The Wasatch Behind: Utah's own Pioneer Day
Today is the 24th of July, Utah's Pioneer Day," I reminded Uncle Spud. "One hundred and sixty years ago today, the first European settlers came to Utah with Brigham Young."
"I know," he said. "I was there."
"Don't give me that crap," I insisted. "Nobody lives to be that old."
"Clean living, fresh mountain air, a clear conscience, and lots of onions and Tabasco sauce are the secret to living forever," he smiled.
"Oh good grief," I moaned. "And I'll bet you're going to tell me all about it."
"The Salt Lake Valley was beautiful when we first got there," he began. "The stories say that it was a desert wasteland, but that isn't true. The first group of pioneers had to stomp the grass down to set-up their tents. It is true that there were not many trees in the valley, but the whole place was covered with a thick carpet of sod."
"Why no trees?" I asked.
"They burned every fall with the grass," he said. "If lightning didn't ignite the dry grass, our native American friends did. It kept the ecosystem clean and healthy. New grass sprouted every spring and fires kept the sage and junipers from taking over the valley."
"If the Salt Lake Valley was so great, why weren't there any Indians living there?" I asked.
"Most of the Indians were living in Utah Valley," he said. "Utah Valley was a garden."
"Father Escalante called Utah Valley a garden in 1776," he said. "Escalante sent a report to the Spanish governor of New Mexico, suggesting that most Spanish settlements in New Mexico be uprooted and moved to Utah Valley. He said the valley was beautiful, with rich soil, tall grass, and clean water, and the lake was teeming with trout and waterfowl. He said there was no place in New Mexico like it."
"So why didn't the Spaniards move to Provo?" I asked.
"It was too far from New Mexico," he said.
"So why didn't Brigham Young settle in Utah Valley?"
"Too many Indians," Uncle Spud smiled. "It took a few years for the Mormons to outnumber the natives and push them out."
"So where did the myth get started that the first Utah pioneers settled a harsh, desert valley?" I asked.
"They weren't stupid," he said. "If they started telling everyone that Utah valleys were good places for homesteading, other people might want to settle there too. Calling it a desert convinced most other pioneers to go on to California and Oregon."
"So why isn't there a carpet of sod in the Salt Lake Valley now?" I asked.
"The settler's cows ate it all, and the climate is much dryer now than it was in the 1840s," the Spudster said. "It used to rain in Utah in the olden days. I know it's hard to believe, but water actually fell from the sky."
"I've heard about that," I said. "So were Carbon and Emery counties garden spots, too?"
"No," he said. "Castle Valley really was, and is, a desert. One of the early pioneer surveyors said the only possible use for Castle Valley was a hunting ground for Indians and a place to hold the rest of the world together. It was one of the last places in Utah to be settled. Nobody wanted it."
"But we got the last laugh," I giggled. "The Wasatch Behind turned out to be the best place in the state. We are at the hub of everything. From Carbon County, we can change our scenery and environment, four different ways, in just 30 minutes of travel, depending on which direction we choose to go. We have the lakes, pines, and quakies of Scofield and Huntington Canyon to the west, Nine Mile Canyon to the North, the red desert of Buckhorn Wash and the San Rafael Swell to the south, and the Book Cliffs and Cedar Mountain to the East. There is no better place anywhere for a splendid variety of outdoor scenery and recreation."
"Shhh," Uncle Spud hissed. "Lets do like Brigham Young and tell people that this valley is an economic, social, and recreational wasteland. That way everyone will go to Moab and leave us alone."
"I'll drink to that," I whispered as I poured the sparkling diet Dr. Pepper.