Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
The Wasatch Mountains offer plenty of fascinating tales and mystery, even in the 21st century.
They're fodder for speculation related to the Book of Mormon and stories of Bigfoot, lost gold mines, Indian maidens and huge grizzly bears. Adding to the sense of mystery, oak brush and trees dominate the lower elevations of the mountains and make for lots of hiding places.Here are some local mountain legends:
Bigfoot Only 10 of the 50 states have more reported sightings of "Sasquatch" than Utah. Many of these purported experiences are reported in or along the Wasatch Mountains. From the mountains east of Ogden and North Ogden to the foothills of South Weber and Francis Peak, sightings date back almost 25 years.
Gadianton Robbers Did these shady characters, mentioned in the Books of Helaman, Third Nephi and Mormon in the Book of Mormon, reside in the Wasatch Mountains?
Brigham Young seemed to think so and all but said the mountains were haunted. Some of the aforementioned bad guys would apparently rob, murder and plunder among the Nephites and then hide in the Wasatch Mountains."There are scores of evil spirits here, spirits of the old Gadianton robbers, some of whom inhabited these mountains and used to go into the south and afflict the Nephites. There are millions of these spirits in the mountains, and they are ready to make us covetous, if they can; they are ready to lead astray every man and woman that wishes to be a Latter-day Saint." (Deseret News, March 20, 1861, from a talk given in the Tabernacle on Jan. 20, 1861.)
Grizzly bears Huge grizzlies used to inhabit the Wasatch, and as recently as the 1920s, two of them still roamed the mountains. One was killed on Mount Nebo about 80 years ago. The more famous bear "Old Ephraim" was shot by a sheep rancher on Aug. 22, 1923. Old Eph was reputed to be about 1,600 pounds and 9 feet tall.
Indian maidens If you gaze at Mount Timpanogos heading northbound on I-15, near Nephi, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to visualize the shape of mountain skyline as a woman lying down. The story goes that an Indian maiden, Utana, committed suicide by throwing herself off the mountain in Romeo-and-Juliet fashion, after her true love, Red Eagle, died from injuries in a bear attack.
The Great Spirit supposedly melded the hearts of the two dead lovers to produce the Great Heart of Timpanogos, a stalactite in Timpanogos Cave.Almost 200 miles north at the other end of the Wasatch, a similar story is told of an Indian maiden who also commits suicide by leaping off Soda Point at the extreme north end of the Wasatch into the Bear River below after her love died.
Lost gold mines The fabled Rhoades (or "Rhodes") Mine, the most fanciful Utah gold mine legend of them all, is widely believed to be in the Uinta Mountains. However, a close second is the "Dream Mine," supposedly located east of Salem, Utah County, as another ancient Nephite gold vein.There could be a lost mine for every major canyon in the Wasatch. For example, Taylor Canyon, east of Ogden, supposedly has a lost gold mine, and bona fide abandoned mines are plentiful in Park City, Alta, Willard and other areas.
Monte Cristo This is probably the biggest name mystery in the Wasatch. It means "Mountain of Christ" in Spanish, but there's no clear information on who named it. This 9,148-foot summit is east of Ogden, near a point where the borders of Rich, Cache and Weber counties come together, along U-39.
The three stories on its name origination are: (1) Gold miners thought it resembled the Monte Cristo Mountains in California. (2) An early road builder in the area read the book "The Count of Monte Cristo" to his co-workers and the name stuck. (3) The name was given by early trappers.All are inconclusive.
Sardine Canyon This is perhaps the fishiest of stories in the Wasatch Mountains. This so-called canyon, located on U.S. 89/91, between Brigham City and Logan, is actually three separate canyons with official names. Box Elder Canyon, not Sardine Canyon, runs from eastern Brigham City to Mantua. Then the highway follows Dry Canyon from Mantua until about Sardine Summit. From Sardine Summit until Cache Valley comes into view, the area is Wellsville Canyon, not Sardine Canyon.
The Sardine Canyon name apparently came, not from any narrow passage, but from the lunch menu of the pioneers.In fall 1856, the first settlers on the way to Cache Valley stopped near a spring about 1 1/2 miles east of Dry Lake. They ate a lunch there consisting of canned sardines. They even reportedly littered and left the sardine containers as sort of a cheap monument that later travelers saw hence the name Sardine Canyon.
World's steepest mountains The Wellsville Mountains, a subrange of the Wasatch, between Brigham City and Logan, are often reputed to be the steepest anywhere. Where this claim started is unknown, but scientists are quick to say there's no set formula for determining what's steepest.
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