Ophir — a historic mining town that's great for ATV adventures

Thursday , November 23, 2017 - 5:00 AM

LYNN R. BLAMIRES, special to the Standard-Examiner

Nestled in the hills southeast of Tooele is a colorful little slice of Utah mining history known as Ophir. Named after the area where the rich mines of the biblical King Solomon were located, Ophir came with all the amenities of a typical mining town in the 1880’s.

While it was considerably smaller than some of the other settlements, it was spared their fate in that it is not a ghost town. The estimated number of residents today is 57.

The mining opportunities in this area first came to light in 1865 when U.S. Army soldiers discovered that the Indians were shooting silver bullets. An investigation uncovered primitive diggings that were producing the silver.

The discovery brought a rush of prospectors along with boom towns including Ophir. Silver and lead were the most abundant metals mined in this area. Zinc, copper, and a little gold were also recovered. The paved road up Ophir Canyon follows the route of the old rail spur that was used to service the mines taking ore to a smelter in Stockton.

I first heard of Ophir back in the 1970s when KALL radio poked fun at the town with an amusing recording of music by “The Ophir State Marching Band.” Of course it was fictitious and hard to listen to the off-key production, but it put this place on the map for me. You can listen to a sample by starting a search for the band on the Internet.

The town has recently opened “The Ophir Historic District” that offers a glimpse of the old glory days when mining was at its peak. The buildings are open during the summer months and a tour can be arranged for groups at other times. More information is available by doing a search on the Internet.

We found Ophir by traveling south on Highway 36 out of Tooele. Turning east on Highway 73, we followed the signs to Ophir. We were looking for the trailhead for the Lion Hill Loop. My friend Dean Eborn of Layton came with me on a ride to explore this loop on a pretty fall day in November.

Situated above Ophir, the staging area is about a half mile up the South Fork of Ophir Canyon. After unloading, we traveled back down South Fork Canyon to the restrooms at the campground north of town. With plenty of shade, I could see that this would be a prime camping area in the summer. The fact that Ophir creek runs through the campground adds to the ambiance.

To begin our ride we headed up the South Fork of Ophir Canyon through Hall Canyon. It was easy to see how pretty this trail would be in the peak of fall colors and in the green of the summer months.

Topping out at 8,671 feet on Porphyry Hill, we took time to take in the view. The trail dead ended at the top, but it was worth the trip. It was a little hazy, but we could see the valley stretching all the way to the Wasatch Front. We could also see that the mountain is laced with trails to explore another day. I am looking forward to spending more time riding this area.

Coming off the hill, we crossed over to the other side of the mountain and came down on the Lion Hill Road. I learned from David Brown, the Tooele County Trails Coordinator that the name came from the mountain lions seen there frequently. In fact, he told me that one was spotted in downtown Ophir earlier this month.

We stopped on the tailings of the Buffalo Mine on our way down. This was the last operating mine in the area with the final load of ore being pulled from the mine in 1936.

While our ride was short, there is ample reason to visit Ophir. The excellent camping, historic downtown buildings, and other trails to ride are reason enough. When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and see the land as the miners saw it – it hasn’t changed that much.

You can email Lynn Blamires at quadmanone@gmail.com.

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