Missile silos, a gold strike so rich it would destroy the nation's gold-based economy and a herd of giant deer are rumored to be sequestered behind a locked gate at the head of Red Butte Canyon.

And at the canyon just above town, the public is kept at bay so the stories can't be verified or so folklore has it.Others believe there is a nudist colony behind the locked gates, and some say they've heard an aboriginal Indian tribe survives in its natural state in the long and narrow canyon. Finally, there is the claim that fish in the canyon's reservoir are so big they have to be tied onto an angler's car to get them out.

Interesting stories, but unreal, says Jim Cook, research forester for Wasatch-Cache National Forest, which oversees the 5,000-acre canyon.

"I've walked about every inch of this canyon, and unfortunately none of the stories are true," Cook said.

Whenever you put up a gate and keep people out of an area they start coming up with reasons, he said, pointing out two deer herds containing more than 30 head, casually grazing on a sunny meadow.

Admittedly, fishing is pretty good in the reservoir, and there is an abundance of wildlife in the area, but probably no more so than in any other uninhabited canyon in the Wasatch Range.

Urban folklore is what the tales really are, and it's entirely possible some of the stories circulated in other parts of the West before finding a home of their own in Red Butte Canyon, said University of Utah folklore expert Meg Brady.

Such fables persist even though there often is little or no basis for their premise, because people believe what they want to believe, Brady said.

In the first place, a locked gate always makes people speculate, she said. Besides, people love stories, even if they might doubt their veracity.

Sometimes people hear a story, and it gets transferred to a new area, and after it's repeated by a few people, it becomes urban folklore.

For example, everybody has heard the story about the young couple out necking, and they're attacked by a prison escapee, Brady said.

Another example of Utah folklore is the story about a lake monster in the cold Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho state line. No one knows how it got started, but people keep repeating it. Now, many are convinced the monster exists. It's sort of like a Utah Loch Ness.

What Red Butte Canyon really is, Cook said, is a "research natural area." There are several such areas in the country, but Cook said Red Butte Canyon is the only one he knows of that is off limits to the public most of the time.

The canyon is opened annually for deer hunting, and disabled veterans are allowed to fish in the famed reservoir, although none are claiming any record catches. In an encore of a program last year, the research area will be open to the public again this year for day tours on June 4 and 5.

Last year about 5,000 hiked along its rocky roads and trails, at times in drippy weather.

It was a positive experience for everyone in spite of the weather, Cook said of last year's nature walk. He promises better service this year because information centers will be set up at different vantage points in the canyon.

Wildflowers should be in full bloom and the creek should be crashing down the canyon, Cook said.

The canyon opens into the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City and is framed by the University of Utah campus and historic Fort Douglas, from which the Army once kept an eye on Mormon President Brigham Young more than a century ago.

"As far as we know, no one sighted any Indians, no gold nuggets were found, and if there were any nudists around, we didn't see them," Cook said of the 5,000 people who trekked into the canyon last year.

The Red Butte Canyon research area was formed nearly 20 years ago when the property passed from the Army to the Forest Service. But even before the research area was designated, the Army had kept the canyon closed for more than 80 years to protect its water supply, a reservoir that sits at the mouth of the canyon.

The idea of a research natural area is to provide researchers a spot as near to the way the area was before settlers came, Cook said, driving his truck around rockfall on a narrow canyon road.

"But that's not what's interesting to most people. I've got a good acquaintance who swears up and down he's stood right in the mouth of the gold mine," Cook said.

The lower part of Red Butte Canyon is overgrown with scrub oak and mountain maple, and once in a while a rabbit will hop over weather survey equipment.

Among the research projects under way are soil and animal projects, and once a researcher even did a study of the digestive system of the canyon's bees, Cook said.

A man who lived in government housing at the base of the canyon for 31 years while employed by the Department of Defense said he never found any gold mines in the chasm either.

"I'll tell you this, there are a lot of rattlesnakes," said Harold Shore, who raised his family in a government-owned home on the Fort Douglas military reservation.

Shore moved into the home in 1947 and chopped up seven rattlers the first time he mowed his yard, he said, and once helped rescue a man who crashed his airplane in high-meadow timber.

Flipping through a giant photo album, he points out pictures of himself as a young man with several bobcats he killed, beavers he trapped, fish he caught and deer he harvested.

Some of the same folk tales circulated about Red Butte Canyon even when he first moved in, Shore said.

"There are a few places where prospectors might have looked for gold, but I doubt if anybody ever found any," Shore said. "I spent a lot of time hunting and hiking in the canyon, and I was never able to confirm any."