[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 7: US 6 in Utah (Interstate 15 to US 89; Utah County)

Go to: Part 6 | Main US 6 page | Part 8

For this part we reach (and co-route briefly with) Interstate 15, the modern inheritor of the Arrowhead Trail. Interstate 15 is one of the major north-south arterials in the western United States, starting in San Diego at Interstate 8 and reaching the Canadian border near Sweetgrass, MT at AB 4 for a total of 1,434 miles. It is a major throughfare (and sometimes the only major throughfare) in San Diego, the California Inland Empire (see Old Highway 395 for the routing of US 395 that it replaced in those regions), Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Butte. More than 70% of Nevadans and 79% of Utahns live in counties where I-15 is the primary Interstate.

Prior to this, though, the route had a long history dating back to at least 1910 when it was the Arrowhead Trail, the first all-weather road to connect Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas. Built in various stages around 1910-3, the route was proven definitely in 1915 when race driver Charles Henry Bigelow drove the route repeatedly to publicize its viability. In those days the Arrowhead Trail took a longer route via modern US 66 from San Bernardino to Needles and US 95 to Las Vegas (see our US 95 exhibit for a substantial portion of this routing), and used what is today known as the Arrow Route and Arrow Highway from San Bernardino into Los Angeles as shown in Old Highway 395 Part 15. In 1925, San Bernardino county completed the Silver Lake Cutoff (which is still in use today and is a great alternate around the no-pass section of US 395 through Adelanto, CA), saving nearly 90 miles on the route to Vegas, and in 1926 the portion from Barstow, CA north to Salt Lake became U.S. Highway 91 during the first designation of United States Highways with an additional extension to then-US 87 in Great Falls, MT.

In 1938 US 91 was extended all the way to the Canadian border at Coutts, the present terminus of I-15. On the south end California routed it in 1947 to Long Beach, CA, but via a new routing mostly following what was then CA 18 (see our CA 30/18/259 exhibit for more on this history of this routing) to the famous Long Beach traffic circle at US 101A -- the very same traffic circle US 6 itself terminated at until 1964. The old Arrow Hwy ceased to be state highway but to this day is an important regional route in its own right.

US 91's high traffic volumes made it a logical future Interstate corridor, though for some reason when first routed in 1957 Interstate 15 started at Interstate 10 in San Bernardino; US 91 and US 395 still proceeded south from there, US 91 to the Los Angeles beach communities and US 395 to San Diego. Both of these southern routings were by now freeway or expressway for virtually all of their length and their heavy usage, ironically, contributed to the US highway designation's decline. In 1964, the California Great Renumbering dismembered routes wholesale in that state, including US 6 (see Part 1), and left US 91 as only the freeway stub from Long Beach to the US CA 60/US 395 junction in Riverside, CA. This became modern CA 91, which is still a major (and majorly aggravating) freeway running far in excess of its built capacity at virtually all hours. In 1969, I-15 was extended to San Diego, truncating US 395 south of its modern terminus in Hesperia, CA; California moved the I-15 routing west in 1974 and created I-15E, which became modern Interstate 215 and includes the portions of the former US 91 freeway in north Riverside and San Bernardino city proper. (For a period of time, there was also an I-15W in Pocatello, ID connecting I-15 to what was then I-80N. I-80N subsequently became I-84; I-15W became the western I-86.)

The construction of Interstate 15 made US 91 discontinuous by building over it in many rural areas, and in 1971 Utah petitoned AASHTO to truncate US 91 in their state. By 1974, Utah, California, Nevada and Arizona devised a collective changeover, with US 91 eliminated completely as a US highway in Nevada, Arizona and California -- although CA 91 and NV 604 remained state highway, the routing through the Arizona Strip was completely decommissioned in favour of the Interstate -- and the southern end truncated at Brigham City, UT, where I-15 was built over an old alignment of US 191 instead and US 91 proceeded from there into Idaho. In 1980, Montana eliminated the US 91 designation and Idaho truncated the north end at its concurrence with US 26 in Idaho Falls, reducing the once mighty highway to barely a tenth of its greatest extent. In fact, the ultimate insult is paid by its auxiliary US 191, which is almost as long as US 91 used to be. (We'll reach US 191 in the next Part.)

