[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 5: US 6 in Utah (Nevada State Line to Delta; Millard County)

Go to: Part 4 | Main US 6 page | Part 6

(A note for the Utah roadgeeks in the audience: the standard Roadgap convention is to use the state postal code for state routes, e.g., UT 157. However, Utah state highways are often referred to locally with a U prefix, e.g., U-157, when they are not using the universal SR prefix. For the purposes of this section, I will use the U prefix for section headings, but Roadgap convention in the text.)

For the next four parts we will follow US 6 through Utah, its fourth longest highway officially at 374 miles. Only US 89, US 191 and I-15 (former US 91) are longer, and US 6 is partially co-routed with two of them (US 191 and I-15). Along the way it tracks most of the small communities that aren't the Salt Lake region, with the towns near Provo its largest population centres of note. West of Delta and Hinckley, it is just as uninhabited as some of the regions we explored in Nevada.

As discussed in Part 4, from its extension in 1937 to around 1954 US 6 entered Utah alone on a dirt alignment as the continuation of the Grand Central Highway from Ely. After 1954, when the US 6 route was fully paved, US 50 was moved from the US 40 routing and US 6 and US 50 entered Utah together from the Nevada state line. Some bypassed sections of the old US 6 dirt route still survive, marked by NAVTEQ as "Old 6 and 50" north of the modern route branching off just past the state line and rejoining US 6/50 near Sevier Lake; this road, notoriously bad even when it was ostensibly maintained state highway, is not safe for through travel and we will only mention it here. As a result, at that time US 6 and US 50 were corouted together throughout all of Utah and did not separate until Grand Junction, CO (Part 10).

During the construction of Interstate 70, Utah tried and failed to get AASHTO to adopt a routing from Denver more or less directly to Salt Lake City, which would have included some portions of US 6; AASHTO demurred and selected a more southern route to favour connections for Los Angeles which in many areas had no previously existing highway. In 1976, Utah gave up and moved US 50 to the new I-70, splitting from US 6 in Delta along the leftovers of UT 26, which was obliterated. US 50 will rejoin us when we join I-70 in Part 9.

Until 1977, Utah gave all its highways, even US highways and Interstate highways, a co-routed state highway number. For US 6, it was internally routed over UT 27 from the state line to Delta, then UT 26 from Delta to US 91 (later I-15) in Santaquin, then UT 1 for the section co-routed with US 91 to Spanish Fork, then UT 8 to the Colorado border. (UT 8 later became UT 105 from 1945 to 1965; subsequently the designation was resurrected for the portion from the US 89 connection at Moark Jct to the Colorado border, and the stub from Spanish Fork to Moark Jct became an extension to UT 26. In 1969, Utah made this more confusing by making it a spur of UT 27 instead.) After the construction of Interstate 70, UT 4 carried it from near Green River to the state line.

In 1977, Utah reorganized its route numbering system and US 6 was legislatively defined along its current route from the Nevada state line to I-15 in Santaquin, then I-15 leaving Spanish Fork to I-70, where the legislative definition ends. To this day Utah does not consistently sign US 6 east of Green River.

Millard County, UT

We start in Millard county, named for Millard Fillmore, thirteenth President of the United States (and, symmetrically, Fillmore is the county seat). Delta is its largest city, which we will reach in this part. Established in 1852, the county has 12,503 residents [2010]. Flooded in antiquity, the region is rich in fossils; trilobite fossils are relatively common in the Wheeler Shale west of Delta. Today, the county economy is primarily agricultural.

Much of Millard county (and US 6's routing) into Juab county (Part 6) is covered by the Sevier Desert, consisting of the southeast reaches of the Great Basin. Sevier Desert and (now dry) Sevier Lake are named for the 383 mile Sevier River, another endorheic Great Basin watershed. The name either comes from a corruption of rio severo ("wild river" or "harsh river," depending on your translation) or the Paiute Indian term for the river, seve'uu. Heavy use of the upper river for irrigation has rendered the downstream Sevier Lake intermittent. It is the longest river entirely in the state of Utah.

Entering Utah on the former UT 27. There is a gas station here at the state line. You probably should use it. We will travel through desolate territory until we reach Hinckley, 83 miles distant.
EB US 6/EB US 50. Also notice (in the background) Utah's older convention for distance signage using interchangeable slats. It's actually a clever idea instead of making purpose-built unified larger signs, but these older ones are not MUTCD-compliant and are slowly dying out.
Shortly after the border is U-159. UT 159 functions as a cutoff for eastbound traffic in the Snake Valley, connecting to UT 21 which is the continuation of NV 487 from Baker (Part 4).
UT 159, prior to 1969, was applied to an old alignment of UT 26 between Eureka and Elberta (Part 6). This was bypassed by 1931; US 6, co-routed over it in 1937, always occupied the newer alignment.

