The mountains of Utah are incredible. From the red cliffs of Moab, to the snow capped peaks in the Cottonwoods, they all offer some thing uniquely different to everyone. But when I came out to Salt Lake to visit my friend Luke last November, we took a spontaneous trip to somewhere neither of us had been before. That trip lead us down desert roads to probably one of the smallest mountain ranges in Utah. I’m talking about Sand Mountain, located in the Little Sahara Recreation Area.
Getting here wasn’t difficult, but it was different. Hopping off the highways and onto backroads, we found ourselves passing through deserted towns and passed old mining areas. Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, we saw a tourism sign for the Little Sahara Dunes Recreation area, and headed towards the visitors center to pay the entrance fee. It was at that point I realized we might be the odd ones out, since everyone else who came in to pay the fee were pulling 4-wheelers and ATVs. We did not have either of those two machines. We were only there to go hike and run around the sandy hills.
After we paid the $20 entrance fee, we headed down the one road in, only to be quite disappointed. At first, the place look terribly underwhelming. From the pictures, the dunes looked big, and expansive, but in person they were no more than 20-30 feet high. I knew we could still make the most of it, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. That is, until we made our way passed this one mound when the rest of the Little Sahara was revealed to us. And that’s when we saw Sand Mountain for the first time. A staggering mountain, that appeared to consist of nothing but sand, brush trees, and ATVs ripping up and down it’s faces. It was something I never seen before, and I was so stoked to explore it.
The base of Sand Mountain is about 12 miles from the visitor center, which is about the closest building for many miles beyond that. But the base was bustling with energy. Trailers pulling hordes of ATVs were parked everywhere. Families were spending their Sunday, not at home, but strapped to screaming engines, throttling around the trails and in the sand. It looked like something out of a Mad Max scene. And there we were. Two dudes, rolling up in a sedan, with only backpacks on, headed up the same hill with all the moto-heads. But it didn’t matter to us, because this place was incredible. And we knew we were gonna have just as epic of a time as they were.
We spent the next hour hiking straight up the main face of the mountain, in and out of the the shrubs, to avoid the off roaders zooming passed us. The sand would give way beneath out feet as we pushed upward, resulting in a 1 step forward, 2 steps back ascent. Higher and higher we climbed, with heart rates doing likewise, taking breaks more than I’d like to admit. But once we reached the ridgeline, it all proved to be completely worth every step. For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but a wilderness like I’d never imagined. Just nothing, nothing but a desert landscape. Something out of an Edward Abby novel. And it was at that moment that I realized, it was most likely the furthest I’d ever been from any civilization, which quickly gave me goosebumps. Besides the visitor center, the nearest town was 30+ miles away. We were a long way from everything, and it was an incredible at the same time.
We then headed up to the summit to check out the views of the backside of the mountain, where we saw the dunes create some of the most stunning patterns ever found in nature. Endless rolling sand dunes, twisting, turning, just like the tiny, little machines on their faces. I took tons of pictures of everything around us, but it was time to head down… for the fun to begin.
We were standing atop a shear drop-off of nothing but soft, powder-like, sand beneath us, so we just had to send it. We started jumping off the ridge, flipping down into the sand below that’d catch our falls. Then, we began to run, quickly down the face. With every plant of the foot, the shock would get completely absorbed, allowing us to sprint down the faces taking massive leaps and strides. It honestly felt like we were skiing down the desert mountain’s face. Digging our hands into the ground as we carved turns through the fine sand. Trying to stop was rather impossible, so you pretty much just fell and hoped your body came to a stop in the soft sand.
Over and over again, we flew down the mountain, filming it all with the GoPro in hand. Jumping over rocks and bushes, it truly felt like we were lapping a ski resort trail. But it was 70degrees, and snow hadn’t fallen yet in the Wasatch. And to think, if I hadn’t randomly been on google maps at lunch one day at work, I would have never found this place. Since going here, I’ve never heard about anyone else goin here either, yet it was one of my favorite days in the mountains. So if you find yourself near Jericho, Utah (2hrs outside of Salt Lake City), I definitely recommend checking this place out!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.