In this segment, we pass through Payson and Spanish Fork on the southeast arc of US 6's "looping" routing in Utah, partially cosigned with US 89. This section of US 6, from Spanish Fork to Green River (Part 9), has the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous roads in the country -- 519 fatal and serious injury crashes were recorded on this stretch by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1996 to 2008. Its hairpin turns and high truck volumes made it an area of intense traffic enforcement, and expansion is limited by the unfavourable terrain and the expense of construction. We will promise to drive safely.

Fork 1: Old US 6 in Spanish Fork and Payson (U-198)

Prior to I-15, of course, US 6 (and in those days US 50) had a separate routing; in fact, US 6 wasn't routed on I-15 until 1995. By then US 50 and US 91 were long gone, but between 1937 and 1974 at least this was US 6/50/91, and US 6/50 until 1976. UT 198 was designated over the old alignment.

First UT 198 trailblazer, after the I-15 separation.
I-15 curves off to the west. Remember this junction; we'll look at it from the freeway in the subsequent Fork.
Entering Spring Lake.
Spring Lake was originally known for its nearby springs that fed its lake and early settlers in the region who first set down holdings around 1850. In 1852 it was bought by settler Joseph E. Johnson who built an adobe fort in the settlement and named it Spring Lake Villa, from which the town drew its name. The lake, fed by the springs, was historically shallow but was dredged out in 2006 for increased capacity and stocked with fish. The modern town has 458 residents [2010].

Spring Lake was also the birthplace of Ute leader Antonga Black Hawk, who led sixteen Ute, Paiute, Apache and Navajo tribes against the Mormon settlers between 1865 and 1872 in the Black Hawk War. The Utes, expelled to the Uintah Reservation in 1864, were apopletic at their mistreatment by the Mormon settlers and the starvation conditions in Uintah. In 1865, Black Hawk formed a band on the reservation and in their first of 150-odd skirmishes killed thirty-two settlers and stole over 2,000 cattle and horses. Despite their efforts, however, the population of the Utes shrunk to less than half as the Saints and the territorial Nauvoo Legion, fearing for their safety and their pleas unheeded by the federal government, indiscriminately massacred even those who had no part in the Indian raids. For that matter, profiteers such as Isaac Potter even led some nominally Ute raids to steal cattle; his throat was slit in revenge by a Mormon lynch mob in 1867.

In 1866, Black Hawk was badly wounded at a raid in Gravelly Ford when he was shot in the stomach. (His lieutenant Tamaritz was also struck, but survived to continue to conduct raids for at least two years more.) Falling ill with tuberculosis and fearing the worst for his people, he sued for peace with the settlers and the federal government became involved. However, despite months of negotiations with the assembled chiefs, the fighting did not stop; Tamaritz himself did not surrender until August 1868. Black Hawk succumbed to his infirmities in 1870, and was buried in Spring Lake.

In 1871 new territorial Governor John Shaffer put an end to Brigham Young's influence and arrested him for cohabitation, disbanded the territorial militia, and moved Army troops into Fort Douglas in Salt Lake. The Utes were once again banished to the Uintah Reservation and the last white casualty of the war occurred in September 1872. When Black Hawk's remains were found in 1911, they were temporarily disinterred to a museum but later returned to their original resting place. As Black Hawk had feared, the steep decline of the Ute population continued after the War and in 2008 they only numbered 3,120.

