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Fish Springs Wildlife Refuge
The Facts Directions Comments Photo Gallery
PO Box 568
Dugway , UT 84022
801-831-5353

Open:
Year 'Round

black-necked stilts
Photo Gallery
Accessibility:
There is a wheelchair accessible rest room (located at Refuge headquarters) and toilet (at the picnic area). An accessible water-fowl hunting site is available during the waterfowl season by reservation.

Facilities:
There is an 11-mile self-guided auto tour route complete with interpretive signs. (We participated in a work weekend to create and erect these signs). A picnic area and bathroom is available for day use, and drinking water is available at Refuge headquarters. Tours can usually be arranged for organized groups if Refuge staff is contacted ahead of time. There are no lodging or camping facilities in the Refuge, but the surrounding BLM land will accomodate you if you don't mind primitive camping. There are no gas or food stores for 80 miles, so bring what you need and pack out your trash.

About the Refuge:
Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge is located on the south edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert, 104 miles southwest of Tooele, and 78 miles northwest of Delta, Utah. The Refuge is extremely isolated and can be reached only by gravel roads across uninhabited desert. Local inquiry into road conditions is advised.

The Refuge was established in 1959, and encompasses 17,992 acres between two small mountain ranges. The refuge hosts about 3,000 visitors a year. Although duck and coot hunting is allowed during the season, visitors for wildlife observation outnumber hunters by six to one.

Five major springs and several lesser springs and seeps flow from a faultline at the base of the eastern front of the craggy Fish Springs Mountain Range. These mineral-laden, saline springs provide virtually all of the water for the Refuge's 10,000-acre marsh system. Since they maintain a year-round temperature of between 70 and 80 degrees, they provide a home for 5000 - 6000 wintering birds. The lush habitat, in the midst of miles of Great Basin Desert, is a true oasis for wildlife.

The marsh is divided into 9 sections by a gravel road, which makes viewing all areas very easy by car. The water is so clear that the sandy bottom is always visible, as are the schools of native Utah chub and introduced mosquito fish darting around in the shallows. You can also hear the song of the bull frog, and if you're lucky, maybe spot one.

Over 250 species of avian residents have been observed at the Refuge, either migrating or permanently residing. Among the waterfowl are swans, Canada geese, mallards, green-winged and cinnamon teal, pintails, wigeons, gadwalls, redheads, canvasbacks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, ruddy ducks, and mergansers. The wading bird residents and visitors include great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, snowy egrets, great egrets, white-faced ibis, avocets, black-necked stilts, white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and western and eared grebes. Raptors include owls, hawks and eagles, and falcons.

The refuge supports the second largest population of nesting snowy plovers in Utah.

Of the 40 mammal species observed on the refuge, many are small rodents including introduced muskrats that must be trapped to control damage to dikes and water-control structures. Other mammals include mule deer, pronghorn antelope, black-tailed jackrabbits, desert cottontails, and coyotes.

History:
Fish Springs has an historically significant background. The area was important to Native Americans, who depended on water and wildlife at the springs. European settlers first entered the region in 1827 when famed explorer, Jedediah Strong Smith, visited the Springs en route from California to central Utah. Both the Overland Stage and the Pony Express maintained way-stations at Fish Springs, and the first transcontinental telegraph, which replaced the Pony Express in 1861, crossed the Fish Springs marsh. Traces can be seen of the Lincoln Highway, the nation's first transcontinental automobile road, which cut its way from New York to San Francisco through what is now the Refuge. A new archeological display installed at refuge headquarters in 1997 includes an original Lincoln Highway sign.

How to Get There:
From exit 410 on I-80 in Nevada: Go south on US-93A, left on gravel road to Gold Hill, left in Gold Hill for 22 miles to Callao, left for 25 miles to refuge on left.
From exit 99 on I-80 in Utah: Go south on UT-36 through Tooele, right on marked Pony Express Route (gravel road) for approximately 75 miles to refuge on right.
From Utah County:
From I-15 just south of the Point of the Mountain, take the Lehi exit (rt 73) through Cedar Fort and on to the Old Pony Express Road. When you reach Rte 36, take a left (south) for about 1 mile. Turn Right at the sign for Fish Springs, and continue on the dirt and gravel road for approximately 75 miles to refuge on right.

Comments:
The reason this place is not overcrowded like many of Utah's other natural wonders is because of the necessary long, desolate, sometimes arduous journey to get there. Arriving from the east, much of the journey is over the road that served as Pony Express and Overland Stage routes in the 1860s. This road is 75 miles of rocky, rutted, wash-boarded and sometimes washed out driving pleasure. It takes me about 3 1/2 hours to get there from the southern part of Salt Lake County, but I tend to drive pretty slow over the bad roads. I am just not comfortable with going 50 mph on wash-board roads, and still have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from ending up in a ditch when the driver was doing just that. But I digress...

The long ride in to Fish Springs is well worth the effort. Along the way, the ruins and interpretive markers of several Pony Express stations can be visited. And there is a place where the road climbs over a pass affording wonderfully scenic views.

I've been back in to the refuge several times over all seasons, and the best time for seeing abundant birdlife is spring and fall when the migration is going on. It is rare that you see snow back there, but is a magnificent sight if you are lucky enough to be there when it happens. Snow can make the driving out very hazardous, though, so be careful.

More Info:

Be sure to visit the Photo Gallery to see some of the scenery and animal life of the refuge.

Backroads of Utah
by Theresa A. Husarik

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