BEAVER COUNTY — You don’t have to drive to the Sierras for exceptional gem-hounding or big-wall rock-climbing. Southern Utah’s pristine Mineral Mountains just west of Beaver will fulfill any stone enthusiast’s yearning for rock.
Hardly known, except to locals, the Minerals are Utah’s largest exposed mass of solidified molten rock – aka plutonic body – but they also make up one of the most mineral rich mountain ranges in the state. For the first time visitor, the expanse of bare pale rock that makes up the most distinguishable section of this range – often referred to as the Milford Domes – can be overwhelming.
A towering granite peak flanked by slopes of granite castles and coliseum-sized domes surround a well-maintained picnic area called the Rock Corral Recreation Area. The Rock Corral is an ideal home base for exploring this granite mountain and the surrounding hills which offer a pristine, secluded wonderland of climbing, scrambling, rock-hounding, and everything in between.
Much of the great gem-hounding is scattered among numerous trailings and digs spread across the western base of the 28-mile-long mountain. The primitive campsites near the Rock Corral Recreation Area, are within a five-minute hike to numerous rock climbing routes, and a 15-minute drive to several documented rock-hounding sites.
Precious stone hot spot
One of the most spectacular rock-hounding sites is the banded purple opal dig, which can be found in the book, Rockhounding Utah, by William A. Kapple.
“Opal is found here in such a profusion of colors and patterns that I can’t begin to name them all,” Kapple wrote of this site.
Other easily accessible hounding sites include the nearby Milford obsidian cut, and the Minersville pyrite, azurite and malachite tailings, all documented in Kapple’s book.
The Mineral Mountains have long been a hotbed for extracting precious stones. In fact, the first ever documented mine in Utah, which unearthed silver and lead, originated in the Minerals in 1858. This led to an ore mining frenzy that has morphed over the years from formal mining ventures to small-time dig sites, to gem-hounding by rock-loving hobbyists. A suprising variety of precious stones can be found on this range including smoky quartz, pyrite, gold, silver, feldspar, obsidian, and one of the most prized gems in the world – blue beryl.
Climbing the formidable domes
Even if you’re only visiting the Mineral Mountains for stellar rock climbing, you will still see precious stone. While you ascend routes, you’ll see that the cliffs are full of visible quartz crystals exposed in the endless nooks and crannies of the granite domes.
For a visiting climber, the never-ending tall faces of the Milford Domes are overwhelming. There are more routes in the Minerals than are published. The majority of these routes are multi-pitch traditional climbs – with no pre-drilled bolts – however there are quite a few intermediate, and some hard, already-bolted sport routes that are a 5-10-minute hike/bushwhack from the picnic area.
The appeal of this area for a climber is not the rock quality – which is surprisingly brittle – it is the adventure of climbing up one of these massive domes that can only be ascended by someone with climbing skill. Most of the slopes are too treacherous to scramble up without rock climbing gear.
The difficulty of climbs spans the entire gamut, from long multi-pitch easy crack routes, to hard, slabby sport routes – and everything in between.
There are enough climbs in this area to fill an entire guidebook – yet the only printed directions to any of these climbs are in the back few pages of a climbing book called “Utah’s West Desert,” by James Garrett. You can find some climbing info online, at MountainProject.com and SummitPost.org, among others, but the information is sparse.
This is pristine wilderness for the nonmotorized explorer – the rugged topography doesn’t allow for much human interaction unless you’re a climber or hiker. The Mineral Mountains are hidden from Interstate-15 travelers by a deceivingly normal-looking east side; but, the west side holds all the charm. With the added bonus of well-maintained dirt roads, and numerous family friendly camping spots, this easily accessible wilderness area is a Southern Utah treasure.
From Center Street in Beaver, travel west on Highway 21 for approximately 29 miles. Turn right at the “Rock Corral Recreation Area,” sign. In .8 miles, turn right onto a well-graded gravel road marked with another “Rock Corral Recreation Area” sign. For the next 9.8 miles, there are several forks in the gravel road – at each fork follow the signs that point to the Rock Corral Recreation Area, which eventually leads you to the Rock Corral Picnic Area. For climbers, this is your best access point to the majority of climbs. For casual hikers, or those who want to scramble or just enjoy the best part of scenery, park and picnic here.
For campsites, start looking for little four-wheel-drive roads and turnouts approximately 2 miles prior to the picnic area. There are too many good sites to count. Pick a four-wheel-drive road or a turnout and it will lead to a site. All camping is free but primitive. Most sites have a pre-existing fire ring. The nearest bathrooms are at the Rock Corral Recreation Area. There is no running water, however there were several streams nearby in June.
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