Mile 4.
Junction U-178 as we enter Payson (not signed at the time these pictures were taken). UT 178 is a linking connector between I-15 and Payson. The road continues as East 800 South towards Payson Canyon.
Payson's original name was Peteetneet, after a local Ute chief, when settled in 1850. However, residents chose to name it Payson after settler James Pace when the city was incorporated in 1853, alleging no one would be able to spell or say it. The Post Office must have agreed, or at least did not complain, but Chief Peteetneet is still honoured by a monument at the Peteetneet Museum and Cultural Arts Centre on the site of Payson's first school. The hometown of singer Jewel and animator/producer Don Bluth, its population rapidly increased in the 1990s due to the local real estate boom. Presently the population is 18,938 [2012].
UT 198/old US 6 takes a sudden right turn in Payson to start travelling due east once again.
Junction U-115 at Main Street. This long-lived small local route connects Payson and Spanish Fork by an alternate routing through Benjamin, terminating at UT 156.
The old Arrowhead Trail, and probably US 91 and potentially US 6/50 for some unknown brief period, continued north up Main Street to a local road still signed as Arrowhead Trail or Arrowhead Trail Rd. It isn't clear when this alignment was abandoned or if it ever had a US 6 shield, so I will mark it for reference only; however, if we use UT 115's 1931 designation as the date of realignment, this would have been well before US 6.
Through Payson.
Mile 7.
Entering Salem.
Salem was first settled in 1851 as Pond Town, though the Indians had of course been there for some time, and previously called it Summer Spring in the Ute language because of the shaded local springs that were a reliable source of water even in the hot months. Nearby Peteetneet (Payson) was more congenial, however, and most of the families moved there until 1856 when new arrivals bought out the original claim, including one Lyman Curtis, bodyguard of Joseph Smith and one of the original nine riders into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The new town was named for his hometown of Salem, MA, because of his contributions to the new town and his vigourous defense of it during the Black Hawk War. The Salem Canal brought water from the Spanish Fork River to the town in 1869, and the Strawberry Valley Irrigation Project (Part 6) reached the region in 1910. Agriculture is still a significant part of the local economy. The town was incorporated in 1886 and has 6,423 residents [2010].

Salem is also infamous as the site of the Dream Mine, where Mormon bishop John Hyrum Koyle dreamed in 1894 that the angel Moroni appeared and told him of an ancient Nephite gold mine in the western Wasatch Range. Koyle convinced enough people of the prophecy that he was actually able to sell claims and dig a deep test shaft, but no gold was ever discovered. The cost was such that Bishop Koyle was actually summoned to a formal church trial where he finally repudiated the prophecy, but his followers continued the vigil anyway. Renamed the Relief Mine, to this day it is kept open and maintained in the belief that Koyle's prophecy will be fulfilled, the largest operational non-producing mine in the world.

Through Salem.
Mile 9.
Entering Spanish Fork.
In 1776, Spanish Franciscans Fr Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Fr Francisco Atanasio Dominguez visited the region to plot a new trail from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the California missions. They discovered a river in a canyon with good land, and routed the trail there; the indigenous Utes, of course, were already well aware of the river and regularly fished it. Despite its advantages, however, the trail seems not to have seen much use except by fur trappers, and was merely labeled the Spanish Fork by explorer John C. Fremont in his 1845 survey.

In 1850, the Mormons arrived in Spanish Fork Canyon. The land and water availability were still just as favourable as in the days of Frs Velez y Dominguez, and by 1852 100 families already resided in the nearby settlement of Palmyra. After a fort was built in 1854, more settlers moved to the town and in 1855 it was incorporated as the city of Spanish Fork. Subsequently many foreign immigrants came to the region, most notably Icelanders but also Italians; the Strawberry Valley Irrigation Project reached it as well in 1919, further stabilizing agriculture and the local water supply. In the future, the Spanish Fork River will provide power as well as water: the US Bureau of Reclamation is planning an 8-megawatt hydroelectric plant at the mouth of Diamond Canyon. The modern city has a population of 36,277 [2012].

Junction U-164. UT 164 incorporates the northern half of the Arrowhead Trail Rd we left at the UT 115 junction but then diverges off to intersect I-15. In this respect it is analogous to UT 178 to the south.
Mile 12, passing through town.
Junction U-156; U-198 turns right (and so do we). UT 156 continues through downtown Spanish Fork up to I-15 very near modern US 6, terminating UT 115 heading back east in the process.
Mile 14, passing by new residential tracts on the east side of the city.
Finally, approaching modern US 6.
END UT 198.
I ended up spending the night in Provo, where everything was closed on Friday night. It took me almost 10 miles to find any kind of dinner (which was Subway). However, the balloons taking off in the morning were lovely.

