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Thistle, Utah: a ghost town unlike the rest

The railroad town of Thistle used to be a halfway stop between Denver and Salt Lake City. Now it’s gone

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A truck is pictured languishing in the residue of “Thistle lake,” one of countless symbols of the indecision, confusion and despair that remain for the area.

Paul Barker, Deseret News

Thistle, located in eastern Utah County, is different from most ghost towns. While a lot of Utah ghost towns are former mining towns, Thistle was an important railroad stop. Nestled in Spanish Fork Canyon, Thistle was the spot to stop between Denver and Salt Lake City.


Thistle pictured in 1983, the year of the giant landslide.

Utah State Archives and Records Service

According to KSL, not only was Thistle a midway point, but it was also a meal point: Before the era of meals being served on trains, Thistle acted as a place to stop and have a bite to eat.

But this town did not last long. Even though population declined between the 1950s and 1970s, the town still stayed intact.

However, a giant landslide in April 1983 would change everything.

According to Utah Humanities, this landslide was the most costly landslide that Utah has ever seen. The Spanish Fork River became dammed, and then the water saturated the ground and caused the canyons to have masses of material slide down, leading to the railroad tracks shifting several inches. Eventually, Highway 6 buckled and the town itself faced imminent danger.


Thistle railroad station pictured in black and white.

Utah State Historical Society

Officials ordered Thistle residents to evacuate, due to the river threatening flooding and the canyons threatening burial of the town. The town ended up buried by earth and floodwaters, and never has been resurrected. Now Thistle is a ghost town — a barely noticeable stop on the way to Manti.