In 2005, I tagged along on one of my favorite adventures to date, a camping trip to Crystal Peak with Dad, Uncle Ryan, Averi, my brother, Will, and my dog, Ginger. The idea of a pure white peak standing alone in the dusty brown desert held some magic for my young mind, and it didn’t disappoint. Not only was it visually striking from afar, but the strange formations made by this ancient white volcanic rock made for some excellent climbing, much to the dads’ concern.
“We decided to take some of our kids along on this outing. It made scaling the peak a bit more fearsome than had we gone by ourselves, but the kids loved the place, enjoyed the weird rocks, saw lots of critters, and got to stay up late by the campfire and listen to my tired old stories about running into freaky dudes and strange graves in the desert.”
-Desertislands: Exploring the Great Basin, 2005
Flash forward 10 years to August 2015, and I’m off to Crystal Peak for a second time, heart full of anticipation for a grand adventure, this time with my sister, Chloe, who was too young to be invited in 2005, and my husband Richard. It was a long drive, but not a boring one, on dusty highways through old-fashioned, out-of-the-way towns before turning west into the desert. We were in our 1993 Civic, in which the air conditioning had gone out, which surprisingly made this trip with little difficulty (but having the windows down did make for A LOT of dust to clean up afterward).
For miles, you can see the bright white Crystal Peak at the north end of the Wah Wah Mountains, but even with it calling to us, we took one stop. A very long and noteworthy stop. Our drive took us into a valley that shone even brighter than our peak. In fact, it wasn’t a valley at all, but the mineral flats of the dried up Sevier Lake. Looking north, almost as far as you could see, the ground was flat, cracked, and white with a mirror-like waving mirage of distant mountains reflected on its surface. For a spot with literally nothing, it was amazing, and full of great photo opportunities and general goofing off.
Leaving that cool little desert treasure wasn’t easy, but I knew that the best part of the journey was yet to come. Crystal Peak wasn’t much further at all, so once we were able to tear ourselves away from exploring the white lake-bed, it wasn’t long before we were parked at the base of our mountain. It was at this point that Chloe chose to inform us that she didn’t bring water. Luckily, Richard and I brought an extra bottle.
Good thing we weren’t planning on this trip being a campout. We were there to climb and explore for a few hours only, so we chose to get started realizing it could mean an early end to the trip.
The mountain is a mound of weathered igneous rock, full of holes from the size of a hand to small caves large enough for a few bodies to take shelter in. Literally the entire mountain is made up of these bubbles, which makes the peak very climbable, despite there not being any actual trail up it (that I am aware of). It does make for a fair amount of scrambling up steep rock faces, and pausing to look in awe at how incredibly cool the place is, but we were pretty determined to reach the top–something I did not do in 2005, though not for lack of interest.
When we did reach the top, we could see forever in all directions. We could see Sevier Lake. We could see more of the Wah Wah range. We could see lots and lots of flat brown desert. The rush of reaching the peak of any mountain is well worth the effort. It fills you with a sense of power, while simultaneously making you realize just how small you are, and how much more nature has to offer than you could ever experience, but that you are lucky to be experience this moment, right here and now.
At this point though, our water situation wasn’t great, the sun wasn’t gonna be up for a whoel lot longer, and we had to get down. We chose to follow a deep gash in the mountain the went all the way to the bottom. A straight shot back to the car. It would be easy, we thought, but it turned out to require quite a bit of traversing difficult terrain-climbing huge boulders and scaling white rock slopes to keep our course.
The biggest obstacle, though, was when we came across a big black hornet. Chloe has a bit of a phobia of bees, wasps, hornets, and the like, and seeing it stopped her in her tracks, too afraid to go past. As it took to the air, in a panic she fled most of the rest of the way down with us. Nobody got stung.
At the bottom with the dimming sunlight we snapped some more photos, got back in our dirty car and headed home in time for late dinner. A satisfying adventure to some magical places in the Great Basin’s desert landscape. Somewhere I’ll certainly return to again and again throughout my life in childlike wonder.