Thursday, December 18, 2014

Back when Cache Valley was isolated in winter

          Highway 89 today goes down from Sardine Summit to Dry Lake.

“The primary highway leading north through the Cache Valley to Idaho is at present a summer road, so far as through traffic is concerned , for the reason that the 10-mile section between Mantua and Wellsville is closed by winter snow,” an article in the January 1924 issue of Utah Highways Magazine stated.
“As a result the fertile and populous Cache Valley is virtually isolated, as far as travel by the highway is concerned, from the rest of the state, for approximately four months of the year. Interstate travel between Utah and points both is confined to the railroads during the winter months,” the magazine article, written by engineer K.C. Wright, concluded.
However, that seasonal isolation, which had existed for almost 70 years, finally ended in the summer of 1924 when a $200,000 new highway was constructed.
The road was completed by Sept. 9 of that year. Much of the new road was truly new and didn’t follow the former alignment.
For example, from Mantua to the Sardine Summit, a new dugway was cut out of the mountain with a maximum grade of six percent. At 24-feet wide, the new highway had ample passing room too.
Previously, the direct “pioneer route” by way of Dry Lake had been used to reach Wellsville. (Ironically, that’s also today’s highway route.)
That steep route, through what is officially named Wellsville Canyon (originally named “New Canyon”), suffered from 20-30-foot-high snow drifts, 10 to 20 percent grades, and wet clay soils at the bottom of the canyon.

                              The 1924 road alignment into the actual Sardine Canyon.

In the new 1924 alignment (that existed until about 1960), the highway curved northeast and winded through Sardine Canyon (the original version) and into Cache Valley. (Sections of the old road are still visible today from Highway 89, looking northeast shortly after Sardine Summit.)
“Sardine Canyon was finally chosen as the route of the new highway because it seemed to present the most feasible location for an all-year road,” an Aug. 15, 1924 story in the Box Elder News stated.
“Canyon road is nearly finished; Highway of crushed rock between Wellsville and Mantua, one of the best earth roads in the state,” was that story’s headline.
During the winter of 1924-25, a 10-ton caterpillar truck with a snowplow attached was used to clear snow on the new highway, a combination of gravel and rock.
In 1927, a combination of gravel and oil was used on the highway. The road was eventually paved and did work well in winter, until modern road building and snow removal came along in the 1950s.
However, the terrible winter of 1948-49 meant the road was closed for a full month during January of 1949.

                        The 1924-1960 Sardine Canyon road alignment on the hillside in the distance.

By the mid-1950s, plans were made to streamline the highway, now a popular scenic highway to Bear Lake and even Yellowstone National Park. In 1960, the revised road opened with its current alignment, abandoning the true “Sardine Canyon” and heading directly to Wellsville from the summit north of Mantua.
Technically, it is Box Elder Canyon from Brigham City to Mantua. Then, it is Wellsville Canyon from Mantua to Wellsville, though the old Sardine Canyon name is today affixed to the entire mountain road between Brigham City and Cache Valley.
The “why” the name “Sardine” for a canyon that’s not narrow is another story for another day.

(-Originally published on-line and in print on Dec. 18-19, 2014 by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-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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