A Half-Bubble Off Plumb
By Randal B. Thatcher
Of all the glories and splendors of our Sanpete environs, perhaps the most glorious of all is our mountains—those splendid hills and peaks that surround us on every side.
Snow-capped in winter, sun-blazoned in summer, multi-colored in autumn and verdantly green in springtime, our mountains are a constant source of soul-stirring awe and inspiration.
But at our annual Saga of Spring City presentation on July 24th, I learned that they’ve been so much more than that…
From the earliest known history of this Sanpete Valley, the local Ute groups gleaned their subsistence by hunting and gathering in these surrounding mountains.
And the earliest Mormon settlers did likewise, heading up into the hills each summer to collect wild currants, strawberries, ground cherries and elderberries.
These same settlers were also grateful to find a good variety of useful trees in the hills and mountain forests. Sawmills were established upon the founding of each new settlement, supplying wood products for the construction of homes, barns, granaries, furniture, fences and shingles. When the railroad came through the area, these same mountains provided the lumber for innumerable railroad ties. And rare Red Pine trees were discovered in the “left-hand fork of Canal Canyon” for use in the construction of the Manti Temple. (This area is still referred to today as “Temple Fork.”)
Logs were hauled down from the mountains year-round (though wintertime was preferred, as a loaded sleigh would make the descent more smoothly than a wagon). The descendant of one of these early loggers of the 19th Century says her great-grandfather wrote that, “This was the hardest work I ever did in my life.”
Back then—as now—our mountains became the summertime herding and grazing grounds for sheep and cattle, offering vast areas of lush grass so tall it could conceal a grazing sheep. And, then—as now—mountain-lions and other predators posed an ever-present threat.
But it wasn’t all work in those early days…
George Downard, a resident of Spring City in the late 1800s, built a playground on a sprawling green meadow in Spring City Canyon, including a teeter-totter, swings and a contraption he called a, “Whirly-gig,” which consisted of several old tractor seats fastened to poles that could be spun swiftly around in a circle. Many local residents would plan picnic gatherings in that meadow to enjoy this mountain playground.
Hunting in the surrounding hills was a necessity back then, and is still popular today. Tales from those hunting exploits abound, including that of a local hunter, who illegally shot a doe, and at the sight of an approaching game warden, quickly stuffed the animal into his sleeping bag, insisting it was his exhausted comrade who’d retired early that evening. The ruse worked, but he was never able to use that sleeping bag again.
And these same mountains have been host to countless hiking and camping excursions by any number of Boy Scout troops over the decades, with all the accompanying stories around the campfire, of “little bearded men,” who live in the old, abandoned sawmill, and come out at night to play mischief upon unsuspecting campers; and of “Side-hill Galoots,” which are supposedly descended from cattle, who escaped the herd a century ago, evolving into frightful creatures with long back legs and short front legs, and can climb like mountain goats. Wide-eyed young scouts were admonished by their leaders to beware these menacing mutants; and to be ready to run quickly down to flatter ground, as “Galoots” are unstable and awkward on level terrain.
Summertime “mountain parties” were a popular respite among the settlers, with entire families spending an evening together in the mountains. A favorite treat was to plan such a mountain party at one of the local sheep camps, where the herder, glad for the company, would prepare a mutton and sour-dough dinner for their evening meal.
And, of course, no mention of our local mountains would be complete without a nod to our Skyline Drive, completed in 1935, by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which undertook the arduous job of connecting all those old logging roads into one, continuous, high-mountain roadway, stretching nearly 100 miles, along the summit of the mountains, from Thistle to Manti.
This project was undertaken, back in the 1930s, primarily to create a recreational trail, and there still exists ample evidence of old recreational camps and fire pits. This trail is now more popular than ever with hunters, hikers, horseback riders, skiers, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, ATV enthusiasts and anyone with a yearning to escape up into the solitude of the highlands.
And these amazing and awe-inspiring mountains are ours, ever present, and continually beckoning us to come away; ever ready to soothe our troubled souls to and wash our spirits clean. John Muir once famously exclaimed: “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” Dr. Seuss said, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… Get on your way!” And, local wilderness lover, Brookelyn Wheeler, said: “The best memories are always made in the mountains.”
See you up there!
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