Visiting Mars — Hiking the Mars Desert Research Station, Utah

I feel like everyone has thought about what it would be like to visit Mars, and fortunately if you live in Utah, or you’ve got some extra time on your trip, you can get the opportunity!

Obviously there isn’t a secret spaceship that will blast you up to the red planet, but you can get a pretty close replica of the facilities you might find on Mars in the near future. It was built for NASA astronauts to practice in, so ya… pretty realistic! I was thinking about not telling anyone, even though I’m sure a lot of people already know about it, because obviously the less people there, the more desolate and isolated you feel, giving you a realistic demonstration of what Mars will feel like for future astronauts. Who knows… maybe you’ll even be one! Regardless, Mars is pretty cool, and if you’re able to make the trip, you should take it!

What to Bring

When you decide to go, you’ll want to pack appropriately. Whether you’re hiking, or whether you’re wanting to just drive up and see the landscape you should be prepared for the worst. Now I doubt anything is going to happen to you or your vehicle out there, but you’re in a remote region. To be specific, you're on the east side of the Wasatch Plateau stuck in the middle of the Burr Desert, the Red Desert and the San Rafael Desert. Your closest town is Hanksville. Therefore, if your car breaks down or someone gets injured on this adventure… you’ve got at least 7 miles of walking before you reach the nearest town (assuming you’re going in the right direction).

Make sure to bring the following items:

  • LOTS OF WATER (you may never use it, but it’s better to have it)

  • Sunscreen

  • a backpack for hiking (per person)

- even if you end up leaving it in your car, take it anyway just in case you do need it!

  • A map. A paper map. There is no signal out there, so if your phone all of a sudden loses connection or runs out of battery and you’re lost… you’ve got a map

  • Food (proteins, carbs, fat)

  • FULL tank of gas

  • Warm weather gear. Hopefully you don’t find yourself lost and staying the night, but if you do… the desert can drop below freezing at night even in the hot summer months.

  • Medical kit

  • Sunscreen & hat

- even in the winter you’ll get a sunburn. It might feel cold, but the sun doesn’t care.

  • Some astronaut props if you want some cool photos!

Look up what you should have in your car for emergencies and what you should have in a hiking bag. These lists should prepare you appropriately, but the reality is the desert is a cruel and beautiful place, so respect her authority ok!?

Getting There

Drive in a Vehicle that will be suitable to go off road. You won’t have to deal with massive bumps or climbing mountains, but a Jeep Grand Cherokee type vehicle. The road leading up to the research station can get a bit bumpy at times, but it’s actually a really well maintained dirt track. We found the beginning of the road to be the most bumpy, while some other parts had really big dips. You will want to make sure your vehicle isn’t going to bottom out. If you think at anytime that your car will hit bottom, stop the car and hike the rest of the way, you really don’t want to get stuck out there.

Before you arrive at the entrance of the road (which isn’t marked by the way), you’ll want to make sure you stock up on any supplies or food you might be missing in Hanksville. There are a few restaurants and gas stations that will have what you need.

After you leave Hanksville, you’ll drive for a 3.4 miles before you reach the dirt turnoff. It will be on your right, and you’ll cut back up onto a ledge and start your off road journey from there. The dirt trail is pretty evident, once you're on it, you'll have another 3 miles or so to drive before you reach the research station. The research station is quite visible and you’ll notice a sign. You won’t miss it.

Be Polite!

When you arrive you may find no one around, or you’ll notice people in halloween-like costumes that appear as if they've been made by their moms. Don’t bother them. They're the astronauts training. Don’t mess with the facilities. That's the property of Science! When we arrived we kept our distance and didn’t even walk onto the compound. I mean after all… I’m not a scientist and I’ll probably break something. We didn’t see anyone, but if you look on their website they tell you how to interact, when to interact and when to just stay back. Check out their facebook link here: Visits and NASA involvement here: NASA partnership.

What to explore

Hanksville itself has a cool gas station in a cliff and a “museum”/ art exhibit thing? I know that’s really descriptive, but you'll definitely notice it driving by though! The exhibit is located along the side of the road while you’re heading to your destination. But once you actually get there, other than taking pictures and maybe even meeting some of the crew, take a look around and hike some of the nearby mountains and mounds. Chris and I enjoyed bouldering and finding alien landscapes to capture! As of right now… we haven’t seen any martians!

If you’ve visited the Mars Research Station, please let us know if we missed anything or if you have any good recommendations for places to visit in the nearby area!


© 2023 by Bakara Peak