Sunday, May 5, 2013

The 'Devilish' Side of Utah's Outdoors

       Devil's Slide in Utah.

By Lynn Arave
Never mind that the "Saints" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, settled the Utah territory, many early explorers and pioneers saw it as a devil of a place at times.
   The region hosts some extremely rugged, inhospitable and downright infernal territory, and those inclined to give certain spots names in pioneer times weren't shy about calling them as they saw them. As a result, Utah has 61 geographical places and landmarks that contain the word "devil" — but only 11 names with the word "angel."
   Devil's Hole, Devil's Steps and Devil's Kitchen call Juab County home.
   Devil's Den, Devil's Kitchen and Devil's Twist can be found in Millard County.
   Devil's Playground is farther north, in Box Elder County.
   There's a Devil's Castle and a Devil's Dance Floor in Sevier County; Devil's Pocket and Devil's Window in San Juan County; a Devil's Peak in Sanpete County — and many more.
   "That tells you something about how hard it was here," said Linda Smith, historian for Morgan County, where Devil's Slide and Devil's Gate are to be found.
   To be fair, Zion National Park has towering Angel's Landing and Canyonlands National Park has the striking Angel Arch, but they have only nine other seraphim to keep them company in a state beset by more than five dozen devils.
   Many a pioneer traveler's diary laments the diabolic physical obstacles Utah posed. Indeed, the ill-fated Donner-Reed Party of 1846 lost several weeks of potential travel time in Utah, much of it while bogged down in the canyons northeast of Salt Lake City. That delay, perhaps more than anything, led to their tragic fate in the stormy Sierra Nevada.
   Nowhere is Utah's ghoulish side more bedeviled than Weber Canyon, home to Devil's Slide and Devil's Gate — two historic landmarks that have been noted by those traveling through the territory since pioneer and early railroad days.
   Roy Tea, a member of the Utah Crossroads Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association, said all these devilish names reveal just how tough Utah was on pioneers.
   "They had to travel in the streams a lot of the time," he said of the canyons north and east of Salt Lake City.
   Weber Canyon is divided into two sections, an upper and a lower part. Devil's Gate, a narrow, rocky gorge only about three miles east of the canyon's mouth, was perhaps the most formidable obstacle in all the area, Smith said.
   However, it was actually some of the rugged upper canyon around Devil's Slide near Morgan that detoured pioneer wagons southwest to enter the Salt Lake Valley from Emigration Canyon.
   "This was a terribly narrow area of the canyon," Smith said.
   If not for this rugged spot, as well as torturous Devil's Gate, would Brigham Young have instead emerged from Weber Canyon to proclaim, "This is the place"?
   If so, imagine a Salt Lake City perhaps built around the present day towns of Uintah, South Weber, South Ogden, Layton and Ogden, with Temple Square in Ogden rather than Salt Lake City.
   Among the geographic features that bedeviled early Utahns was
 Devil's Slide, a strange, giant-size limestone chute, looks as imposing today as it probably did in the 19th century. Composed of two parallel slabs of rock about 20 feet apart, 40 feet high and some 200 feet long, this phenomenon is located about eight miles east of Morgan.
   According to a description from the late Walter R. Buss, former professor of geology and geography at Weber State University, the Devil's Slide formation originally was made up of horizontal limestone ridges formed by deposits in a shallow sea. Then, about 75 million years ago, when huge layers of rock were pushed up to form such ranges as the Rocky Mountains, the ridges were tilted to a vertical position.
   A layer of shale between the limestone ridges eroded over time because it was less resistant, and thus the chute was formed.
   Hauntingly, there are also "Witch Rocks" and the small "Goblin Slides" in the same area of upper Weber Canyon.

The devil gets a good deal of credit in Weber Canyon: About 23 miles east of Devil's Gate is a similarly named natural feature, Devil's Slide.
    Devil's Slide - more visible today than the Gate - can be reached along I-84 at a special turnout on each side of the interstate, about eight miles east of Morgan. The unusual rock formation on the highway's south side is composed of two parallel slabs of limestone, about 20 feet apart and 40 feet high.An 1846 map by T.H. Jefferson mentioned ``Gutter Defile,'' possibly the first reference to Devil's Slide. The accepted name was probably given to the site by Clarence King, a geologist working for the Army in the area during 1877. (Utah's highest mountain, King's Peak, was named in his honor). King described the formation as a set of ``bold, blade-like outcroppings.''
    Walter R. Buss, a retired professor of geology and geography at Weber State College, has written that the limestone ridges of Devil's Slide were originally horizontal, formed by deposits in a shallow sea. Then, about 75 million years ago, when huge layers of rock were pushed up to form peaks like the Rocky Mountains, the ridges were tilted to a vertical position.
    A layer of shale that originally separated the limestone ridges eroded over time, being less resistant to the erosive forces than limestone. This formed the chute.
    Many rocky features within a half mile of Devil's Slide also stand vertically. The Goblin slides, much smaller versions of Devil's Slide, are visible.
    The limestone in the Devil's Slide area is well-suited to making cement - the Ideal Cement Co. is located just across the canyon, near Croydon.
    The late Howard Wadsworth, of Magna, used to travel through Weber Canyon and remembered many years ago (probably in the 1940s or earlier), when there used to be a big, flat, shiny rock on the side of the old highway below Devil's Slide. A man named ``Robinson'' had apparently painted this inscription on the rock: ``My Native Home. Do Not Tread on Me,'' along with a sketch of a large rattlesnake - this area of Weber Canyon is indeed known for a high number of resident rattlesnakes.
    Many travelers were startled when they saw the rock, but since the original highway was quite curvy in that area, the rock was blasted out during road improvements probably made long before the route became an interstate highway.
    Today, Devil's Slide still attracts a lot of curious visitors. With huge roadside trash cans along the interstate, it makes a quick scenic/garbage stop for most travelers.
    Visitors who want a close look at the slide have to be going east on I-84, and after stopping at the turnout must walk 100 feet down the interstate across the Weber River bridge and then must cross over a barbed-wire fence. The Weber River flows between I-84 and Devil's Slide.
    The slide is indeed like a huge rock chute, and the inside shows evidence of many visitors who have climbed up it. Loose, jagged shale rocks make climbing difficult. A carefully situated piece of wood has been wedged inside the chute, about 75 feet up the slide.

                The similar Devil's Slide formation, north of Yellowstone National Park.

(The Devil's Slide formation is not unique however. A very similar natural feature exists just north of the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park.)

-Distilled from an article by Lynn Arave, originally published in the Deseret News.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  


  1. There are certain point in our life that we encounter failure but it doesn't mean you will lose hope and give up everything but it only means that every failure there's an exchange and that is new beginning. Well, thank you for sharing your article and keep on posting. Visit my site too for more information.

  2. Lynn,

    I am writing you to ask for help in discovering more meaning of something my father (passed away) told me about driving from Boise, Idaho (I-84) to Texas; going through Albuquerque, New Mexico and then Amarillo.

    Some where between Boise and Helper Utah my father told me we were taking the "Devil's Fork." I have tried to research and I am thinking this could mean I-84 from Portland area, through Boise, to around Echo, Utah before you get to I-80. I-84 was originally a "Fork" of I-80 and there are terms in the general UTAH area that refer to the Devil like the Devil's Slide and the Devil's Gate. Unfortunately, I can not find anything named exactly "Devil's Fork" like I remember my father telling me.

    Do you have any knowledge of an American Inter-State , or highway system, or section, or UTAH history known as the "Devil's Fork?"