Monday, May 6, 2013

The Naming of Thurston Peak -- Davis, Morgan County's Tallest Summit

                                                      Thurston Peak.

By Lynn Arave

THE TALLEST PEAK in Davis and Morgan counties is Thurston Peak, at 9,706 feet above sea level.
However, this loftiest of peaks in those two counties wasn't even officially named until 1993 -- it was listed as a benchmark on maps, "Francis VABM" previously on all maps.
There's now a permanent monument of Utah granite has been erected on the peak with a brass plaque, encased in concrete, that reads:
"Named in honor of Thomas Jefferson Thurston, a Centerville resident who viewed the virgin valley of Morgan from the summit of the mountain in 1852 and recognized its potential for colonization. Realizing its disadvantage was its inaccessibility, in 1855 Thurston influenced others to assist him to carve a passible wagon road through Weber Canyon. He was among the first to settle in Morgan Valley and is acknowledged for bringing about its colonization."
It took a five-month-long effort by the Morgan Historical Society to name the peak in 1993.
The fact was it is named for Thomas J. Thurston is very fitting, because that man and his family had lived in both Davis and Morgan counties as one of their earliest settlers.
It was a June 10, 1992 article, headlined, "Either way you look Francis is Tallest,"  by Lynn Arave in the Deseret News, that drew attention to the prominent peak as having no official name and created the spark for it to finally be named.
Arave hiked there Memorial Day weekend of 1992 to personally stand on the peak, that was located almost directly east of his Layton home.
The mountain is the tallest Wasatch range peak between Willard Peak on the Weber-Box Elder county line and Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County.

                                                         Thurston Peak.

Before 1993, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Geographical maps listed the peak as ``Francis VABM.'"
 The U.S. Geological Survey office in Salt Lake City reports that VABM means ``vertical angle bench mark'' and refers to the presence of a triangulation station on the peak.
    Information obtained from the Geographical Survey's Cartography office reveals how the two highest peaks came to share the same name.
    The key mountain peaks in northern Utah were re-surveyed in the 1950s using triangulation methods. One such VABM point was set up in 1954 on the unnamed 9,706-foot peak north of the original Francis Peak.

  The view of the top of "North Francis Peak" in 1991, before the peak was named or had a monument on its lofty summit -- it was just a pile of rocks and some posts....

  The Geological Survey office reported it was not unusual for some of the highest peaks in the state to be nameless. For example, more than 15 unnamed peaks in the High Uintas exceed 13,000 feet in height.
    The triangulation survey teams were reportedly notorious for naming unnamed geographical features after already named natural points. Although this method wasn't the official way to do things, it still put the name Francis on all geographical maps from 1955 on, and hence on other maps too, such as those of the Forest Service. 
(When this name dubbing took place, the original Francis Peak was still a jagged mountain with no radar towers on it.)

