Somewhere in the bowels of Utah’s West Desert are a funny-named range of mountains.
West of Milford and on a long drive to the basic back-of-beyond, sit the Wah Wah Mountains. Known more for their name – which in a local Ute dialect is rumored to mean “good, clear water” – than just about anything else, the Wah Wahs offer plenty of high desert solitude. The range is bisected by state highway 21 that stretches from Beaver on I-15 to Highway 50, just shy of the Nevada border. Elevations range from around 6,000 feet along the foothills to almost 9,400 at the highest point. Looming limestone cliffs dominate the northern half of the range and large bristlecone pines can be found along the high ridge lines. No established trails exist and few dirt roads penetrate the range. For rock and mineral buffs, the mountains contain the largest known deposits of the hyper-rare gemstone red beryl.
In early 2010 I was contracted by the local Wilderness Society representative. She had found my West Desert images online and wondered if I had any photographs of several Millard and Beaver county mountain ranges, such as the Mineral Mountains, the San Francisco Mountains and the Wah-Wahs. At that point I was a couple of years into building my infrared West Desert series, In a Different Light, but lacked any photos from that region. That spring, I took several trips to the region to add to my portfolio, to explore, and to help the wilderness proposals that were being considered then. (With the later political demise of moderate Republican leadership at the state and federal levels, these proposals became untenable.) Whilst the legislation came to naught, I was left with a number of beautiful images of these little known and even less explored desert mountains and valleys. I was further inspired to return on a periodic basis, and have done so since that time.
The northern half of the Wah Wahs is part of a Wilderness Study Area whilst the central section was included in the 1999 Utah Wilderness Inventory and found to have over 58,000 acres of “wilderness characteristics.” The impact of industrialized man has been low on these mountains but could change with each new “dream project.” There currently is proposed a approximately 5,000 acre solar project for the Wah Wah valley, just to the east of the mountains proper. Short-term or long-term solar is a smart investment. I just wonder about the wisdom of “hiding” a project like this in the wild lands of the West Desert. Wise stewardship speaks volumes and we should listen to those voices.