The Goshute Mountains are located in Nevada just a few miles from its eastern border with Utah. The eastern watershed is the Great Salt Lake Basin, which is so generally hostile to life that migrating birds avoid it. Instead, they take advantage of the nearly contiguous mountain chains of the western rim to create a major flyway leading south to Mexico. Food, cover, winds and thermals favorable for soaring attract thousands of raptors on their north-south journey. Hawkwatch International (HWI), a conservation organization dedicated to raptors, has established a research station atop the range at 8600’ (2620m) to conduct basic research. Using nets and captive birds as bait, they snare, then measure and band the birds before releasing them unharmed to continue their migration. Passing birds not attracted to the bait are also counted, leading to a long term data source on North American raptor populations. Annual counts are typically between 12,000 and 25,000 individuals of 18 migrating species. This is one of the highest concentrations of migrating raptors in the western United States.
Raptors either resident or migratory:
- Accipiters: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Goshawk
- Buteos: Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Broad-winged Hawk
- Falcons: Merlin, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Peregrine Falcon
- Eagles: Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle
- Owls: Saw-whet Owl, Flammulated Owl
- Other: Osprey, Turkey Vulture
Passerines: Many high-desert species, including:
Clark's Nutcracker, Pinyon Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Pine Siskin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mourning Dove, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Scrub Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee, Townsend's Solitaire, American Robin, Sage Thrasher, and others.
The usual sage desert mammals, e.g., Coyote, American Badger, Kit Fox, Bobcat, Mule Deer, Pronghorn, Blacktail Jackrabbit, Desert Cottontail, Cliff Chipmunk, Striped Skunk, Desert Woodrat, Piute Ground Squirrel, Pinyon Deermouse, and others. Lizards and snakes will be found in warmer seasons.
History and Use
In 1983, Steve Hoffman theorized that the Goshute Mountains might provide a natural flyway for migrating raptors. Hiking to the top of one of the highest peaks, he discovered that his theory was correct, with hundreds of raptors passing by on a typical day during migration seasons. He and colleagues built the trail to the top and established the Hawkwatch International Organization as a platform for conducting research and championing conservation of raptor species. The Goshute Mountains site is one of 14 now monitored by HWI.
Areas of Interest
The trail to the research station begins on sagebrush-covered foothills, then passes through pinyon/juniper forest on the way to a rocky summit. Animals of the high-desert biome are found all along the trail. The main area of interest is at the top of the mountain, where there are excellent raptor observation points along a narrow ridge. Visitors are welcome, and may be able to participate in release of banded birds, subject to conditions and staff availability. The banding season extends from mid-August to early November.
Access and Facilities
Access is via a good paved highway then a rough dirt road appropriate for high-clearance vehicles only. Finally, a strenuous hike on a good trail leads to the summit. Ad hoc camping is possible at the end of the dirt road. Tents are maintained near the research station at the summit that can be reserved through (HWI), or one can backpack camping equipment to one of several good flat areas before the summit appropriate for low-impact camping. Please bring everything you need, including water and food, pack everything back out, and minimize your impact by not unduly disturbing the land or building fires. There is an outhouse.
- From the north (Interstate 80), turn south on Nevada Highway 93A at Wendover. Drive 24 miles to a cluster of buildings on the right, many abandoned, at a small pass. This is the Ferguson Springs highway maintenance station. (If using a GPS, this is at 40 deg., 25.084'N, 114 deg. 11.288W), Set odometer to 0.0. Turn right (west) and follow the dirt road for 1.8 miles to a "T". Keep right, continue to 3.1 miles (cumulative) where there is a left fork at the top of a small hill. Continue to 5.1 miles where there is an obvious parking lot and sign indicating the beginning of the trail. At each junction there is a sign depicting binoculars indicating the correct direction. The signs are riddled with bullet holes; the local intelligencia will shoot anything that moves, and if nothing is moving, a sign will suffice.
- From the south, Ferguson Springs is 84 miles on Nevada Highway 93A from the town of McGill. Continue as above on dirt road.
- The trail goes directly up the canyon behind the sign, then up a series of steep swithbacks that climb the slope to the left until finally arriving at the research station, situated just below the rocky ridge crest. Check in here with the staff; a visitor liaison person is usually on duty who will direct you the remaining short distance to the viewing area atop the ridge. Some area are off-limits to tourists, including the bird capture and banding areas. The trail covers 2.5 miles and 1800’ of altitude gain. It should be attempted only by those experience with strenuous hiking at altitude (almost 9000' at the summit).