Friday, April 4, 2014

Waterfall Canyon: Ogden's "Stream of sparkling Diamonds'

              Hikers at the base of Waterfall Canyon's falls, probably in the late 19th Century.

By Lynn Arave

ONE of the hiking gems  of Weber County is Waterfall Canyon.
Located approximately east of Ogden's 32nd Street, or above Mount Ogden Park, this 100-foot falls is a treasure of nature.
But, when did it first become popular and why?
Possibly the canyon's first recorded reference in the Ogden Standard-Examiner was a casual mention on Jan. 7, 1882.
The newspaper on March 9, 1885 referred to it as "a wild scene of beauty" and noted that the "Adams Brothers" took photographs of the falls in the spring of 1884 and raised "some excitement" about it by showing them around the area.
It was in the Standard-Examiner on May 28, 1887 that a reporter, referred to as "Kennox," described it as a "stream of sparkling diamonds ... misty rainbows. Something to transport the artist's soul ... the most magnificent cataract in Utah."
The writer, who had also visited Yosemite, claimed that it even rivaled Yosemite's famed Bridal Veil Falls, which had "no greater beauty than this."
Having lived in Ogden for five years, the writer said it had taken that long for him to have finally noticed the falls -- for the first time ever -- from a distance. So, he asked others about it and found that only about one in five residents knew anything about and that only one in ten locals had ever visited it.
Another article referred to it as "scenery unequaled by any other place in the country."
Hiking to the falls in the 19th Century was simply not as easy as it is today.
Some of the newspaper articles mentioned big ferns growing at the mouth of Waterfall Canyon, obscuring access.
Another stated "the journey is a difficult one, true."
In fact, in the 1880s, the only apparent access into Waterfall Canyon was from part way along the ridge between it and Strong's Canyon to the south.
"The place is well worth a visit," a report in the Standard from June 10, 1884 said. "But do not try to go up there before breakfast, nor with the idea that it is a palace car trip."
"Waterfall Canyon is impassible absolutely," the Standard-Examiner reported in 1887. "The densest, most tangled mass of thorny shrubs that ever I encountered filling up the entire ravine" was a description of the mouth of the canyon.
So, hiking a mile up thie ridge between canyons and then "carefully climbing into the amphitheater of beauty" was the best access originally.
It is likely that its later popularity and some waterline piping is what improved access and made the mouth of canyon accessible.
Also, the opening of the "Malan Heights" hotel in 1894 inside Malan's Basin (where the Waterfall Canyon stream descends from), also opened up a popular eastern access to the falls.
It wasn't long and Waterfall Canyon was a magnet -- especially for young people.
"A large party of Ogden society's young people will make the trip to the famous waterfall in Waterfall Canyon today," A Standard report from July 17, 1892 stated. "They will be provided with lunch baskets, kodaks, tourist glasses and rattle-snake antidotes and expect to have a fine time."
On Aug. 12, 1911, a group of 13 young adults had a bonfire at the base of the falls and included music and story-telling.
There were also some tragedies in the canyon.
On Aug. 6, 1883, some boys found a strange metal capsule inside the canyon. It turned out to be an explosive device and went off when one of the boys shook it. His hands were mutilated and he lost two fingers. The other boys suffered face and head wounds.
David Melvin, 16, fell 30 feet off a cliff in the canyon in April of 1895. He somehow was only bruised.
In January of 1912, a young boy wounded himself with his .22 rifle inside Waterfall Canyon.
A cloudburst on Aug. 17, 1923 sent mud and water from Waterfall Canyon as far west as Taylor Avenue. The torrent uprooted trees, moved five-ton boulders and destroyed a 14-inch pipeline in its path.
A large fire on Oct. 11, 1926 inside Waterfall Canyon scorched or burned most of its trees and greenery. The steep rock walls around the canyon apparently kept it from spreading elsewhere.
"Climber rescued after 23 hours on death perch" was an Aug. 3, 1925 newspaper headline. Louis Buswell, 28, became stranded on the cliffs near the waterfall and rescuers needed 300 feet of rope to haul him off a cliff face.
Of course, the most shocking and infamous tragedy of all in Waterfall Canyon happened much more recently. "Plunge Kills 3 Ogden Children On Hike in Waterfall Canyon, Bodies Found at Cliff Base At Climax of Tragic Hunt," was the Standard-Examiner headline.
The Youngsters, each from separate families of local medical doctors, and all neighbors, were killed in what was believed to have been a fall of at least 200 feet on Dec. 26, 1962. Bonnie Ross, 9; Shauna Southwick, 8, and Mark Way, 7, were all killed.

(-0riginally published by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on April 4, 2014.)

-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:  

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