It’s been almost a full year since I drove away from the Salt Lake City area to return to my former and current home in Phoenix, Arizona. During this year, I have longed for a return to “my mountains” and the canyons and trails that occupied so many of my weekends when I lived there….and while I haven’t actually made the drive or taken a flight to make it back up there yet, I have visited it often in my mind and through the medium of the hundreds and thousands of images that I made while I was there.
I just made a rough count of my photo library, and if it’s anywhere near correct, I went on hikes or exploratory excursions into the Wasatch Mountains at least 140 times during my 3.75 years of living in the Salt Lake area. I forgot (I don’t know how!!) my camera on one occasion, but it was with me on the other 99.21% of those hikes. And, of those 140 ventures into the mountains and canyons in my “back-yard,” I visited Little Cottonwood Canyon at least 27 times…sometimes hiking only the first half, other times just the second half, sometimes hiking to a specific spot on the winter stream to capture images of the magical ice patterns and formations, and on other occasions hiking from one end to the other and then exploring further into the area beyond what was considered part of the formal trail…further away from the tracks and traces of people, into what we might consider the “wilderness,” both figuratively and literally, as certain areas of this section of the Wasatch Mountains had been designated official Wilderness Areas by the federal government.
The western-most trail-head to Little Cottonwood Trail is located at the eastern-most end of the parking-lot for the Temple Quarry nature trail….and it was roughly a 15 minute drive from my home…. I visited the canyon during all seasons, as you can see from the three galleries…Spring and Summer in the first, Fall in the second, and magical Winter in the third.
Having lived in the urban desert of Arizona for more than 20 years before moving to Utah, it was amazing and wonderful to my mountain-loving soul to find myself is such an environment…every vista made my heart soar…and near every glance around made me want to capture its image for safekeeping against a day when I might not be able to view it again. And…it was a thrill to bring those photographs back home and look at them again on the computer…and then share them with you here on the blog….so you might recognize some, or many of these images.
And finally, the beauty and magic of Winter in the Wasatch Mountains…Little Cottonwood Canyon viewed from afar and from very close. While it was often incredibly cold, I enjoyed being out and in the canyon at this time of year. It was so captivating visually, that even with freezing fingers, I stayed out there for several hours at a time, slowly walking the trail, perching precariously over the ice-cold stream, and climbing over boulders in the forest and in some portions of the winter dry stream-bed (most of the water being captured upstream to be piped into town for drinking water).
While this post is for everyone to enjoy, I brought these images together specifically for one of my dear blog friends, George Weaver, at She Kept a Parrot and The Fuzzy Foto. Ever since George and I stumbled across each other’s blogs, shortly after I moved to Utah almost five years ago, she has been a constant blog companion, following me on hikes through the mountains and canyons, and admiring the treasures of photos that I brought home to share. At first, she said the mountains looked fearsome, but she came to love them and looked forward to seeing them week after week. George came to especially enjoy Little Cottonwood Canyon…and we have agreed that if we were ever to meet in the Hereafter, it was going to be on the trail in this little piece of mountain heaven.
Thank you for your encouragement and companionship, George….sending you peaceful thoughts and a warm embrace.
After only a fifteen-minute drive from my neighborhood, I was off on another adventure into the woods of Little Cottonwood Canyon. You might have seen similar images over the last couple of years, but it’s that time of year again when the cold and water combine to make some beautiful and natural art in the out-of-doors. You can click on any image from the gallery to be taken to the slide presentation that has larger renditions of each photograph.
The man squatted on his haunches for a minute or two before he knelt into the brown grass and heavy leaves of late fall that covered this part of the forest. His several decades spoke loudly in the rubbing of bone and cartilage in his knees and the sharpness of the pain in his feet. He looked over the top of his glasses at the trees and rocks beyond, removing the field of his vision from behind the shading of the lenses so he could see the trees’ remaining leaves in their natural color, even if they were blurred in shape and substance. He had walked and run and hiked the miles and hours into the forest, remained on the trail for most of the morning, but now he wandered off a bit as the day progressed and as he felt the need for a slower pace.
About a quarter to half a mile back down the trail he thought he had heard a scream. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t short, but a medium scream that climbed in intensity in its short life and in its rebounding off the rocks and slabs of the canyon walls. He thought it was a scream. It might have been only an echo, though…an echo of a scream. He stopped and listened for what more might come after that middling scream and wondered from where and why it might have come.
