As a teenager growing up in Southern Utah I was often pressed into a forced march (Boy Scouts of America) along the Old Spanish Trail. This historical trade route came through and near to Cedar City, UT and historical markers can be spotted along the route. Connecting northern New Mexico settlements with California this 700 mile long traversed “high mountains, arid deserts, and deep canyons”. Easily considered (by my teenage self and apparently others) to be “the most arduous of all trade routes ever established in the United States”.
These memories perhaps more than anything are what caused me to smile when I turned onto East Antelope Road and noted the sign “Old Spanish Trail Route next 24 miles”. I’ve toyed in the back of my mind hiking sections of this trail again and perhaps sections at a time over the whole trail, that vision quickly settled into reality when the 24 miles came into focus. Not a chance.
After reaching the final summit of The Three Peaks - UT quadrangle earlier this morning, my destination now is a series of peaks also known as Three Peaks (no relation). These series of peaks, although connected, reside in two different quadrangles. The first and officially ranked peak is Three Peaks, East. The other two peaks, Middle and West are non-ranked but connected by high saddles between the two. I plan to make a loop out of the group.
This drive is straight forward compared to my approach to The Bald Hills South earlier this morning and I find a wide spot in the road to pull over. The sun is up and it is starting to warm up. This high desert country provides some relief with an elevation around 5,500 feet and thankfully a gentle breeze is blowing as I make my way through the sagebrush and tall grass again. Ever mindful of rattlesnakes I slow down when the grass gets thick and use caution when stepping through the sagebrush. I don’t see any this trip, but this is their favored habitat so I use caution.
My approach is simple and I connect with a raising ridgeline toward the high saddle to the west of the peak. From the saddle, the hillside turns steep with large lava based cliff bands jutting out here and there. The hike isn’t difficult but the small scree broken off of the lava rock over time creates slippery footing as I reach the summit. Breathtaking.
A U.S. Geological Survey marker greets me as I near the summit. These are always welcome as I don’t have to guess at the high point of the peak. Summits like Three Peaks East are easier than others with a pronounced point, but having the marker is handy none the less. A small summit cairn exists so I move a rock to determine if a summit log exists. No log, but a geocache tube exists and apparently, this is part of a series of geocaches in the area. I’m not a geocacher, but I have friends who love the program. “Hiking with a purpose” is how my niece put it when asked. I couldn’t agree more. A friend who passed away a couple of years ago from brain cancer was an avid geocacher. I’ll have to look up and see if this is one of his. I hope it is.
Clouds are starting to form, and I hear thunder as I hike off the summit. It’s nearing monsoon season here in the desert. Isolated thunderstorms roll through typically in the afternoon. Generally not a problem unless you are standing on a high point with lots of lightning. Then it can be a bit dangerous. The ground around here is littered with iron ore with mining sites just to the east of my location. Nothing pulls lightning to the ground faster than surface iron ore and I’ve seen it bounce along the ground from boulder to boulder. I’m not concerned with what I see and hear so far and I make my way toward the second summit.
Hiking connected peaks are always fun and easier when you don’t have to drop all the way to ground level to climb the next peak. After hitting the high saddle, the climb up toward Three Peaks Middle is straight forward with less route finding through rock abutments. I will be the first one to log an ascent of these peaks on one of the websites I use for such things. On arriving at the summit ridge and seeing two large cairns and the beginnings of a third, I somehow doubt I can claim the first ascent of this peak.
I perform my ritual of hiking back and forth to locate the GPS summit and the actual high point. I don’t bother looking to close at these beautiful summit cairns for any geocache markers but I am sure that is what they represent. A booming thunder clap causes me to turn east as the looming dark cloud bursts the skyline with rain.
I watch the storm track due south and the sun disappears for a moment as the clouds roll overhead. I welcome the reprieve from direct sun, but no raindrops on my location. I begin my ascent to the third and final peak.
No doubt Three Peaks West was added as a non-ranked peak due to its location in the group. As a stand-alone peak, I doubt it would have made any list. It is a pleasant stroll to finish the morning and I find another small summit cairn at its peak.
I drop back into the high saddle and angle across the face of Three Peaks Middle. Ever mindful for rattlesnakes I spot a beautiful rock inlaid with white agate. This is known in the rockhounding community as a Thunder Egg, they are beautiful when cut and polished. Thankfully my wife knows how to do these things and I gather a couple more as I make my way across the barren landscape.
Thunder eggs are unique and I only find the few in this area below the middle peak. Moving back along the ridgeline and dropping into the sagebrush and grass once again I circle back to my jeep. The sun is out again and it is shortly after noon. I can’t think of a better way to start the weekend than with a short three peak loop around three peaks named Three Peaks.