Fork 2: Modern US 6/Interstate 15

Let's rewind back to Santaquin for the modern routing. This portion of Interstate 15 was built in the late 1960s; the portion from Spanish Fork north, after the US 6 concurrency, was upgraded in 2012 as part of the I-15 CORE project.

You saw this region back in the second image on this page; now you see it from the Interstate. Possibly as a function of its late realignment, US 6 occupies a separate pole for its reassurance shield.
Distance signage leaving Santaquin.
Mile 246 (Interstate 15).
Junction U-115 again (exit 250).
Junction U-164 again (exit 253).
NB I-15/EB US 6.
Mile 256 and advance signage for the US 6 separation.
Separation (exit 257).
The interchange is a little screwy; U-156 meets us here coming up from downtown Spanish Fork. We continue straight on parallel with I-15 ...
... to this split, where the actual separation occurs.

US 6

No, thank you!

On the Spanish Fork US 6 bypass.
EB US 6.
Mile 174. (This includes the miles logged on I-15.)
Distance signage leaving Spanish Fork.
Once again into the western Wasatch Range, along the course of the Spanish Fork River and Canyon.
Junction U-198, where our forks merge.
Shortly after, we intersect US 89 in Moark Junction. Ostensibly this is the linkage of three highways, but the US 6 realignment split the two, and UT 198 and US 89 don't actually meet. The name may have been borrowed from Moark, MO, named for its proximity to Arkansas ("Mo-Ark").

US 6/US 89

U.S. Highway 89 is another major north-south highway, linking seven national parks in the Mountain West including the famous Grand Canyon. An original 1926 highway, until 1992 it actually reached both borders all the way to Nogales, Mexico and near Babb, MT at AB 2, to which it was extended in 1934. In 1971, Arizona finished Interstate 17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix and, in 1978, the famous "metric" Interstate 19 from Tucson to Nogales (we reach I-19 on the way back). By this point US 89 was almost totally superfluous south of Flagstaff, being entirely routed over other existing highways except for the remnant AZ 89 between Wickenburg and Williams, and ADOT truncated it. Modern US 89A traverses an old US 89 alignment between Bitter Springs, AZ and Kanab, UT; there is another old 89A in Arizona that is now AZ 89A.

North of Flagstaff, however, much of US 89 is unmolested except for brief concurrencies with I-70 and I-15 and in Utah it retains its preeminence as the main drag in most of the communities it serves. Connecting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, it enters Idaho and then Wyoming, where it reaches Grand Teton Nat'l Park and finally Yellowstone, where it temporarily becomes unnumbered park road (see also US 20). Entering Montana, it connects to the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road as seen in The Shining and the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner, and finally reaches the Canadian border. Today it is still a sizeable 1,252 miles.

We are now signed for Price (the next Part), with US 89 coming down from Springville. This was old UT 8.
Not sure what's up with the non-MUTCD slanted arrows on the US 89 sign package, but they make the point.
EB US 6/SB US 89, in the Spanish Fork Canyon through the western Wasatch.
I told you they're really watching this road now.
Although co-routed with US 89, which was the earlier highway, the Mile markers continue for US 6 (Mile 179).
Climbing along the Canyon as we prepare to crest the Wasatch.
Rumble strip in the centre line for driver awareness.
Passing above the remnants of Thistle.
In antiquity Thistle, named for the weed, was part of an Indian trade route; in fact, Chief Peteetneet himself led parties through it every spring and fall, and Frs Dominguez y Escalante were known to have passed by the future town site during their 1776 expedition with their Ute Indian guides. In 1848 James Pace himself was one of the original Mormon settlers in the region, fresh from Nauvoo, Illinois; his descendants remained in the town to the fifth generation until its demise.

In the aftermath of the Black Hawk War the remaining Ute inhabitants were forcibly relocated in the early 1870s and the town of Thistle was established in 1878 when the Utah and Pleasant Valley Railway was built, serving the local coal mines. The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) purchased it in 1882 when the Railway went bust, changed it from narrow gauge to standard and connected it to their Denver line. Thistle thus served to service the steam locomotives, offered meal service until the advent of the dining car, and maintained helper locomotives for the steep ascent. In 1917, the town had 600 residents and several service businesses in addition to the railroad.