The canyon road was somewhere off to his left as he had climbed forward, but now it was behind him as he sat there, facing into the woods and listening to what might be there or not. His thighs were trembling in staying in the position, or holding the position that he had been in for what must have been three and four or more minutes now. He thought he had heard a scream and wondered at the closeness of the road and the cars in their passing. Was it a girl or woman on the roadway on her bike, or was it a younger boy whose agony or surprise was too great to allow him the control of a more manly scream and instead came out like a girl’s in its purity of emotion, or was it someone on the trail or deeper in the canyon’s woods?
He tried to look past the clearing and through the near-winter bare trees toward where the base of the mountain had to be, those hundred or more yards in front of him. The man stood again and turned to look back down the grassy trail that he had followed to the clearing. He could still make out the larger and more often traveled dirt trail that ran this side of the rocky gorge that held the stream, but just barely, because of the rise of the ground and the vegetation that was in his way as he had gone this direction and that in following the more faint trail up and into the woods, the forested forever that ran up the canyon and brushed and hugged the side of the mountain that rose slowly and then thrust itself upward in a granite face with its contours and shadings from the light and the clouds and the darker woods beneath.
The man was still outside the clearing, down-trail of it by a dozen yards or more, but he could see that it had been used as a camp-site at some time in the past. He saw what appeared to be a tarp, curled and crumpled into a loose ball that had been blown and dragged by the wind and caught in the leaves and branches that lay in their forms across the wood’s floor. Pine needles and cones and fist and thumb-sized leaves were wrapped in the blueness of the tarp and faded it and caused it to almost bleed into the colors of the forest, so numerous they were in their covering of it.
The man looked behind him again and listened for the stream. He listened for the breeze in the trees and the stronger wind that might be up in the higher branches of the pines, that charging flow of air and breath that rides through the pine needles and cones and tight branches and sings among the heights and sometimes talks in a whisper tone of things seen and past and gone.
A truck was downshifted and rode the lower gears as it descended the canyon road, as it caught itself in a tighter turn and the gears of the transmission whined higher in their efforts to slow the weighted bulk of the truck. A bird lighted on a branch above him and hopped closer toward the berries on the higher branches, tentative steps and hops; he looked around and down and back as he climbed toward his prize.
The man turned around again and saw what might still be a sleeping bag at the far side of the clearing. There were leaves and dirt on it and he noticed…his abdominal muscles clamped down and a rush of adrenaline burst through his body…he was immediately scared and angry and his heart raced while sweat streamed down from his forehead and into his eyes…he wiped them furiously and looked again at the sleeping bag and saw strands of red-brown hair, clumps of it, tangled and matted and caught in the leaves and sticks, caught in the zipper of the bag and his heart was pounding in his chest and images flashed in his mind, he bent on his knees and leaned into the ground with his face into the grass now….no….
Someone else’s scent was on her neck, a blast of it came to him now as his animal mind listened to what might be around him, moving in his physical world as he raced into a past that had crumbled into ruins in years back and then….go away. Footsteps and echoes and tears in his eyes and fallen leaves in a warm desert air with a late sun shining into the night…she lied. The forest floor beneath him spoke of a present and he heard cars on the canyon roadway passing…rich earth, wet, decaying leaves pursuing their beauty and regeneration….cells breaking down again…thoughts coursing through his mind, bursting like unexpected thunder pounding into his consciousness…a pressure grew in his chest and made his shoulder hurt as he breathed deeply of the wet forest.
He leaned back, near upright, and tasted the salt of tears and thought of her beneath him, half smile and half pain in her closed eyes, holding his hips against hers and he saw shadows moving, pill bottles scattered on the floor and bed….capsules in a fold of the pillowcase and curtains moving with a breeze…. “Mommy!” came from the other room…. The pressure in his chest, numb shoulder, and tingling fingers brought him back…again the anger, fear, and cold. The man licked his lips and looked at the sleeping bag, he sought the hair again…leaves torn from their branches, bark shredded, splayed angrily against past thoughts…another motorcycle passed on the canyon road….
Sometimes we misplace our dreams, lose them, or forget that we hid them away…and sometimes they’re taken from us whole, from the first thoughts that spawned them to the final beat of the heart that sustained them….
***This is a work of fiction that was inspired by the finding of a long-abandoned campsite in the forested area of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, USA. Any resemblance of actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
If you are a newer visitor to this blog, you might not have seen the earlier posts that I shared on White Pine Lake…and if you have been visiting for a while, you might remember them – White Pine Lake in September, Toward White Pine Lake, and White Pine Lake Reflections. If you’re interested, you can click on each of the highlighted names to be taken back to the other posts, or you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the “White Pine Lake” category and find all of them together.