   You can save yourself a 4,000-foot initial climb from the valley by driving some 13 miles up Farmington Canyon on a dirt road to a site near Francis Peak (at least you can when that scenic byway road is open)  — the walking-point elevation is 9,515 above sea level.
 Most cars can make this trip, though there are some bumps and hairpin turns to negotiate.
   The rewards are eye-candy views every single second as a bird's-eye panorama opens up, not only of Davis County and the Great Salt Lake, but Morgan County and beyond to the east. There are no dull views on this hike, and there is always plenty to see.
   Francis Peak, located directly east of the Kaysville I-15 exit, is a popular summertime scenic backway destination in Davis County.
 Francis Peak was named Francis in honor of Esther Charlotte Emily Wiesbroddt Francis, an early pioneer woman who settled in Morgan in 1863.
 Her expert knowledge of mathematics, particularly calculus, drew many to seek her help. She assisted early surveyors and, among other things, helped organize Morgan City into blocks, lots and streets.
    It was customary in early settlements of the West to name a landmark after a person in recognition of services rendered or contributions made. Sometimes a first name was used. In the case of Francis, her last name probably sounded like a better name for the most prominent mountain peak in the area than her first name.
    Brigham Young himself is reported to have honored Francis by naming the mountain after her.
    Why her name was given to the second-highest peak in the mountain range between Bountiful and Weber Canyon is unclear.
 Lacking modern equipment, perhaps no one in the 1800s knew the north peak was the highest, or possibly the south peak just looked more spectacular because it was pointed. (The northern Francis Peak is rounded.)
    Obviously, South Francis Peak looks much different today, with radar towers perched atop it that were not there before the 1960s. Meanwhile, the taller, northern Francis has remained a wilderness. The peak was surveyed at 9,707 feet high in 1955 until a re-measurement in 1991 lowered it by one foot to its current 9,706.
  Even non-hikers will find the view at Francis Peak alone worth the visit. However, you will likely meet few people north of Francis Peak. There's solitude there in abundance — in the back yard of the populous Wasatch Front, especially when the jeep road is still blocked by snow.
   This trek is more of a challenge in late spring and early summer, when these large snow patches still block the roads and trails. Still, the snow adds some refreshing variety.
   The first western canyon encounter past Francis Peak is Bair and next is Webb Canyon, with lakes directly east on the backside of the mountain.
   There are three small lakes — Smith Creek Lakes — hidden on the east slope. Take the jeep trail's right (east) fork just past Bair Canyon to find these secluded bodies of water.

                                     Layton's Snow Horse shape.

  The "Snow Horse" formation is also visible in late spring just north of Webb Canyon. The figure appears every spring and was a prominent pioneer landmark.
   The figure is located east of the Kaysville-Layton boundary at about the 8,500-foot elevation. The pioneers believed if the horse was still visible by the Fourth of July, there would be plenty of water all summer.
   The tailless horse's legs are composed of deep, snow-covered gullies, and its head is a grassy area without sagebrush. Open ridges and several outcroppings of rock round out the horse's shape.
   As the snow melts, the horse's legs get thinner and thinner. However, even after all the snow is gone, a vague outline remains.
  Returning to Francis Peak, retrace your path or make your own shortcuts.
For some unknown reason, only two of the 10 highest peaks in Davis County have names - at least official monikers approved by the Utah Geographic Names Committee.
    Thurston Peak (elevation 9,706 feet) and Francis Peak (9,515 feet) are the lone summits with official names.
All 10 of the highest Davis peaks are in the north end of the county.
    South Davis County's highest summit - Bountiful Peak (9,259 feet above sea level and located east of Farmington's Glover Lane) - has an official name, but it just doesn't have the elevation needed to crack the top 10, checking in at No. 11.
    -- Here's a listing of Davis County's 10 highest peaks (in descending order), all found from Fruit Heights northward:
    - Thurston Peak, 9,906. Located east of Layton's Cherry Lane.
    - Two unnamed, 9,571-foot summits. One is just north of Thurston Peak. The other is one peak north of that location.
    - A 9,536-foot unnamed summit, north of the twin 9,571-foot peaks.
    - Francis Peak, 9,515, located east of Kaysville and Fruit Heights, with the radar domes on top.
    - Nameless 9,491-foot peak, located between Webb and Adams canyons.
    - A 9,423-foot unnamed peak, just north of the peak identified above.
    - A 9,381-foot peak, near Webb Canyon and sometimes referred to by locals as ``Ed's Peak.''
    - Nameless 9,365-foot peak, located between Francis Peak and the Smith Creek Lakes.
    - A 9,314-foot summit with no name, found just north of Francis Peak.

(-Distilled from a series of articles previously published in the Deseret News, 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:  


  1. Interesting that there are so many unnamed peaks along the ridgeline. I wonder what has to happen for someone to name a peak?

    1. Naming a peak, or natural feature has to go through a federal geographic naming committee and hence why it is so difficult to do.