Sunday, May 5, 2013

'Scrambled Egg Curve' and 'Utah Hill' -- Forgotten Obstacles

              The Devil's Gate I-80 span over the Weber River today.

EVER hear of "Scrambled Egg Curve" or "Utah Hill"?

In the high-tech 21st century, travelers speed through two notorious Intermountain canyons -- Weber Canyon and the Virgin River Gorge -- on freeways with little thought of how restrictive these paths were prior to the interstate.

In fact, travel through the Virgin River Gorge didn't exist prior to 1973 and the opening of I-15 there. Motorists spent up to twice as long (and trucks even more) traversing the alternate Highway 91 route west of Santa Clara, which climbed the notorious "Utah Hill."

For Weber Canyon, the pre-Interstate 84 days included Devil's Gate ("Scrambled Egg Curve,") a bottleneck in a critical highway and a nightmare for truckers.

In 1847, Devil's Gate was such an obstacle that the Mormon Pioneers decided to enter the Salt Lake Valley through Emigration Canyon instead. If this had not been so, This is the Place monument might have been in a very different location.

Heinrich Lienhard, a frontiersman in T.H. Jefferson's traveling party, described their Aug. 6, 1846, wagon passage through Devil's Gate as the wildest part of their journey across the western wilderness.

It wasn't until 1856 that Thomas Jefferson Thurston and other prospective settlers built and opened a narrow road from the west side and through the lower portion of Weber Canyon and Devil's Gate into the Morgan Valley.

Families entering or leaving Devil's Gate (not to be confused with "Devil's Slide," some 20 miles to the east) by horse and buggy would send one family member ahead on foot to stop traffic bound the other way on the one-lane route while they passed through the narrow, natural gate.

The road through Devil's Gate was widened dramatically in the automobile age, but it also gained a new nickname — "Scrambled-Egg Curve," because of the many accidents involving egg transports there, as well as spills of oil, livestock and vegetables. The spot had more accidents than any other part of the canyon.

For example on Feb. 3, 1949, a Deseret News headline read: "Weber Canyon blocked by egg cargoes," as two semitrailer trucks overturned near Devil's Gate, because of the sharp turn and icy conditions. A month earlier, another semi had overturned there, blocking the narrow canyon road.

After the wet winter of 1952, floodwaters cut off travel through Devil's Gate for weeks. Commuters had to park their cars on the east side and walk around Horseshoe Bend to get rides to work from the west side.

In the early 1960s it took explosives and heavy equipment to clear the way for two 583-foot-long concrete bridges during construction of Interstate 80-North (now I-84), finally conquering the bugaboo of Devil's Gate and Horseshoe Bend. It cost $2.5 million (more than $18 million in today's dollars) to build the three-mile section of interstate near Devil's Gate. The road completely bypasses the bend itself.

Construction on the I-15 freeway through the Virgin River Gorge cost $10 million per mile (almost $50 million a mile in today's dollars.) It was the most expensive rural freeway in the nation at the time.
Required were five long bridges over the Virgin River, as well as rechanneling the water 12 different times to accommodate the approximate 18-mile section of freeway through the gorge itself. More than four miles of freeway travel right over the original river bed.

High winds, flash flooding and quicksand hindered construction. A helicopter surveying ther area crashed in 1969, killing the pilot. A dune buggy from Texas was eventually brought in to traverse the rugged gorge during early construction.

I-15 in the Virgin River Gorge finally opened, about 25 years ago, on Dec. 14, 1973 after a decade of work.

The Virgin River Gorge traverses a remote section of the Arizona strip. It is the most vital link between Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

A million cubic yards of granite were removed in several locations to rechannel the river.

Utah, Arizona and Nevada opposed the proposed route through the Virgin River Gorge as early as 1955, because the first plans included just a two-lane road and sections without passing capability for as long as four miles at a time.

The three states supported and eventually got a wider, four-lane highway approved.

The Virgin River Gorge is a scenic area and cliffs rise as high as 500 feet above the interstate.

(-Distilled from an article by Lynn Arave, originally published in the Deseret News on Jan. 19, 2009.)

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