Because I’ve already shared much of what I know about the place and various photos that show you what it looks like getting to the lake, I’ll just share a few additional images that I made a couple of weeks ago. I will also add that each trip to the lake, once each year for the past three, has been a treasure…. I would suggest that there’s some kind of magic up there that infuses the heart with peace and the mind with wonder and amazement…but it’s not really magic…it’s a bit of mountain air and solitude and a mightily concentrated dose of Mother Nature shot straight into your veins………OK, so maybe it is magic, anyway……
I hope you enjoy this batch of Wasatch Mountain wonderfulness.
Snow is beautiful…and so is this…from June, 2010, Little Cottonwood Canyon trail…maybe you’ll enjoy a glimpse of Summer while you’re still in your Winter, wherever you are….
My older son and I noticed these ice climbers last Sunday as we were heading up the Little Cottonwood Canyon trail from the Mormon Temple Quarry near the mouth of the canyon. While I have never participated in the sport, I have found myself up near their location on the side of the mountain when I was collecting images for the posts Life on a Rock, Scale or perspective… and Little Cottonwood Canyon Vistas.
If you are having difficulty finding the three climbers, they are just to the right and below of the center of the above photograph…three climbers, two at the top, and one in blue toward the bottom of the icy cascade that is near the horizontal middle of the image.
You might remember the post from December, 2011, when I shared my first encounter/discovery of ice climbers in the Little Cottonwood Canyon. The location from I Found a Frozen Waterfall is probably another mile up into the canyon and on the same side of the mountain, or canyon wall.
The first four images were from the beginning of our hike, shortly after 9:00 a.m. …and before the sun had made its way over the canyon walls…and the last two photos were taken at the end of the hike, close to four hours later. While it was still an overcast day, the light had changed the appearance of the snow and canyon from the blue hues to the more gray and subdued colors that are not uncommon for our winter mountains.
My son, with his more-than-slightly younger ears, could hear the climbers’ picks smacking into the icy walls, just a “tick…tick……tick” from across the hundreds of yards that separated us, the sound traveling easily in the quiet mountain air, from however many feet above us.
I borrowed the title from my friend Melanie at Lemony Shots…a compelling photographer who has a discerning eye, one that finds the extraordinary in decrepit buildings and spiders’ webs and transporting images of dandelion seeds and gray mornings of peaceful solitude in empty fields…you’ll want to visit with her if you haven’t done so already….
This is something of a follow-up or companion piece to my recent post, Toward White Pine Lake. These are some of my favorite photos from this particular visit. I hope you’ll enjoy them, too….
And the last one with a human stuck in there for perspective’s sake…don’t know who you are, but thanks for being there….
The trail-head for White Pine Lake is located about 5.5 miles up into Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is just south and east of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. This is the same trail-head used to access the Red Pine Lakes, both Lower and Upper. The drainage, or tributary canyon/fork that leads to White Pine Lake is just east of the one leading to the Red Pine Lakes. You might remember my three earlier posts on Upper Red Pine Lake. You can refresh your memory by clicking here, here, and here to revisit those posts. The trail to White Pine Lake is just over four miles in length and has an elevation gain of a little more than 2,300 ft…the lake is situated at around 10,000 ft.
In his book, The Lady in the Ore Bucket, Charles L. Keller tells us that lumber operations were conducted in this area from the mid-1860’s until about 1881…the area was referred to as the White Pine Fork of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
I haven’t found precise dates for it, but mining operations were also conducted in the area, with work possibly continuing into the early to mid 1900’s. I offer the date of the early 1900’s because I have found a bit of narrow-gauge rail along the shore of White Pine Lake that was similar to other rail that I found at a different location in Big Cottonwood Canyon that had a production city and date on it…but I’m really guessing here….
Can you find the two people in the below photograph? They’re about one-third of the way up and just to the right of the large rock in the center of the bottom edge of the photo.
Keller references mining operations in Little Cottonwood Canyon proper, mostly around the area of Alta, but does note several times that miners referred to their claims in the White Pine Fork. I have found an article by David A. John which details the reported amounts of precious metals taken from the ground in the Central Wasatch Mountain area, but again, nothing specifically noting what was taken out of White Pine Fork and over what period. It also notes that mining operations were conducted in the Wasatch area for over 100 years, beginning in 1862, a date that Keller has also used for the advent of mining activities in the region. The highlighted article above also details exploration and drilling activities for molybdenum in White Pine Fork during the 1960’s and 1970’s, but again, doesn’t mention anything about specific mining operations for the metal.
