On the Down Low | Get Out | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Get Out

On the Down Low

Utah’s Low Points explores the scenic wonders of the state’s life de-elevated.


Utah is justly proud of its many beautiful mountain ranges. Its citizens and promoters can rattle off just how high the highest of spots are in different areas of the state. The “Life Elevated” tourist-marketing campaign focuses on letting the rest of the world know we here in Zion carry on our existence at some very lofty heights. There have been disputes and debates among various regions of the state as to whose peaks are tallest. Amid a situation where everybody is running around shouting, “Mine’s bigger!” Fred Nash has done the George Costanza thing and gone completely opposite—by focusing on all of our most elevation-challenged areas in Utah’s Low Points: A Guide to the Lowest Points in Utah’s 29 Counties. Nash, who was born in the Netherlands—where they know a thing or two about living the low life—provides a reminder that a place doesn’t have to tower over us to make for a great outdoor experience.

Nash has picked 31 low spots in 29 counties (two each in Grand and Uintah counties due to some unique geological circumstances) based upon their elevations shown on U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps, as well as Nash’s own GPS measurements. Most of the spots still top the 4,000-foot mark, with Beaver Dam Wash in Washington County taking the bottommost spot at 2,165 feet. The author provides all the information one would ever need to know before making a visit to any of these places. Everything, from GPS coordinates, maps and mile-by-mile directions to wildlife and other notable attractions nearby, is provided.

Getting to the low points ranges from something as simple as driving to the Great Salt Lake (Salt Lake, Davis and Tooele counties) to getting into Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Wayne County, a trip that takes at least seven hours after you get to Hanksville. Nash recommends a minimum of a three-day visit, and taking along emergency tools and gasoline in preparation for driving along a four-wheel-drive trail that includes the “roughest road in the Maze District” of Canyonlands National Park (hazards are “everywhere!”). Oh, and after all that, there’s still a hike.

Utah’s Low Points also does the reader the favor of ranking all 31 spots in a variety of areas, including scenery, where it quickly becomes apparent that, the further you get away from civilization, the better the view gets. There are even categories for best wildflowers (Wayne, in mid-May), most bird noise (Box Elder) and even “Most wrecked BLM signs” (Millard). Nash ultimately ranks all 31 destinations in terms of the overall experiences they provide. Summit County’s spot is right next to the I-84 freeway, and thus “trash from the freeway and the noise pollution make this the worst low point of all! The scenery is actually really nice, if you can put up with the constant stream and scream of eighteen-wheelers.”

At the other end of the scale—let’s not call it the higher end—Carbon and Uintah share low honors for each sitting on opposite banks of the Green River as it runs through Desolation Canyon along the Tavaputs Plateau in the Uinta-Ouray Indian Reservation. Its one million acres of wilderness are “almost unknown to most of the general population and very seldom visited”—partly because anyone who isn’t a member of the Ute Indian Tribe has to apply for a permit. Nash provides all the instructions on how to do this, right down to how to contact the Ute Plaza Supermarket in Fort Duchesne. The end result is “an adventure second to none, in one of the most scenic and faraway places in Utah, if not in the contiguous United States.”

With all of the beautiful places outlined in Nash’s book, the phrase, “That’s really low” could end up becoming a compliment.

Utah’s Low Points: A Guide to the Lowest Points in Utah’s 29 Counties
By Fred J. Nash
University of Utah Press, 2008
236 pages
$22.95 paperback