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Mathieu Simonet, Sony Pictures Classics
Snow geese, as seen here in the documentary "Winged Migration," come to the reservoir west of Delta starting in February. The city holds a Snow Goose Festival in March.

A lot of people have passed through Millard County on their way to and from places like Salt Lake City and St. George along I-15.

They even may have stopped for fuel or a hamburger in Fillmore and commented on the pretty little golf course to the east of the freeway. And it's likely they saw signs to historic Territorial Statehouse and Cove Fort on their drive.

All this, however, is little more than an introduction to a whole volume of activities available within county lines.

What you know:

The county is, in fact, a textbook of Utah history, starting with the fact that Fillmore was once the center of government for what was the State of Deseret, which would later be transformed into the state of Utah.

The Territorial Statehouse still stands in Fillmore. In 1851, then-Gov. Brigham Young announced plans to move the state's government to Fillmore. One reason given was that it was near the center of the territory.

The same man who designed the LDS temple in Salt Lake City designed the Fillmore Statehouse. The first wing of the building was finished in 1855-56. Wings two through four were never finished because in 1858 the government offices were moved back to Salt Lake City.

For a time, the Deseret News published out of a Fillmore office. In 1858, fearing the federal troops sent to Utah by President James Buchanan, and the possible loss of its printed voice, the News moved to Fillmore for four months.

A few miles down the freeway is Cove Fort, so named after the fort built by early Mormon settlers in 1867. The fort served as a way station for travelers. Despite its purpose, the fort never encountered an Indian attack. Chief Kanosh of the Blackhawks became a friend of the settlers and was even baptized into the LDS Church.

Today volunteers, dressed in period clothing, give tours and tell stories of the old fort.

Heading west from the freeway opens up a whole new list of activities, starting with some of the state's best off-highway riding.

Cutting through the eastern side of the county is the Paiute ATV Trail.

This spiderweb-like trail system has more than 3,000 miles of dirt roads. The Paiute Trail is open to all-terrain vehicles — motorcycles, four-wheelers, even some areas for four-wheel drive vehicles — along with hikers, horsemen and mountain bikers, if they choose.

The trail itself is a 200-plus-mile loop in the heart of Utah. Surrounding it are a number of small towns — Salina and Aurora to the north; Cove Fort, Fillmore and Beaver to the west; Circleville and Kingston to the south; and Fremont, Loa and Bicknell to the east.

Connecting this loop like the root system of an old tree are more then 2,800 miles of mountain roads that riders and hikers can take to anywhere in the area.

This, however, is only a very small part of riding opportunities available in the county.

A short jaunt west of the freeway is the town of Delta, known for, among other thing, the nearby Gunnison Bend Reservoir, popular with water skiers and swimmers in the summer and snow geese in the winter.

In March, Delta holds the Snow Goose Festival. Visitors are able to see thousands of pure white snow geese, which start arriving in February, flying and feeding near the reservoir west of Delta. There is no charge for the festival activities.

Activities include free wildlife-related workshops, arts and crafts, photography exhibits, 10K race and live-bird show.

One of the things Millard is well known for is rockhounding. The west desert is a storehouse for fossils and gems.

People from all over the world — but especially from the Wasatch Front — visit the area around Topaz Mountain to seek out topaz, geodes and trilobites. Now extinct, trilobites were small bottom-feeding bug-like animals preserved over the millions of years in Wheeler Formation shale.

There are few places in the world where visitors can discover more types of marine fossils. And it is legal for people to find and keep a few for their own personal collection. It is against the law to sell them, however.

There are a number of locations available. For example, there are trilobites at Antelope Springs, brachiopods and horned coral at Indian Pass, ammonites at Bishop Springs and crinoids at Conger Springs, to mention a few.

Located about 16 miles south off U.S. 6/50, near Crystal Peak, is Fossil Mountain. Visitors have little trouble finding pieces of shale that hold hundreds of fossils.

Topaz, the official state gem, found in the Topaz Mountain area, 30 miles northwest of Delta, has a luster and complexity that is unmatched. Topaz has a hardness rating of 8, whereas diamond carries a rating of 10.

The secret is to hunt for topaz on a sunny day and look for the sparkle and glitter.

In the world of rodeos, the one held each June in Delta is rated among the best, not only for the quality of competition, but for the good old Western atmosphere and flavor, which includes everything from a barbecue to a bull-weight-guessing contest.

What you don't know:

While the Paiute Trail is garnering attention, some of the other ATV/off-highway rides are still undiscovered.

For example, there's the one-day rides to Conger Mountain, Burbank Hills, Amasa Basin and Cricket Mountains.

On Cricket Mountain, for example, there are approximately 129 miles of trails. The outside perimeter of the trail system is 56.3 miles in distance. Along with a chance to see antelope, there are also great views and large bands of limestone cliffs that accent the desert landscape.

The Amasa trip is located in a notch within the Notch Peak Wilderness Study Area. There are approximately 33 miles of trails with several old mines along the route.

The trail system within Burbank Hills is 98 miles and the one in Conger Mountain is 127 miles.

Those riding in areas in the West Desert may, in their travels, run across bands of wild horse, which still roam the western areas of the state.

Located six miles from the town of Meadow is Tabernacle Hill, which is the location for a large field of lava tubes or craters in the ground. Some of the lava formations resemble giant pots of boiling oatmeal that has cooled and hardened.

Some of the lava tubes or caves have collapsed over time and are deep depressions in the ground. Others are still caves that people can walk through. Visitors need to be careful, as some of the caves are simply holes in the ground and represent hazards. Some are small; others are large enough to accommodate three semi-trailer trucks side-by-side.

Located near the town of Delta is the Bunker Hill motocross track, which is the site of several major events each year.

There is, as mentioned, a golf course located in Fillmore. But, there is also an 18-hole course in Delta that is both scenic and challenging. It is also never crowded, which means tee times are always easy to come by.

Near Fillmore, within the Fishlake National Forest, is Oak City Canyon. Few people know about the canyon, but those who do find it one of the more scenic and peaceful places to picnic and relax. It has picnic tables and flush toilets.

In the upper northwestern corner of the county is Crystal Ball Cave, discovered in 1956. Nearby is the Gandy Mountain Cave.

Crystal Ball Cave is about 600 feet long and is so named because water containing high concentrations of calcite formed crystals several inches in length. One large stalagmite column is 8 feet high and a foot in diameter. Animal bones found in the cave has proven to be the first Wisconsinan animals fossils found in Utah. Among the bones found are those of small horses. A tooth from a saber-tooth cat was also found in the cave.

One of the more colorful characters to be linked to the county is Bob Stinson. He came to Delta to see his brother after World War I and stayed, building a home in a cliff about 45 miles west of town. The rock-walled home is now called Hermit's Cabin and is a popular stop for locals.

About 21 miles northwest of Delta is Fumarole Butte and Baker Hot Springs, sometimes referred to as a mini-Yellowstone. Locals refer to it as Hot Plug or High Springs or Health Spa. The butte is a shield volcano that is about 10 miles in diameter.

At the base of the butte are the hot springs, which consist of three concrete pools fed by hot and cold water from nearby springs. Some of the hot pools nearby are extremely hot and dangerous. Nearby are several small hot pots, similar to those found in Yellowstone.

No question, taking the exit off I-15 and spending time in Millard County is well worth the time. There's a lot to be discovered.

Millard County

Well known: historical sites, ATV trails, snow geese

Unknown: more ATV trails, Crystal Ball Cave, lava tubes

Contact: 1-435-864-1400

www.millardcounty.com

Next week: Iron County


E-mail: [email protected]