There is a solitary figure of a man in the below photograph…about one-third of the way up from the bottom, toward the right of center….
This mass of snow-covered hill (on the left) in the photo below is called “Red Baldy,” if I’m not mistaken…and most of the snow was melted on this front surface by the time I was leaving the lake.
Another shot to help with scale, there are two people in the below photograph, right at the juncture where the trail curves slightly back to the left near the bottom edge….
The water-level appears to be somewhere between 20 and 25 feet below the water-mark on the side of the basin. I haven’t included it in this post, but I have a photograph of a man standing on the shore and the line of the water- mark seems to be about four times higher than he is tall.
Even though the water is much lower, it still provides a beautiful reflection….
I spent a couple of hours searching for anything that could shed some light on the history of the dam, but could only find one very brief reference to it being built in 1920…and then nothing else. The topic isn’t covered in Keller’s book, as it intentionally details the history of the three-canyon area only up to the first decade or so of the 1900’s. Where he does step further into the next century, it appears to be auxiliary information related to the culmination or end-points of topics that have been covered extensively.
Just out of frame at the bottom right-hand corner of the below photo is the grate that covers the exit portal/drain in the wall of the dam. The water-level appears to be just below the bottom edge of the drain…so I don’t know if the water had been released from the lake, or if it was truly that low because of the much lighter snowfall this past winter. I’ve shared photographs of other lakes with greatly diminished water-levels this year, including The Great Salt Lake…so I’d guess that this one is lower for the same reason.
This last photograph is from my post White Pine Lake in September from 2011. You can see by this photo that the water-level was much higher at the time. If you’d like to see more images of the lake from that earlier visit, simply click on the highlighted name to follow the link back to the post. The difference in the lake’s appearance between the two years is incredible.
Please watch for a following post titled, “White Pine Lake Reflections”…coming soon….
Those were the words that I typed into Google when I returned from my first hike to this end of the Little Cottonwood Canyon trail and found these ruins. The below photo is from that first hike and sighting of the ruins…taken in November, 2010 (take note the arch over the window-frame on the far left end of the building). I found an “ok” article on Wikipedia that talked about skiing in the canyon…and some other generic information, but nothing that addressed the ruins specifically. I then went to “images” on Google and did find some images, similar to these, but nothing that provided links to historical information…only suggestions that it was a church, evidently thought to be one because of the nice arches above the tall window frames. I think I must have found a couple/few mentions of the building being a church in some Flickr albums…. I later wrote a little story about it having been one…which you can read by clicking on this highlighted name – Ruins.
But it wasn’t a church…a beautiful building at one time, maybe/yes, full of mystery (explainable), and even charged with electricity (literally), but there wasn’t an altar or communion table, no preacher, priest, or prophet directing the administration of an almighty…the building was an electricity generating station…a power-plant made of white granite blocks that appear to have been hand-carved from boulders that had tumbled from the mountains above it….
The Columbus Consolidated Mining Company started building the generating station in October of 1903 to power the mining operations at Alta, about four to five miles upstream near the end of the canyon. The availability of electric power would allow the company to use compressed-air drilling machines, motor-driven concentrating/smelting machines, and turbine pumps to remove the ever-seeping water from workers’ tunnels so that the mining operations could continue.
Immediately to the left and out of the frame of the above photo, there used to be a bridge that crossed from the other side of the stream to the power station. The bridge was removed at some point, and until recently, hikers/adventurers could only cross the stream when the water level was sufficiently low enough to allow for rock-jumping…or wading. I say “recently” because someone has very recently installed a nice 2×6 single-board “bridge” with a miniature zip-line overhead to allow for careful crossing over one of the narrower parts of the stream.
One of my sons and I managed to cross the stream this past April (see the last two photos) when the stream was very low before the snow-melt began. The inside of the ruin was still covered in deep snow and it was difficult to discern what it might have actually been…even though we had more than a little bit of confidence that it wasn’t a church because of the power poles and apparent water pipe/chute that we could see through the broken floor.
The water pipe/chute that I mentioned above is actually located just out of frame and to the right in the above photo…it didn’t make a very interesting photo…so it’s still in its folder on my computer and not appearing here…maybe that’s a shortcoming of mine as its photographer…but it simply didn’t look very compelling…anyway…. During my explorations, I also found another three places where the underground pipe had been exposed, one on each far end of the building property, and the third on the opposite side and downstream from the ruin.
