Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chinatown: Remote geological wonder of Morgan County

                   Morgan County's own remote Chinatown formation.

STRICTLY speaking dictionary-wise, “Chinatown” is any non-Chinese area that is dominated by residents of Chinese origin. However, the Top of Utah boasts a natural feature in Morgan County, “Chinatown,” that’s located about 10 miles northeast of Henefer, Summit County.
It contains “strange rock formations and colors of much scenic value,” according to an Oct. 13, 1931 report in Ogden Standard-Examiner. That article was headlined, “Scenic route fund desired.”
O.A. Taylor of Brigham City had interest in a coal mine in that area, but also believed Chinatown was a desirable tourist attraction. His plan never materialized.
Some six months later, a Standard story from Feb. 2, 1932 stated that both the Morgan and the Ogden Lions clubs supported a scenic highway to Chinatown through Toone Canyon, off Lost Creek Road.
Ogden Mayor Ora Bundy said in that story that Chinatown rivaled the scenery of Southern Utah. He also favored a loop road, so that Ogden Valley could be reached from the Morgan County side.
The Richfield Reaper newspaper of June 19, 1930 called Chinatown, “a fascinating curiosity shop of mother nature.” It stated some of the rock formations were named: Japanese Teapot, Alligator Rock, 11 Apostles, Sea Rock, Yellow Dike, Twin Elephants, Big Elephant and Newfoundland Dog.
Red Ridge and Totem Pole were two other formations in nearby Toone Canyon.
A June 14, 1936 article in the Salt Lake Tribune referred to Chinatown as a “geological wonder.” It stated that “Hidden Towers” had been an early nickname for the area.
“About 12 miles northeast of Devil’s Slide is a natural curiosity known as ‘Chinatown.’ It is a miniature Bryce Canyon with many shades of rock …” a Jan. 30, 1938 report in the Standard stated.
Chinatown then faded into obscurity for another 27 years until an editorial in the Nov. 19, 1965 Standard heralded it again.
“The eroded cliffs of Morgan’s ‘Chinatown’ closely resemble the famed earthen spires and pinnacles of Bryce Canyon National Park,” the editorial stated. It urged a three-man committee in Morgan to find a way to open it to the public.
According to Fred Ulrich, the Morgan High School LDS Seminary used to sponsor an annual spring hike to Chinatown, at least into the late 1940s.
Croydon highlighted Chinatown's scenic value and encouraged visitors there as recently as the early 1960s.
However, to this day, Chinatown remains on closed private land and is unavailable to the public.
-I was lucky enough to secure permission to visit Chinatown back in 1990. Then, it required some eight miles of mountain bicycling and about six hiking miles with a 2,000-plus foot climb to access Chinatown, located near the Morgan-Summit County line, overlooking I-84.
I had to pass through four locked gates and multiple private tracts of land to reach the 13-acre site at a 7,800-foot elevation.
 Chinatown appeared more like a miniature Cedar Breaks, than a section of Bryce Canyon. It certainly seemed out of place and more typical of Southern Utah scenery, with 200- to 300-foot-tall eroded red pinnacles, amid a background of quaking aspens and evergreens.
Chinatown received its name because its formations reminded pioneer visitors of Chinese pagodas - pyramidal towers several stories high. Some other formations are shaped more like Indian totem poles.
There was also a lot of conglomerate rock in the area. Several miles north of Chinatown were separate sections of unusual rock that were more reminiscent of Idaho’s City of Rocks and even Zion National Park.
Yes, Chinatown and the greater area are at least worthy of Utah State Park status, but that concept likely isn’t favored by the area land owners. Indeed, half of Chinatown’s attraction is its isolation and solitude, two assets that would surely vanish forever with widespread public access.
 (-Originally published on-line and in print by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, April 30-May 1, 2015.)

-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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