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Dugway Proving Ground testing area encompasses a vast area of the western Utah desert.

Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) is a US Army facility located approximately 85 miles (140 km) southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah in southern Tooele County and just north of Juab County. It encompasses 801,505 acres (3,243 km², or 1,252 sq mi) of the Great Salt Lake Desert, an area the size of the state of Rhode Island, and is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges. It had a resident population of 795 persons as of the 2010 United States Census,[1] all of whom lived in the community of Dugway, Utah, at its extreme eastern end. The name "Dugway" comes from a technique of digging a trench into a hillside to create a flat surface along which a wagon can travel.[2] Dugway Proving Ground is located 13 miles south of the 2,624 sq mi Utah Test and Training Range. Combined, they form the largest military space in the United States.[3]

The transcontinental Lincoln Highway passed through the present site of the Dugway Proving Ground, and is the only significant section of the old highway closed to the public. At least one old wooden bridge over a creek still stands.[4]


Dugway's mission is to test, implement US and Allied biological and chemical weapon defense systems in a secure and isolated environment. DPG also serves as a facility for US Army Reserve and US National Guard maneuver training, and US Air Force flight tests–mostly from nearby Hill Air Force Base in Ogden. DPG is controlled by the United States Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC). The area has also been used by Army special forces for training in preparation for deployments to the War in Afghanistan and alien environments, including Colombia and Mars.[5]


In 1941, the US Army Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) determined it needed a testing facility more remote than the US Army's Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. The CWS surveyed the Western U.S. for a new location to conduct its tests, and, in the spring of 1942, construction of Dugway Proving Ground began.

Testing commenced in the summer of 1942. During World War II, DPG tested toxic agents, flamethrowers, chemical spray systems, biological warfare weapons, fire bombing tactics, antidotes for chemical agents, and protective clothing.

In October 1943, DPG established biological warfare facilities at an isolated area within DPG known as the Granite Peak Installation - UTTR's range telemetry and tracking radar installation. DPG was slowly phased out after World War II, until becoming inactive in August 1946.

The base was reactivated during the Korean War, under Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Speers Ponder[6] and in 1954 was confirmed as a permanent Department of the Army installation. In October 1958, the United States Army Chemical Center, Maryland detached the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Weapons School to Dugway Proving Grounds.

From 1985 to 1991, Dugway Proving Ground was home to the Ranger School's short-lived Desert Training Phase. It was first known as the Desert Ranger Division (DRD) until redesignated the Ranger Training Brigade's 7th Ranger Training Battalion in 1987, and taught students basic desert survival skills and small unit tactics. The program was later moved back to its original site at Fort Bliss, TX in 1991, where it was deactivated in 1995.

On September 8, 2004 the Genesis - a NASA spacecraft - was directed to impact into the desert floor of the Dugway Proving Ground because the topsoil there is like talcum-powder (e.g. moondust), and would likely cushion the troubled spacecraft's impact. The Genesis spacecraft's accelerometer was installed backwards, which caused the spacecraft to malfunction upon re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.[7]

On January 26, 2011 Dugway Proving Ground was placed on lockdown. Al Vogel, a public affairs specialist for the installation, would only say that the lockdown began at 5:24 p.m. Employees were not allowed to leave, and those coming to work were not allowed in. Vogel said there were no injuries, no damage and no threats reported at the proving ground. There were about 1,200 to 1,400 people at Dugway when the lockdown occurred. It was later announced that the lockdown was in response to the temporary loss of a vial containing VX nerve agent. The lockdown was lifted on January 27 following recovery of the material.[8]

Dugway Proving Ground was also home to the High Resolution Fly's Eye Cosmic Ray Detector, which discovered the first Ultra-high-energy cosmic ray. Dugway is home to several radio telemetry and tracking radar (i.e. RIR-777, TPQ-39 (Ver. V) and MPQ-39) sites which track national flight assets during flight tests at UTTR.

Since its founding in 1941, much of the activity at Dugway Proving Ground has been a closely guarded secret. Activities at Dugway included aerial nerve agent testing. According to reports from New Scientist, Dugway was still producing small quantities of anthrax as late as 1998, 30 years after the United States renounced biological weapons.[9] There were at least 1,100 other chemical tests at Dugway during the time period of the Dugway sheep incident. In total, almost 500,000 lb (230,000 kg) of nerve agent were dispersed during open-air tests.[9] There were also tests at Dugway involving other weapons of mass destruction, including 328 open-air tests of biological weapons, 74 dirty bomb tests, and eight furnace heatings of nuclear material under open air conditions to simulate the dispersal of fallout in the case of meltdown of aeronautic nuclear reactors.[9]

