The Scenic La Sal Mountains

February 12, 2018



Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

The towering La Sal Mountains in eastern Utah, with a dozen peaks between 12,000 and 12,721 ft (3658-3877 m) in elevation, are a largely laccolithic range, a laccolith being a domed igneous intrusion that in this instance pushed, pierced and shattered the surrounding red-rock country of the Colorado Plateau. The often snow-topped summits serve as a striking backdrop to sandstone buttes, cliffs and arches showcased in nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and along the Colorado River.

In the photo at top, taken on January 13, 2018, the La Sals’ northern peaks, in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, loom beyond ancient lithified dunes of 200-million-year-old Navajo Sandstone (commonly but erroneously described as petrified), as captured from a viewpoint in Arches National Park. In the bottom photo, taken the same day along U.S. 191 north of Moab, Utah, the La Sal peaks contribute to the Old West flavor of a structure said to have been originally built as a prop for the 1996 TV movie “Riders of the Purple Sage,” based on Zane Grey’s 1912 Western novel.

The name of the range is from the Spanish: Sierra de la Sal — the Mountains of Salt. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Spanish explorers and traders ventured north and west from Santa Fe and other settlements in colonial New Mexico. Some, like Fathers Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante in 1776, sought an overland route to the then-new Spanish missions of California. The fathers didn’t find one on that expedition, but by 1829-30 an arcing 700-mile (1100 km) pack-train route, eventually with fords across the mostly entrenched Colorado and Green Rivers, was reconnoitered through what are now Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California between Santa Fe and Los Angeles — the Old Spanish Trail (though by then the territory was part of Mexico).

Stories say the early Spanish couldn’t believe there was snow in summer atop the La Sals, surrounded as they were by a blazing desert. They thought it was salt. However, Fathers Escalante and Dominguez mentioned such a mountain in their 1776 journal, observing it was “so called for there being salt beds next to it from which . . . the Yutas [the Ute Indians] hereabouts provide themselves.” 

Photo Details: TOP - Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0040s (1/250); Aperture: ƒ/8.0; ISO equivalent: 100; Focal Length (35mm): 187; Software: Photos 1.5. BOTTOM - same except: Focal Length (35mm): 105.