Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Shining Oquirrh Mountains

                             The north end of the Oquirrh Mountains.

By Lynn Arave

FROM Copper and mining to one of the largest man-made holes on earth to broadcasting to weather effects, the Oquirrh Mountains have a strong impact on the Salt Lake Valley.
Often, however they are often overlooked and overshadowed by the taller, bigger, longer and more prominent Wasatch Mountains.
The Oquirrhs stretch north-south some 30 miles and rise to an elevation of more than 10,600 feet — 6,000-plus feet above the valley floor.
Oquirrh is a Ute Indian word that means "shining mountain."
The Bingham Canyon cooper mine is located in the Oquirrhs and has produced the "mountain that isn't there," as well as a huge hole that is visible from space and more copper than any other mine in history at 2.75 miles wide and .75 of a mile deep. (You could stack 9 LDS Church Office Buildings on top of each other and still not reach the top of the mine.) 
Note that a huge landslide inside the mine in early 2013 disrupted mining operations there.
Not always a hole, there used to be an actual mountain sticking up where the Kennecott mine is now.
Also, before so much mining took place on the north end of the Oquirrhs, the mountains were apparently much greener and forested than they are today.
Farnsworth Peak, on the north end of the Oquirrhs, only rises to 9,066 feet, but it could easily lay claim to being the single most important mountain peak in Utah. That's because 16 FM radio stations and KSL-TV and some other TV stations have their transmitters up there.
 In fact, all of Salt Lake's TV stations have a transmitter somewhere in the Oquirrhs, given their superior location for proliferating the signals on the area airwaves — even over the tallest Wasatch Mountains.
KSL used to operate a tramway on the west side of the Oquirrhs, to service its transmitter site. That is lone gone, but some of its footings are still visible along the mountainside.
Weather wise, the Oquirrhs provide what meteorologists refer to as a "rain shadow." This means at least downtown S.L. is protected by storms, or they are sometimes delayed, because of the Oquirrhs acting as a barrier.
(In contrast, the infamous 1999 Salt Lake tornado appeared to have formed in its preliminary stages over the north end of the Oquirrhs.)
Because the Oquirrhs — especially on the north end — are much more barren than the Wasatch Mountains, snow can really "white out" the area below Farnsworth Peak, far more than most local mountains.
--The four tallest peaks in the Oquirrhs are:

1.    Flat Top Peak 10,620 feet above sea level.

2.    Lowe Peak, 10,589

3.    Lewiston Peak, 10,411.

4.    Sharp Mountain, 10,006.

UPDATE: Sadly in 2013, Kennecott closed a lot of historic public access in the Butterfield Canyon area.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  


  1. Kennecott recently posted EXTENSIVE fencing and NO TRESPASSING signage all the way from the bottom of Butterfield Canyon's road sides clear up into the Butterfield Pass and the road up to the historical, famouns Oquirrh Overlook; they went so far as placing a large, ugly, metal gate on the Overlook access road, which my family and I frustratingly found CLOSED today, June 30, 2013! WTH is the matter with Kennecott? Most of the area's fenced-off or closed enjoy legal easements dating back over one hundred years! They cannot, legally, just eliminate public access to such lands!

    BTW, who actually owns Middle Canyon, especially the part SOUTH of about the one mile mark east of Butterfield Pass - down to the Middle Canyon Pinicic/Campground, then heading SOUTH all the way to Butterfield Peaks, Butterfield Pass, Kelsey Peak, and the various canyons & peaks above and to the southwest of Middle Canyon Pinicic/Campground?

    Thanks, please respond here and e-mail me at!

    1. I don't know who own the land but I was very angry today when I drove a friend on mine visiting from out of town up to look over the mine and there it was a big yellow gate. WTF is going on here I have driven up there for 20 year or more. Its time to rein in Kennecott all they do is destroy the water and the land. Time to make a stand.

  2. People who live in the area and frequent the Oquirrh Mountains -- and who now find access blocked -- need to contact the local TV stations and get a news story done on the closure -- that could be big news and may help get some sort of future access open again.