Gradually the steam locomotive gave way to the modern and more powerful diesel locomotives, which also required less maintenance, and Thistle shrank. After the post office closed in 1974, most of the residents left and only a few families remained, including the fifth-generation Pace descendants, to maintain their homes and ranches.

In retrospect, the geology around Thistle had long been questionable. Not only was it the confluence of the two forks of the Spanish Fork River (Thistle Creek and Soldier Creek), but it also marks the junction of two major cross-mountain routes formed by both the Spanish Fork River and, to the east, the Price River (Part 8). The steep grades, long history of landslides and relatively sandy soil made it an odd choice for building the railroad upon, but the subtleties of the terrain were apparently lost on the U&PVR and D&RGW at the time; while there were several reports of unstable ground downstream from Thistle for years, damage to the track was not substantial enough to justify rerouting it, and nothing was done. In a like fashion the early roads in the region were developed near the existing tracks, and became US 50 and subsequently US 6.

Such was the backdrop when the remnants of Hurricane Olivia caused record-breaking levels of precipitation in the autumn and winter between 1982 and 1983. When the snow melted in the spring, the mountains became saturated with the water and the ground visibly started to slide in real-time. On April 13, 1983, both US 6 and the rail line were closed: the tracks were buckling as trains passed, and a Utah Highway Patrol officer was thrown into the roof of his cruiser as the road shifted beneath him. Three days later the tracks were completely buried and the day after that, the landslide blocked the Spanish Fork River, which immediately started to rise. The remaining inhabitants of Thistle were evacuated, and by April 18 the town was completely submerged. On the 19th, US 6 itself was under 50 feet of soil as the entire side of the mountain continued to shift down at over three feet an hour. Residents in the city of Spanish Fork were told to be prepared to evacuate as the impounded lake grew to nearly 200 feet in depth; they would have less than 45 minutes' warning if the water broke through the landslide dam.

The scope of the disaster could really only be appreciated from the air, as the 1983 USGS photograph at right demonstrates. Governor Scott Matheson appealed for federal aid, and President Reagan issued Utah's first presidential disaster area declaration. Utah installed a pumping station to start reducing the water level and by autumn had successfully dug tunnels to drain what was then called "Lake Thistle." The second of these tunnels still continues to pass river water through today; the slide was simply far too large to remove. While the state worked on stabilizing the water level, D&RGW railroad crews graded a new path and a 3,000' tunnel and rapidly constructed a new track alignment, opening on July 3, but not reconstructing the lower-volume damaged branches.

In the meantime, US 6/89 was closed for over eight months, cutting off much of southeastern Utah from the rest of the state and devastating the rural economy. Cars mobbed the road the day before it was scheduled to open on December 31, 1983, and UHP gave up and opened the highway early. Several unstable temporary cuts had to be realigned afterwards and the completed realignment was not finished until November 1984. In all, the direct and indirect economic costs of the Thistle slide were estimated as high as $400 million ($947m in 2014 dollars), making it the most costly landslide in the history of the United States.

Years later, the displaced residents of Thistle sued the railroad, claiming negligence for failing to notice the ground conditions; after a successful appeal, they were awarded $1.1 million in compensation in 1993. The D&RGW eventually merged to become the Southern Pacific in 1988, and is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad Central Corridor.

Lake Thistle formed several remnant ponds even after the drainage; here is one. The reddish brown slide material is still visible to this day. As a postscript, another landslide occurred in 1998, second in size only to the 1983 slide, but the new rail and highway routings were not affected. The slide area continues to move intermittently even now.
The realigned US 6/89 cuts through Billies Mountain, named after early settler William Johnson. This new alignment is also more suitable for the substantial truck traffic it still carries.
Mile 185 and another view of the valley floor and slide aftermath. In 2009, the state built a rest area along this section of US 6 with views of the old town.

US 6

US 89 separation, south to Manti. We continue alone towards Price.
Continue to Part 8
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