"Dugway Sheep Kill" incident

In March 1968, 6,249 sheep died in Skull Valley, an area nearly thirty miles from Dugway's testing sites. When examined, the sheep were found to have been poisoned by an organophosphate chemical. The sickening of the sheep, known as the Dugway sheep incident, coincided with several open-air tests of the nerve agent VX at Dugway. Local attention focused on the Army, which initially denied that VX had caused the deaths, instead blaming the local use of organophosphate pesticides on crops. Necropsies conducted on the dead sheep later definitively identified the presence of VX. The Army never admitted liability, but did pay the ranchers for their losses. On the official record, the claim was for 4,372 "disabled" sheep, of which about 2,150 were either killed outright by the VX exposure or were so critically injured that they needed to be euthanized on-site by veterinarians. Another 1,877 sheep were "temporarily" injured, or showed no signs of injury but were not marketable due to their potential exposure. All of the exposed sheep that survived the initial exposure were eventually euthanized by the ranchers, since even the potential for exposure had rendered the sheep permanently unsalable for either meat or wool.

The incident, coinciding with the birth of the environmental movement and anti-Vietnam War protests, created an uproar in Utah and the international community. The incident also starkly underscored the inherent unpredictability of air-dispersal of chemical warfare agents, as well as the extreme lethality of next-generation persistent nerve agents at even extremely low concentrations.

U.S. General Accounting Office report

The U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report on September 28, 1994, which stated that between 1940 and 1974, DOD and other national security agencies studied "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of weapons tests and experiments involving hazardous substances.

The quote from the study:

... Dugway Proving Ground is a military testing facility located approximately 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. For several decades, Dugway has been the site of testing for various chemical and biological agents. From 1951 through 1969, hundreds, perhaps thousands of open-air tests using bacteria and viruses that cause disease in human, animals, and plants were conducted at Dugway... It is unknown how many people in the surrounding vicinity were also exposed to potentially harmful agents used in open-air tests at Dugway.[10]

More specifically, reports of certain nerve agents such as tetrodotoxin, and datura stramonium, have been tested at this military base. The complete nerve agent was code-named "VX"—one of a series of "V" nerve agents tested at the base. On January 27, 2011, the Dugway Proving Grounds was put on full lockdown for several hours, as an investigation into missing vials of the agent was undertaken. It was eventually recovered, and the incident was described simply as a mislabeling problem.[11][12][13]

Alien speculation and experimental aircraft testing

Following the public attention drawn to Area 51 in the early 1990s, UFOlogists and concerned citizens have suggested that whatever covert operations, if any, may have been underway at that location were subsequently transferred to DPG.[14][15][16][17][18]

The Deseret News reported that Dave Rosenfeld, president of Utah UFO Hunters, stated:

"Numerous UFOs have been stored and reported in the area in and around Dugway...[military aircraft can't account for] all the unknowns seen in the area. It might be that our star visitors are keeping an eye on Dugway too...[Dugway is] the new area 51. And probably the new military spaceport.[14]

See also


  2. Van Cott, J. W., 1990, Utah Place Names, ISBN 978-0-87480-345-7
  4. Lincoln Memorial Highway Bridge
  5. Logan, Laura, "Special Forces Prepare For Alien Conflicts", CBS Evening News, July 14, 2009.
  6. Dugway Proving Ground, History 1945-1950
  7. Genesis Utah Recovery
  8. "Lost Army 'nerve agent' found after Utah base lock down". BBC News. January 27, 2011. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 [1]
  10. "Is Military Research Hazardous to Veterans Health? Lessons Spanning Half A Century" 103rd Congress, 2nd Session-S. Prt. 103-97; Staff Report prepared for the committee on veterans' affairs, December 8, 1994, John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia, Chairman.[2]
  11. Fox13
  14. 14.0 14.1 Bauman, Joe (November 4 2004). "Is Dugway's expansion an alien concept?".,1249,595102911,00.html. 
  15. Davidson, Lee (August 1). "Dugway's size unclear". 
  16. Rothstein, Linda (May 15). "Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles; book reviews". p. 64. ISSN 0096-3402. 
  17. Wilson, Jim (June 1997). "The new 'Area 51.'U.S. Air Force moves its top-secret test site". p. 54. ISSN 0032-4558. 
  18. Smith, Christopher (May 23 1997). "Report: Utah Town, Air Force Headed for Close Encounter; Secret Base: Is It Headed For Utah?". pp. A1. 

External links

Coordinates: 40°11′19″N 113°12′46″W / 40.18861°N 113.21278°W / 40.18861; -113.21278

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