August 13-19, 2012 – Coalville, UT Area
This is a nice park with the Weber River running through it. The River splits and forms a small island in the middle of the park – thus the name Echo Island. All of the sites are grassy and most of them are shaded.
Billboard Bluff is a 19th century advertisement painted directly on the rock. The advertisements were seen by the passing trains. The Plantation Bitters was a medicine whose active ingredient was 33% Santa Cruz rum. Although not a part of the trails it was an interesting side note.
Along the narrowest parts of the canyon the Mormon Militia built breastworks at the tops of the cliffs during the Utah War. Federal troops marched toward Salt Lake City in May 1857 to install a non-Mormon territorial governor. Acting Governor Brigham Young, declared martial law because armed men had attacked the Mormons previously in Missouri and Illinois and he was afraid another invasion was coming. The Mormon leader mustered his militia to harass the oncoming army and fortify the emigrant wagon road through the Wasatch Mountains. The US Army halted near Fort Bridger and spent the winter if 1857-58. During this time an agreement was reached where Brigham Young accepted a Presidential pardon and a new territorial governor was installed forestalling any actual fighting. We could not see any of the fortifications along the canyon. This red rock dam was built during the same time but historians do not know the purpose of this dam.
We saw some places where the emigrants on the California and Mormon Trails camped and sites of Pony Express Stations. Brigham Young, who was seriously ill, and his party camped below this formation called Sentinel Rock. Members of Young’s party climbed to the top of the hills behind Sentinel Rock to pray for him.
After we left Echo Canyon we traveled a short distance on the Weber Canyon Route-Hasting Cutoff to view a rock formation called Devil’s Slide – a pretty impressive formation.
I-84 is now beside this formation but in 1846 there was no room for a wagon road through the narrows; the canyon floor was a frothing, boulder choked stream channel edged by cliffs and steep talus. Despite the obvious danger, two wagon companies tried to pass through Weber Canyon. The larger train lost a wagon and a yoke of oxen.
We continued our tour of the Hastings Cutoff a few days later. The Trails turns into Main Canyon outside of Henefer, UT and then into East Canyon. There was a pull off where you could walk out to the original trail – we were surprised that you could still see the wagon ruts.
We stopped at a couple of other places where you can see the wagon ruts and where the emigrants camped by springs.
Mormon Flats is now a state operated group campground where you can hike on the actual trail.
We hiked a short distance to where the Mormon militia built more stone breastworks on either side of the creek. Here we could easily see the militia fortifications and were able to hike up the hill to get a closer look.
The trails travel up Emigrant Canyon from Mormon Flats toward Big Mountain Pass. At Big Mountain Pass the emigrants got their first look at the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Unfortunately, because of smoke from fires in Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, we couldn’t see very far – still an impressive view.
Reaching the valley was very dangerous for the pioneers. The wagons, with high centers of gravity, could not switchback down for fear of toppling over. Also, oxen could not balance nor wagons brake effectively when traveling “sidling” along a hill. Most emigrants locked their wheels with chains and skidded their wagons straight down the mountainside. You can still see the skid marks going straight down.
We drove down the highway which, thankfully, does switchback down the mountain and stopped where the trail crosses the highway. We cannot imagine skidding a wagon down this steep slope.
Little Mountain posed another steep climb for weary travelers and livestock. Here emigrants had to double and triple team their oxen for the ascent, then lock their wheels to skid down the other side. The white marker on the downhill side marks where the original trail was located.
It is hard to imagine sitting in our modern vehicles how the emigrants managed to travel all this way by walking, covered wagon, and hand carts. The Mormon Trail stops at Salt Lake City but the California Trail and the Pony Express Trail continue on across Nevada.
At the bottom of Emigrant Canyon we stopped at the This Is The Place Heritage Park which commemorates the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Mormon tradition holds that when Brigham Young first gazed on the valley from this vicinity on July 25, 1847, he experienced a heavenly vision that led him to declare, “It is enough. This is the right place.”
The area in front of the visitor’s center had concrete “wagon ruts”.
The park includes a Heritage Village with original pioneer-era buildings that were moved here from around the state. Some of the buildings had docents and historical interpreters who shared history and demonstrated early crafts and trades. The ladies at this house were spinning wool and weaving.
In the fenced yard around this house was a miniature pony colt named Lilly and her mom. Here one of the docents is playing with Lilly.
The park had an impressive display of hand carts. It is hard to imagine putting all your belongings in a cart like this and pulling it from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City – over 1260 miles.
We stopped at the Blacksmith Shop and talked to the two gentlemen who showed us the kind of things they make. They did all kinds of iron work – hooks, nails, tools, chandeliers – but they did not make horseshoes or shoe horses.
We also stopped at the Deseret News Print Shop where a printer and his helper were cleaning the press. The printer apologized that he could not show us how the printer worked as they had to wait until the cleaning solvent dried before they could print. He did explain how the press worked and gave us a copy of the June 15, 1850, Vol. 1, No. 1 issue of the newspaper that he had printed on the printer the day before.
The National Pony Express Monument is at the entrance to the park. The sculpture of a relay rider changing horses by Avard Fairbanks was beautiful.
We really enjoyed our stay in this area and the auto tour of the California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express Trails. We learned a lot about these trails and the difficulties the emigrants faced on their trek west.