The White Knob Mountains

As you travel the Big Lost River Valley your attention is drawn to the bold front of the Lost River Range, with its numerous peaks near, or over 12,000 feet in elevation. To the west is a relatively less impressive range -- the White Knob Mountains -- that, nevertheless has several summits over 11,000 feet.

The White Knobs have a core of limestone through which were thrust intrusions of granite. In addition, both the north and the south ends of the range are buried by the often colorful Challis volcanics -- enormous piles of rhyolite that erupted out of vents now plugged by the granite dikes.

This geology is ripe for mineral deposits, and the east edge of the White Knobs has many old mines and shafts, sources of copper that gave the nearby town of Mackay its start. Nevertheless, there is a small roadless area in the core of the range.

Although steep, the mountains are open with little timber. The major problem exploring them are long fields of talus and scree. There are several trails up the stream valleys such as Corral Creek.

The high crest of the White Knobs from the lower slopes of Smiley Mountain in the Pioneer Range

Copyright Ralph Maughan


A walk up Corral Creek, or nearby Cabin Creek, is surprisingly different than the dry mountain slopes -- wet bottoms with many springs, beaver dams, and willow fields. The detraction is the often excessively heavy grazing by cattle.

I remember clearly, it was a hike up Corral Creek perhaps 15 years ago that led me to first question why sportsmen, environmentalists, or just any American citizen were not allowed to bid on a federal livestock grazing allotment; and should they offer more than the livestock permittee, assume the lease and perhaps use the forage to produce moose or elk instead of cows. The thought occurred to me because Corral Creek seemed to be a place that would grow moose a lot better than cows, but there seemed to be no opportunity for anyone to try.

I'm still wondering, but it turns out that many politicians don't like folks asking that question.