Hikes explore Deer Valley’s mining, wildlife and botanical history
August 16, 2016
Before Deer Valley became a world-class skiing mecca, it was the heart of Park City's mining industry.
To give people a taste of what it was like 100 years ago, Deer Valley Resort offers free historic hikes every third Sunday of the month from June to October.
"The idea of the hikes is to offer a free public amenity that celebrates the wonderful hiking trails that we have in the area and celebrates our mining past," said Michael O'Malley, hiking guide and mountain host for Deer Valley Resort. "It's a combination of getting out to break a sweat and enjoy the outdoors with a little bit of history, botany, geology and storytelling."
The next hike will be Sunday, Aug. 21, and will depart from Silver Lake at the base of the Sterling Lift.
"We start right at 9:30 a.m., so the best thing to do is arrive between 9 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.," said O'Malley. "We suggest that hikers wear sturdy shoes and hat, and bring sunscreen, water and snacks. Also, depending on the weather, we like people to bring a jacket."
The hikes typically run between five and seven miles and usually take three to three and a half hours."
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"We have about a half dozen routes we can follow out of Silver Lake and they vary in how strenuous they are," O'Malley said. "Part of the job for the hiking guides, when they're presented with an entirely new group of people every month, is to match the best route with the folks who show up."
There is no limit to the groups, but the guides will make adjustments accordingly, according to O'Malley.
"Last month's group we had 58 people show up," he said. "That's a huge group, but we have eight guides, and we take the Tour of Utah approach and have lead out groups, chase group and the main peloton.
"We'll assign a couple of guides to a different rate of speed and do some self-selection for the other groups," O'Malley said. "We'll go out and then do another assessment after we're on the trail. And we can also select some different trails as well."
The safety and comfort of the hikers are carefully considered.
"What we've found in the past years, especially during the summer months, is a surprising number of out-of-towners or part-time residents make up half of the groups," O'Malley said. "So, when you're taking a bunch of Floridians up the trails, you need to be mindful. If someone is feeling the altitude, we can make adjustments."
Most of the trails are mostly and exclusively on Deer Valley property.
"The main mining sites and artifacts are found over on Bald Mountain, the top of Flagstaff or right around the base of the Empire Lodge," O'Malley said.
Empire Canyon was also a very active mining area a little more than100 years ago, he said.
"You had the Daly West by the Montage," O'Malley said. "You had the Anchor Mine, also known as the Daly-Judge. You had the Quincy, the Little Belle, the Massachusetts, and the Diamond-Nimrod in that canyon all the way from the top of Daly Avenue and the Judge Tunnel. It was heavily mined and was one of the richest pockets of ore in the entire district."
Today, it's a beautiful area, O'Malley said.
"The hike from the top of Flagstaff into the X-Files is probably my single favorite part of the terrain at Deer Valley," he said. "It's on the Corvair trail."
During the hikes, the guides will not only stop to assess their groups, but also bring out
laminated historic photos provided by the Park City Museum.
"We'll give a three- to five-minute lecture and then hike for another 20 minutes and then talk about the composition of an average ton of ore by the Little Bell, or we'll talk about the discovery of the Flagstaff Plain that eventually led to the naming of the Bandana Ski run," O'Malley said. "We also talk about the history of Deer Valley and the natural history of the area."
Hiking groups aren't the only people who learn things about the area.
"I've learned some interesting trivia, like marmots are the largest member of the squirrel family," O'Malley said with a laugh. "Who knew?"
The groups may also see other wildlife.
"If we're lucky we'll see a moose or a sandhill crane or eagle," he said.
In addition to the wildlife and mining history, hikers will learn about area botany.
"We have columbine, elderberry, Indian paintbrush, lupine and more yellow composites than I know what to do with," O'Malley said with another laugh. "Typically the June hikes, earlier in the season, are good for the wildflowers, and the September and October hikes are good for the foliage."
The hikes take place in all sorts of weather.
"We've never canceled a hike in nine years, but a couple of October hikes we've walked on Mid Mountain Trail to the Montage for a cup of hot cocoa," O'Malley said with a laugh.
Still, within those nine years, Deer Valley has made some changes with its guided-hike offerings.
"Four years ago, we changed from a volunteer staff to a paid staff for these hikes," O'Malley said. "That has enable us to give us the staffing flexibility to handle the larger groups."
One of those additions was the creation of an on-call hiking guide staff.
"They learn the subjects and go deeper into things that pertain to the trails," O'Malley said. "One of our guides is a fungologist and another is a realtor, so, you can imagine when we're hiking around the Deer Crest area that he has some interesting things to say about the current market."
Another significant change is the amount of investment made by Deer Valley and the community in new trails.
"The addition of the Red Cloud hiking trail and the Mid Mountain extension over to the Gondola area are two examples that have enriched the choices we have for hiking," O'Malley said.
While, the guides aren't allowed to accept tips, O'Malley said those who feel generous have several options.
"If someone has a great time, I suggest they donate to Mountain Trails, Summit Land Conservancy, the Park City Museum and the newly founded Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History," O'Malley said. "[They] are partly responsible for the experience."
Deer Valley offers historic mining hikes the third Sunday of each month. Hikes are free and open to the public and start at Silver Lake at 9:30 a.m. For more information, visit http://www.deervalley.com.
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