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DEVIL’S GATE: IF NOT FOR FIENDISH GORGE, S.L. MIGHT BE IN OGDEN

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Imagine a Salt Lake City built where the present-day communities of Uintah, South Weber, East Layton, South Ogden and Ogden now stand. What would it be like to have Temple Square in the Ogden area, some 36 miles away from where it is located now? What if "This Is the Place" monument were at mouth of Weber Canyon instead of Emigration Canyon? Can you imagine Weber Canyon being named Emigration Canyon instead?

These "could have been" . . . if not for Devil's Gate. The rocky gorge three miles above the mouth of Weber Canyon forced Mormon pioneers to travel through Emigration Canyon to reach the valley of the Great Salt Lake.. . . Of course, this "what if" scenario doesn't take into account Brigham Young's vision of where the "place" in "This Is the Place" was to be. If the pioneers had been able to exit the mountains via Weber Canyon, they might still have headed 30 miles south to today's Salt Lake area.

. . . And we have to remember that trader Miles Goodyear had already laid claim to most of the Weber County area at the time. The pioneers purchased the land from Goodyear in early 1848 for $1,950 cash and $1,050 worth of livestock.

But history might have been a little different had not Devil's Gate stood in the way of the pioneer migration.

An advance party of pioneers, led by Porter Rockwell, found Devil's Gate so impassible that instead of going through Weber Canyon, they chose to take the longer route to the valleys through Emigration Canyon.

Weber Canyon was a part of what was called the Hastings Cutoff. A map made by T.H. Jefferson in 1846 apparently identified the Devil's Gate area as "Granite Canyon."

The Granite Canyon name didn't stick for some reason - maybe reflecting the pioneers' attitude. After all, the Devil himself may have stirred people to chase them westward, and they might have considered `devil' a perfect name for a natural gorge that prevented safe wagon passage to their promised land.

Actually, Weber Canyon consistently gave early travelers a "devil of a time," and that infamous character's name was also applied to an unusual rock formation 23 miles to the east - Devil's Slide (see related story on this page).

During pioneer times, the Weber River roared over rocks in a deep crevice at the bottom of Devil's Gate. The canyon was barely wide enough to handle the river, let alone wagons. Because of spring runoff (and no dams on the Weber River), travel probably would have been at its worst through Devil's Gate in late spring and early summer.

Heinrich Lienhard, a frontiersman in Jefferson's traveling party, described his wagon passage through Devil's Gate as the wildest part of his journey across the western wilderness. In his diary account for Aug. 6, 1846, he recorded:

"The Weber River had broken down the steep, high Wasatch Mountains; it was a deep cleft through which the waters foamed and roared over the rocks.

"We ventured upon this furious passage, up to this point decidedly the wildest we had encountered, if not the most dangerous. We devoted the entire forenoon and until fully one o'clock in the afternoon to the task of getting our four wagons though. . . .

"In going back for each wagon we had to be very careful lest we lose our footing on the slippery rocks under the water and ourselves be swept down the rapid, foaming torrent."

The Allen and Avery group also recorded its passage through the area that same year, and for them it took extraordinary teamwork and a lot of rope to hoist wagons and oxen through Devil's Gate.A year later, the Mormon pioneers wisely avoided Devil's Gate. It wasn't until eight years later, in 1855, that Thomas Jefferson Thurston, Abiah Wadsworth, Ira Spaulding, Charles Peterson, Roswell Stevens and other prospective settlers built a road from the west side and through the lower portion of Weber Canyon and Devil's Gate into the Morgan Valley.

Thurston had seen the Morgan Valley accidentally while hiking over the mountain ridge above his Centerville home and thought the lush valley looked a lot like his former home in Ohio. Only primitive tools were used for this road building, and sometimes huge rocks would simply be pushed off from the walls above the gorge so that the road could be made on top of such fill material. That first road was completed by 1856.

Eventually, Devil's Gate was fully opened to one-lane travel with the construction of "Horseshoe Bend," a big twist in the road around Devil's Gate. Families entering or leaving Devil's Gate by horse and buggy would send one family member ahead on foot to stop traffic on the one-lane route while they

passed through the narrow gate.

There was at least one bright side to Devil's Gate, in that conquering it more fully gave Mormon settlers two years of employment by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868-69. This paid labor couldn't have come at a better time, since the pioneers were struggling to recover from the grasshopper plagues of 1866-67.

The road through Devil's Gate was widened dramatically in the automobile age, but it also gained a new nickname - "Scrambled-Egg Curve," because of the many accidents involving egg transports there, as well as spills of oil, livestock and vegetables. The spot had more accidents than any other part of the canyon.

Still, the "Devil" was not conquered. After the wet winter of 1952, flood waters cut off travel through Devil's Gate for weeks. Commuters had to park their cars on the east side and walk around Horseshoe Bend to get rides to work from the west side.

In the early 1960s it took explosives and heavy equipment to clear the way for two 583-foot-long concrete bridges during construction of Interstate 80-North (now I-84), finally conquering the bugaboo of Devil's Gate and Horseshoe Bend. (It cost $2.5 million alone to build the three-mile section of interstate near Devil's Gate.)

Devil's Gate is no longer even easy to spot. Since there's just a slight bend in the interstate highway there, travelers have to really look to see evidence of the windy, deserted alcove on the north side of the canyon, behind a rocky hill. Then it's another difficult task (and maybe some extra freeway mileage and some backtracking) to find a safe place to get off the interstate to give it a closer look.

The Weber River still makes a big bend at Devil's Gate, and remains of the old Horseshoe Bend highway - some spots complete with old asphalt - are there. A large train trestle, reminiscent of the original train bridge that crossed Devil's Gate, also helps fill the canyon.

Today's travelers speed through the area at 50 to 65 mph, with no inkling whatsoever that Devil's Gate was ever so formidable a natural barrier that it played a significant role in Utah's history.