The distinctive beehive state highway shield is one of a great number of beehive-themed markers, shields and seals used in Utah, but the use does not (especially) come from the insect or the beekeeping industry. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was a Mason and adopted the Freemason symbolism of the beehive as a representation of industry and cooperative work. In the Book of Mormon, the Jaredite tribe made a miraculous 344-day voyage across the ocean to North America, bringing with them the "deseret" (the honey bee, in the book's language). When Brigham Young and the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake valley in 1847, they chose the "deseret" as the name of their new home, and the beehive as their symbol of the work that would be required to make the desert bloom. Mark Twain commented upon it in Roughing It, saying, "The Mormon crest was easy. And it was simple, unostentatious and it fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a Golden Beehive, with all the bees at work."

The old US 6/US 50 roadbed diverged left here (instead of right along the state highway) and then branched off a few miles north at a now unmarked intersection. The northbound road actually continues as far north as Wendover. Again, I do not recommend these routes for passenger cars and we will not travel them here.

Mile 5.
The terrain is much the same as what we left in Nevada, with rolling hills and mesas. It will become more dramatic shortly.
Mile 17, as we begin a slow ascent to our last major summit.
EB US 6/EB US 50.
The hills almost develop a stepped, ziggurat-like look.
A watching rock dome near the summit.
Summit, not named, 6,280'.
Mile 24.
The descent is harsher and shows evidence of much more geologically recent activity, including several shredded escarpments.
Leaving the mountains behind into the alkali flats near dry Sevier Lake.
EB US 6/EB US 50.
The territory flattens out considerably.
Mile 43.
Sevier Lake to the southeast. This was dry at the time and is usually dry because of the water usage from the upper Sevier River. It is now typically just a large alkali flat.
Leaving the lake, with the old dirt alignment rejoining us and running parallel.
Mile 57.
EB US 6/EB US 50.
Through the shrubbery and low-lying salt vegetation. This portion was just lousy with bugs when I tried to photograph.
Mile 78.
Approaching the outskirts of town.
Entering Hinckley.
Hinckley was first settled by Erastus F. Pack, one of the sons of John Pack, an original member of the Mormon Council of Fifty established by Joseph Smith as a bridge between representational democracy and theocracy (which Smith termed "theodemocracy") and an early Mormon missionary. Pack's settlement was part of a much larger ward until 1891 when it became the Hinckley Ward, named for Ira N. Hinckley, an early LDS leader who constructed Cove Fort between Fillmore and Beaver as a way station for travellers on the Mormon Corridor. In those days, Fillmore was the capitol of the Utah Territory until 1855, when Salt Lake City was adopted due to its larger population. Hinckley was the grandfather of former Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley. The town's population is 696 [2010].
Hinckley's primary business is farming, and that's pretty obvious as we drive through.
Junction U-257 (with a weird US 50 shield). UT 257 is a small local route between Hinckley and UT 21 in Milford and Beaver county to the south.
Distance signage leaving Hinckley.
Crossing the Sevier River, the lifeblood of much of this region's farming industry.
Entering Delta.
At the time of Hinckley's settlement, the future Delta was an area of nearby desert flatlands, advantageous because of their level terrain but not possible to irrigate with the immediately available water sources. Other than an existing rail line and siding, then called Aiken of unclear provenance, there was little else to recommend the site.

Nevertheless, in 1902, the Deseret Irrigation Company filed water claims on the Sevier River's surplus and looked for backers to construct a dam, the idea being that the dam could then feed canals and irrigation channels. The Millard Stake presidency hired James A. Melville to investigate its feasibility and after Melville determined the concept was sound and the water rights were secure, the new Melville Irrigation Company was organized and new settlers enticed to work the land with free town lots.

The post office, however, would not call the new town Melville; they cited its similarity to Millville in Cache county. The town tried again in 1908 with the name of Burtner, named to curry favour with the railroad after J. H. Burtner, general passenger agent for the Salt Lake line; the US Postal Service was satisfied, but the railroad division superintendent disapproved of the change in station name. The name Delta was then selected in 1913, after its proximity to Lake Bonneville and the Sevier River delta. The present city has a population of 3,436 [2010].

Utah has a curious grid system (note the street sign with 2000 WEST) which is efficient but terribly confusing to outsiders. Streets on the grid are named as if they were lines of latitude or longitude relative to the city centre, which is the origin. The first east-west street south of the city centre is 100 South, the first north-south street west of the city center is 100 West, and so on. If a street curves, the grid line changes (so a street curving south to continue east-west might move from, say, 200 South to 400 South), and some street names are overlaid (South Temple in Salt Lake is a name overlaid on what would be 100 North). This leads to interesting addresses like 3400 East 2000 South, which fixes the position on the grid but can baffle a neophyte. Utahns make it worse by saying things like 1st South, which is a shorthand for 100 South (so multiply the ordinal by 100), and since the grid is relative to city centres entering a new city will suddenly change the coordinates. Still, it beats addresses like 3400 Maple Street (where the heck is Maple Street?) once you know how the grid is laid out.

Distance signage looking west, with 153 miles to Ely in the last Part.
Crossing the railroad as we enter Delta.
Downtown Delta, UT.
At the edge of town US 6 and US 50 split. This is the junction with old UT 26 and the end of UT 27.
US 50 leaves along the south leg of old UT 26 towards Fillmore and I-70. The north leg is signed for Salt Lake (City) because of the later junction with former US 91/modern I-15.
So we'll take the north leg.
Distance signage leaving town.
Continue to Part 6
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