Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Pintails and Paiutes

Sunday 18th September . A short ride of about ten miles brought us to Fish Springs, at the foot of the Fish Springs Range, a green oasis in the middle of salt flats and bare hills......
This is now a National Wildlife Refuge.   A wetland area fed by groundwater, the Refuge is particularly vital for a wide range of migratory birds which nest and rest here. Some of the maintained ponds take their names from the 300 or so species of feathered visitor - pintail, egret, shovellor, mallard, avocet and gadwall, the last being a dabbling duck I had never heard of before.
It turned into a boiling hot day with temperatures of around 100C, so we were grateful to find a shady spot to camp and while away the afternoon beneath some trees at the Refuge Centre were there is a small cluster of buildings...
..and we were especially privileged to be allowed use of a shower later in the empty bunkhouse, thanks to the  very friendly and chatty refuge manager Brian Allen, shown here with assistant Corey...
Brian's young and enthusiastic chocolate Labrador has the appropriate avian name of Widgeon.   Having had got over her initial inconvenient aversion to both water and feathers, she is now turning into a useful working bird dog! 
The site of the Pony Express station is thought to be a mile further north where the Thomas ranch once stood - now there is only a picnic site in a stand of trees.   In 1959, Chorpenning built a thatched shed to serve as mail and water stop, though by the time the Pony Express came through it seems there was a more substantial building - Burton describes arriving in the cold to a roaring fire, supper and bed.
The Fish Springs Pony Express monument is positioned further up the hill along the Pony Express Road, and making an early start to beat the heat on Monday 19th September, Lady and I stopped there as we left the Centre ...
The view from the monument looks out over the Refuge wetlands with its ponds glinting in the morning light, and across to the Dugway Range on the horizon. You can just see the small stand of trees which marks the former site of the Pony Express station.  The old trail ran this way at the foot of the Fish Springs range which rises up behind.  The Pony Express Road continues north round the end of the range, but from this point there is also a short-cut going straight over the hills to the west, now through private land.  

I have already touched upon Indian attack, and we were now well into a section of the Pony Express Trail which was all but shut down in 1860 due to the Paiute War. This started  in May 1860, shortly after the start of the Pony Express service, and was sparked off by the abduction of two young Paiute girls in western Nevada by white men.  Starting in the west and spreading east as far as Faust, Pony Express stations were attacked and burnt, and station keepers (who were like sitting ducks) killed. Lookout Pass and the intervening stations between Simpsons and Fish Springs were all abandoned and/or burnt at some time during these troubles, Though only one rider is reported to have lost his life, several had narrow escapes. Rider Nick Wilson recounted how he was ambushed near Fish Springs where the swamp came close to a cedar covered rocky point which provided cover for Indians. If he had not also stated that it was on the run east from Fish Springs, I would have hazarded a guess that it could have been at this point heading west on the Pony Express Road, although now there is a notable lack of cedar in the whole area...
 Somewhere before here at the start of October 1860 Burton met a party of ten wagons and ninety dragoons commanded by Lieutenant Weed and two officers, indulged in some more 'liquoring up' and "after American fashion, talked politics in the wilderness".. Since the start of the troubles this party had been engaged in dealing with the "Gosh Yutas" or Goshute Indians, a locally based branch of the Ute peoples.
Rounding the end of the Fish Springs Range...
..straight ahead lies the Deep Creek Range, at the eastern base of which lies Callao and the site of Willow Springs Pony Express station.  Past the rock promontory the trail swings in a southward loop to circumvent the worst of the Snake River valley alkali salt flat which Burton described as a "wet and oozy plain, in which the mules often sank to their fetlock".  The track we were following here made easy travelling in the dry conditions we were experiencing, but in Burton's words "After heavy showers it becomes a soft, slippery, tenacious and slushy mud, that renders travelling laborious".
We camped for the night at the former site of Boyds Pony Express station, where a stone ruin still remains. This view is looking east to the Fish Spring Range, and you can see the outcrop of rock which can be seen clearly across the Snake River valley plain and acts as a distinctive guiding landmark for Boyds...
The building was constructed around 1855 by George Washington Boyd who lived here for around forty years and served as station keeper.   Interesting features are the gunports (now collapsed) one being directly in line with the rock outcrop.  There was a spring nearby which supplied very brackish water - this may be just to the east where we passed a scrubby area of mesquite trees.

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