Friday, September 26, 2014

When Devil’s Slide was really a slide and more


                                 Devil’s Slide today.

DEVIL'S Slide is a bizarre, giant-size limestone chute, located on the south side of I-84 in Weber Canyon, near Croydon, and about eight miles east of Morgan.
Composed of two parallel slabs of rock about 20 feet apart, some 40 feet high and about 200 feet long, this odd phenomenon has attracted the curious gaze of passerbys since Pioneer times.
The first pioneers through the area in the 1840s (and their maps) referred to the Croydon area of upper Weber Canyon as “Gutter Defile,” in honor of what would eventually become famous as Devil’s Slide.
Who named the rock formation Devil’s Slide?
James John Walker (1830-1896), an early resident of Croydon and a railroad worker, is very likely the first person to have called it Devil’s Slide.
A Walker family history states that James Walker was a contractor on the railroad, installing the first tracks through upper Weber Canyon. Probably around 1868, he was asked (being a local resident) by a railroad crew what to call this unusual rocky chute and his reply was Devil’s Slide and the title stuck.
The first official mention of that name for the rock formation in a newspaper was in 1875.
"Looking like a large playground slide fit only for the Devil, this site is a tilted remnant of sediments deposited in a sea that occupied Utah's distant geologic past," Carl Ege of the Utah Geological Survey explains on geology.utah.gov.
By 1904, limestone was found in abundance in the area of Devil’s Slide and soon a cement worker’s town sprung up there. Workers initially began calling the new community Portland, in honor of the Union Portland Cement Company.
However, railroad people objected to that name and insisted on a Devil’s Slide moniker instead. They won out and by 1907 the local post office was also called Devils Slide. (Note that there was no apostrophe to the town's name.)
The cement company’s packages even sported the startling image of the devil sliding down the rock chute on his pitchfork for many years. The company’s baseball team was also called the Red Devils.
The town reached its heyday in the late 1920s, before the Great Depression, when it boasted 529 residents. By the 1940s, its school closed and by the 1980s, only a few families still resided there. Soon after, the cement company closed the town and today a gravel pit and rubble mostly cover what remains of this ghost town.
      A 1947 photo of Devil’s Slide shows visitor Venice Carson Flygare of Grouse Creek/Ogden.                     Note how close the viewpoint to the Slide was back then, in the pre-freeway era.

Going back in time again, “Mystic Shriners at Devil’s Slide” was an Aug. 22, 1911 headline in the Standard, The Shriners held special ceremonies and initiations around the formation. Included was a hike to the top of Devil’s Slide, followed by an optional, daring slide downward.
Did this really happen? Perhaps, but the natural rock slide ends dozens of feet away from the Weber River, which is why a special pool of water was apparently set up at the bottom by the Shriners.
 “Devil’s Slide jinks success; El Kalah Temple Mystic Shrine holds unique ceremonial at that spot; Novices slide incline into fathomless pool” ” was a Sept. 16, 1910 headline in the Salt Lake Tribune, showing they had also used the Slide a year earlier.
Several hundred Shriners took a special train to the Slide and even set up tents in the area. Sliding down the Slide was also featured that year.
Ogden began promoting Devil’s Slide as a tourist attraction in the mid 1920s, with signs. Devil’s Gate, at the lower end of Weber Canyon, was also boasted of in numerous Standard-Examiner reports of the 1920s.
Today, there are posted turnouts to view the slide just off both directions of I-84. However, in the pre-freeway era, a 1947 picture of Devil’s Slide shows the viewing area much closer to the formation than it is today. Back then, the dirt access road (in front of Devil’s Slide today) may have been the main road before the Interstate came along.
Now, the slide’s bottom is choked with brush and some private land fronts the Slide.
Hauntingly, there are also "Witch Rocks" and the small "Goblin Slides" rock formations in the same area of upper Weber Canyon.
The Salt Lake Tribune ran a story on June 28, 1888 that told the tale of an out-of-stater fishing the Weber River in that area with an Indian guide. This Native American believed the area to be the Devil’s territory and even pointed out another nearby rock formation that was said to be the “Devil’s War Club.”
-As unusual as the Top of Utah’s Devil’s Slide may seem, it is not unique. There is a same-named and similar rock formation about five miles north of Gardiner, Mont. Just north of Yellowstone National Park, off U.S. 89, this Devil's Slide, though has a twist — a big curve in its slabs of parallel rock.
(-Originally published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on Sept. 26, 2014 by Lynn Arave.)

-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: lynnarave@comcast.net  





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