One early spring morning in Salt Lake City, church meetings were canceled so volunteers could help city crews fill sandbags to line a downtown street. It was decided to turn the street into a river because of all of the excess water that was expected to flow out of the mountains and canyons and overwhelm the city’s system. Thousands showed up to line the street with sandbags and keep the water flowing down the street, off the sidewalks and out of the stores. Because of the concerted effort, the project was successful.
Later that spring, a rain-soaked hillside in Spanish Fork Canyon gave way and created a massive landslide that formed a dam, which blocked the river below. The natural dam was located just north of the little town of Thistle and as the water backed up behind the dam the water eventually flooded the town, destroyed the railroad and also put U.S. 6 under water, blocking our direct access to Salt Lake City and other points north.
State engineers decided there was little else to do except try to stabilize the millions of tons of material that oozed into the canyon by enlisting the help of major contractors to compact the dam. This column reported 30 years ago, May 18, 1983, that Castle Valley’s Merrill Brady was one of the heavy equipment operators who was employed by one of the contractors who worked 12-hour days and seven days a week for a month trying to stabilize the dam. He estimated at the time that 50 pieces of large equipment were being used on the dam, but the slide was still moving and was quite unstable.
Closer to home, Castle Valley residents who traveled to Moab on state Route 128 (the River Road) encountered three areas where the road was completely covered with water from the Colorado River. Crews from the Utah Department of Transportation limited the use of the road to only high-profile vehicles that could forge the low spots of the road without floating away.
Farther up the river near Grand Junction, Colo., highway crews took the guardrails off the bridges on Interstate 70 so debris wouldn’t back up against the bridge and damage the structures. The Colorado River was actually higher than the bridges but the water would somehow get sucked under the bridge rather than go over the top. Quite an amazing sight.
Thirty years ago this week, this column reported that the river road was still limiting traffic. The column states that: Lloyd McKinney, foreman of the Moab shed of the Utah Department of Transportation, said this week that the outside edge of the river road (SR 128) is continuing to slough off, especially east of the Castle Valley turnoff near Dewey, due to high water in the Colorado River.
“State crews are rebuilding the worst area about three miles northwest of Dewey. Because of the construction work and hazardous driving conditions, that portion of the road has been closed except to local traffic. The road west of the Castle Valley turnoff isn’t as bad, but problems do exist around the eight-mile marker and near the White Ranch, where cracking of the pavement is evident and portions of the blacktop have [sloughed] off into the river.
“McKinney explained that he plans to build the outside edge of those areas with rill as soon as the river goes down and stabilizes. In the meantime, he is closing it to all but local traffic in an effort to minimize damage to the road and avoid a serious accident.”
I don’t think we have had situations like that since that time 30 years ago. And I can’t imagine closing down the river road to all but local traffic today, but there are still sections of the road that require a lot of maintenance by UDOT crews to keep it open and safe.
It has been rather dry here lately but as I write this column this evening, lightning is flashing all around and the weather service has issued a flood warning. So we might get a good rain, but if nothing else, the power will go out so I had better wrap this up before the screen goes black.
In other news 30 years ago this week, this column reported on the approximately 100 members of the Herbert S. Day family who gathered for a family reunion. The event was originally scheduled to take place at the Warner Ranger Station but because of bad weather was changed to the home of Donna Bowthorpe in Castle Valley. Warner Lake was formerly known as Day Reservoir because it was built by Mr. Day so many years ago.
This column also mentioned the activities of the eighth annual Castle Valley picnic, which was held at Willow Basin on the LaSal Mountains. Participants enjoyed a potluck style picnic as well as volleyball, horseshoes, baseball, and an egg toss. The annual tug-of-war across a creek pitted the youth and the elders in the event. In a two out of three match, the elders finally prevailed.