a native then pronounce the name TOO-will-ah.
1. Experience the Bonneville Salt Flats
The Bonneville Salt Flats is one of Utah’s strangest landscapes. The iconic area, covering 30,000 acres east of the Nevada border, is a pool-table flat pan that glistens with dazzling white salt that’s 90% NaCl (sodium chloride), which is the same stuff you find in the shaker on your kitchen counter. The salt flats are gorgeous after rain when shallow water mirrors the sky and clouds. In addition to spectacular scenery, the flats are also home to the famed Bonneville Speedway. The speedway, with both straight and oval tracks, is called the fastest place on earth and has many speed records and annual events including Speed Week. One astounding record set here was done by a rocket-propelled vehicle that reached 622 mph in 1970.
The easiest place to see the Bonneville Salt Flats is at Salt Flats Rest Area on I-80. The best views and access to them are at the westbound rest area on the interstate’s north side. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lots of water if you hike onto the flats.
2. Watch Wild Horses
Wild horses, free from saddle and spur, are a potent symbol of the Wild West. Tooele County, home to the largest wild horse herds in Utah, is a great place to see and photograph hundreds of horses that roam the sagebrush-covered plains and benches. The herds, descendants of escaped ranch and U.S. Army horses from the 1800s, graze along the edges of the Onaqui Mountains and Cedar Mountains. The best place to watch these horses is along the old Pony Express Road from Lookout Pass to Simpson Springs, south of Johnson Pass on the east side of the Onaquis, and below the Cedar Mountains south of Hastings Pass. Early summer is a perfect time to see the horses while the young ones are still part of the familial herds. Remember the horses are wild, wary, and dangerous. Keep your distance and don’t disturb them.
3. Boat on the Great Salt Lake
Tooele County offers one of Utah’s bucket list items—boating on the Great Salt Lake. The Rhode Island-sized lake, at 75 miles long and 28 miles wide, is a haven for sailors with its dense salty waters and usually gentle waves. The size of the shallow lake fluctuates from year to year depending on runoff and weather, but it usually covers 1,700 square miles. Summer is the perfect season for sailing and boating on this salty inland sea when the water is clear and warm. Stop by the Great Salt Lake Marina off Interstate 80 and sign up for a sunset dinner cruise, charter a sailboat, take a jet boat tour, or rent a kayak or paddleboard.
4. Relive History on the Pony Express Trail
The Pony Express Trail was a hare-brained scheme to deliver mail in a mere 10 days between Missouri and California in 1860 and 1861. For 18 months, young riders traveled 1,840 miles over mountains and across deserts, spurring their steeds past 157 relay stations. One of the best sections of the Pony Express Trail, a backcountry byway and national historic trail, crosses 133 miles of remote basins and ranges in southern and western Tooele County. A good 50-mile round-trip drive begins at the old Faust station in Rush Valley and heads southwest over Lookout Pass, offering views across the desert. After skirting a couple ranges you reach lonely Simpson Springs Station, a stark site with reliable springs and reconstructed station house. Turn around here or spend the night below a tapestry of stars at a 14-site campground. This route also makes a great bike ride on the paved and gravel road.
5. Discover Utah’s Pioneer and Mining History
Tooele County is old Utah, with a rich history that stretches back 11,000 years to early Native Americans who lived in Danger Cave near Wendover. The cave, while only open sporadically, is one of many historical places to discover Tooele’s past. The Benson Grist Mill, located in Stansbury Park, was built in 1854 to serve Mormon settlers until the early 1900s. Now the mill, along with four other pioneer buildings, represents the area’s early history. The free Tooele Valley Railroad Museum, within walking distance of downtown Tooele City, preserves the county’s mining past in an old railroad station. Climb aboard Engine #11, which hauled workers to a smelter above Tooele Valley until its 1963 retirement, and check out cabooses and railcars filled with artifacts and mining memorabilia.
The ghost town of Ophir, stretching along narrow Ophir Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, recalls the glory days when silver was king in the late 1800s. The town, now with a population of 40, started after soldiers found that Indians were molding bullets made from silver mined here. Walk around the historic district and discover the old City Hall, crumbling miner’s cabins, the first post office, the town cemetery, and mine tracks. Don’t forget to respect private property.
Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.