Editor's note: A version of this was previously published on the author's website.
I was stoked for my astronomy trip that would take place one night in May at a relatively dark site in Tooele County.
For the first time in many months, my telescope was repaired, the new camera system was fixed, weather predictions were for mostly clear skies and the moon would set early. I reviewed the night's most interesting photographic subjects and wrote a list of possibilities including M-13, a spectacular globular cluster of stars.
Our story continues with a dispatch from the field, or, rather, a narrow lake. I filed this on the Utah Astronomy Club site while it was happening that morning, May 17:
"Well, it’s about 3:30 a.m. and I’m stuck in the middle of a gigantic puddle on a dirt road in a remote part of Tooele County. I had set up my telescope at a good spot but the sky clouded over and lightning was striking from the direction of Wendover — west — where we get our weather. So with difficulty I disassembled my gear and got everything stowed in the jeep. That’s something I don’t like doing at night.
"I tried to drive out but took a wrong turn somewhere and found myself near the top of a big volcanic plug with no good way down. Meanwhile the wind was blowing like a hurricane. I explored on foot, with a flashlight, trying to find the route down. I drove a couple (of not-so-good routes) that came to sudden steep drop offs, forcing me to back, turn around and try again.
"The second time that happened I decided to wait until morning when I could see what I was doing. But the jeep rocked in the wind and the driver’s seat was upright and couldn’t recline because of the gear in the back seat. This became extremely uncomfortable.
"So I went back to the higher point where I had been flummoxed before. This time I used my location app, which not only told me my longitude and latitude but also, when I enlarged the map, showed the network of dirt roads. One I had missed was close to my left. I walked down it with a flashlight, and found that it was a relatively easy (way) down.
"I was extremely relieved to have found my way off the knoll, and took a substantial dirt road toward the paved Dugway Road.
"In the middle of this big graded dirt road was a large puddle and I went into it. The jeep bogged down and wouldn’t move. No matter how I gunned the engine and spun the wheels, in low four-wheel gear, it wouldn’t budge. ...
"I called 911, the Tooele County dispatcher, feeling foolish because it wasn’t a life-or-death situation. Lexie, the dispatcher, was extremely kind. I was going to give her my coordinates, but she could read them from my iPhone, to my astonishment. Lexie then called the service they use.
"A tow truck driver from that service called me back soon afterward and now I’m waiting for him. He should be here about 4:30. I’ll update after I get home. Meanwhile, nobody tell Cory about this little misadventure or she may never let me out at night again."
The last was sort of gallows humor, as Cory, my wife, would find out as soon as we talked.
The knob is called Lone Rock, a tall volcanic-looking plug surmounting a long slope. Located in the northern section of Skull Valley in Tooele County, it's a noted landmark apparently popular with off-road-vehicle enthusiasts. When I arrived the afternoon of May 16, I noticed several trails that seemed to go straight up to the top of the slope and marveled that any motorcycle could make it. The trails looked deadly.
Images that stick in my head are:
• On the steep hill, ferocious blowing dust and the dark pillar looming into the night. The wind was so strong that I had to shove to open the jeep's door. On two of the routes where I tried to find my way down, first on foot and then in the vehicle, the road plummeted.
• In the vast puddle, brown waves churning like the wake of a motorboat as gallons splashed across the hood, roof, mirrors and sides.Comment on this story
Later, researching Lone Rock, I found a Deseret News article from Sept. 24, 2014. Two hundred college students had converged on Lone Rock to party. Rainstorms bogged down the road and stranded them overnight. Thirty or 40 abandoned their cars and tried to hike out, the article quoted Bucky Whitehouse, the Tooele County emergency manager, as saying. The rest spent the night in their vehicles. The article said Whitehouse noted that when rain came, "the road is inaccessible to them to get in and out."
The morals of the story? Don’t drive on unfamiliar desert roads at night. And don't count your globular clusters before they are hatched.