Mystery of the Pillars on the Hill


The Wheel of Fortune card suggests that something out of one’s control has been set into motion, only at the mercy of fate and destiny. Though usually heralding good fortune, the wheel is always turning. Traditionally this card depicts several creatures and symbols of the zodiac, but my own wheel instead features the critters and seemingly cryptic structure I personally encountered on my journey to Pahvant Butte.

April, 2015

Around the time that the Desertislanders idea was conceived, I questioned my dad about potentially cool Great Basin excursions I might be able to embark on. One of many answers he gave was to check out the ruins on top of Pahvant Butte. With some rough direction, and the fact that it can be spotted from I-15 on my frequent drive to see in-laws or grandparents, it seemed a smart way to begin my re-adventuring.

One evening, on a drive home from visiting family, my husband, Richard, and I made the detour. Pahvant Butte is just a small hill most easily accessed from I-15 Exit 178 toward Delta, Utah. Doesn’t look like much from far off, but that’s sort of the beauty of the Great Basin; Seems so dull and desolate, but there are hidden oddities all around if you’re looking. From there is was about 20 miles of rough dirt road to the base of the hill through a landscape of sagebrush and cattle.


One of Dad’s pics of the butte from afar.

Upon arriving at the base of Pahvant, a couple of things became clear. A: Pahvant Butte was a unique formation from volcanic activity, including a crater and interesting lava rock. B: In our ’93 Honda Civic, we were not likely to make it up the hill on what had transitioned from roads to ATV trails. Point A, was unfortunately at the back of my mind at the time, because I was there to check out some ruins. We therefore spent little time admiring the wonders of the ancient lava formations, though they are indeed worth a look. So here’s one of Dad’s photos of the “Lace Curtain formation”.


Point B only meant that we got to go by foot from that point. The path we took was a straight gravel “road” directly up the hill to the now somewhat visible structure that was our destination. It got steeper and steeper as it went up, with looser and looser packed rock. Even on foot, it wasn’t a simple task to get up. Starting out strong, we quickly tired, got held back by the rough terrain, and needed to resort to different strategies that must’ve made us look a bit like we were reenacting Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch.

Eventually we did reach the top though where a baffling sight met our eyes. Two concentric circles of tall pillars were in various states of disrepair surrounding a partly buried, heavily graffiti’d concrete building in the middle, with the year “1923” over the large entrance. This apparently was a wind-powered electricity project, paid for by Millard County in the 20’s, and abandoned when the man they paid disappeared partway through the work.


This strange series of structures was almost spooky in such a remote location, left to fall apart at the hands of travelers and the elements these last 90-something years. If I hadn’t already been informed of its background, it truly would be a great Utah desert mystery. Unfortunately, people are pretty disrespectful of neat relics such as this, leaving their marks with litter, graffiti, and what we thought might be a makeshift toilet fashioned out of a bucket, but turned out to be a geocache (thank goodness. Geocaching is cool. Human waste in a bucket is not). There was also evidence that people had been camping in this old building, which, I’m not going to lie, sounds pretty awesome.

With a storm and the night approaching though, we couldn’t spend forever enjoying this spot. So we headed back down after taking many photos, enjoying the views in every direction, and adding our names to the geocache. This was when we first encountered wildlife on this trip–well, if you can count a herd of sheep as wild. Not sure at first what they were from a distance, we approached them as they crested the hill on the other side of the crater, and then after it was clear they were sheep, and not deer, pronghorn, or anything else, continued to follow briefly just to get a closer look.


More interestingly, on our way back toward the car, I happened across a type of snake I had never encountered before. It had a long narrow face, a mosaic of red, black and yellow scales decorating its body, and it writhed and flailed in defense in a way that I had never seen a snake do. At the time, I had no clue what level of caution ought to be exercised around it, so compromising my deeply embedded childhood interest in snakes with my adult sense of self-preservation, I looked with my eyes in close proximity, but not with my hands. On the drive home, a long Google search of native Utah snake species with my limited knowledge of the creature confirmed this little guy was a Long-Nosed Snake. I have yet to encounter another.


Perhaps I will return to camp in the future. Perhaps I’ll pay more attention to the geology next time. I might even encounter another Long-nosed snake, or something even crazier. All I know is that Pahvant Butte catches my eye now every time I pass through central Utah on the freeway, and I will surely return.




2 responses to “Mystery of the Pillars on the Hill

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