These autumn-toned images are from my first, non-snow-covered visit into the power station ruins. I had been on the trail earlier in the year and had looked into it from afar, waiting for the water level of the stream to go down again…yearning to sit there for a while so I could process what I had learned of the place and match it to what I could see in front of me…and to listen for echoes of distant voices, the quiet rushing of water beneath my feet…and the fleeting sounds of whirring motors.
About a mile upstream from the ruins, there is currently a camping area that has the name of “Tanners Flat.” This was once a staging/holding area for ore that had been brought down from the various mines that were higher in the canyon. Over the years, there were also lumber mills, hotels, a smelter operation, an aerial tramway station, telegraph station, and even homes built in the area…all gone now, of course. The name of the present-day campground is all that is left of the location that was once known as “Tannersville.”
I provided all of that info above to simply say that there was a dam built on the stream at Tanners Flat. The water was diverted into 22-inch pipes that traveled about 4,500 feet downstream and was shot into the power station to turn the waterwheels, which, in turn, powered the generators that sent their electricity back upstream to the mines, boarding-houses, businesses, residences, etc., in the Alta area. I haven’t seen it yet, but I understand that there are also remains of the retaining wall of the breached dam…somewhere along the southwest corner of the campground…which probably won’t be too difficult to locate.
I don’t know that I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but if you’re able to access a map that shows details of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the power station is located approximately halfway between Hogum Fork and Maybird Gulch…on the south side of the stream.
You can see that the arch of the window-frame is missing in the above and below photos (as noted in the very first photograph above, taken in November, 2010)…and you can see that it is also missing in the next to last shot, which I took in November, 2011…so it was either removed or had fallen on its own during the intervening year.
If you ever come across a copy of Charles L. Keller’s book, The Lady in the Ore Bucket, first printed in 2001, you can see the author’s photograph of the ruins (Figure 35) in which this wall, that is now missing its window arch, is largely intact from one end of the building to the other, from the ground to over the tops of the windows…and the east end of the building, which is the far right end in the above photo, is nearly as complete as the front wall is on the other end of the building. For clarification/orientation, the largest intact portion of the structure is the west end (the “front” with the complete doorway and two complete window frames). The building is essentially parallel to the stream, which runs from east to west, and lies on the southern side of the stream.
I mentioned above that construction of the power station began in October, 1903. As with many other pursuits in life, there were delays in the completion of the project, but it was finally finished, and electricity was finally produced and sent up to Alta on the evening of July 4, 1904. Because of an increasing demand for power up in the mining district, a second generator was installed in late 1905. In 1913, the Columbus Consolidated power station was made a subsidiary of the Wasatch Power Company, which was then merged into the Utah Power and Light Company sometime in 1929.
As the mining endeavors became less fruitful in the Alta area, and as electricity-producing technology advanced, there became less of a need for the plant here in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The precise date that the switch was turned off on the Columbus Consolidated power station has been lost to the passing of time, but it is believed to have occurred sometime in the early 1940s.
Yes, that is a look of wonder on my son’s face in the above photo…can’t help but smile out there….
I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip back into the history of the Little Cottonwood Canyon ruins. If you’re ever in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA and want to take a relatively easy, six-mile hike (round-trip), find the Temple Quarry Nature Trail near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The trail-head for the Little Cottonwood Canyon trail is at the far/east end of the quarry’s parking lot. Have a nice hike!
***Please note that all of the historical information provided above was obtained from Charles L. Keller’s book, The Lady in the Ore Bucket. I was introduced to the book by Knick Knickerbocker of the Wasatch Mountain Club. He shared the information about the book during a conversation that we had on a rainy Sunday afternoon while hiking down the Days Fork trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
You might remember the earlier post, Missing…. from several months ago….
You’ll find something similar if you visit Allen at New Hampshire Garden Solutions…but his has a door…out in the middle of the NH wilderness…scroll down to the bottom photo of his post…makes you wonder. 🙂
This hillside bunker might be related to the railroad work that was conducted in Little Cottonwood Canyon, just south and east of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA…you’ll see details of its likely history in the comments on the earlier post. Just click on the blue highlighted word “Missing….” above if you’d care to read a bit more about it.
It was hard to decide…so I didn’t….
I had just crossed the empty stream-bed in Little Cottonwood Canyon and was making my way toward where I knew the trail was located…when I heard the sound of falling water. To the left of this little waterfall is where I found the moss and other tiny plant life that I featured in my post “Life on a Rock.”
I had visited the same area in the past and wasn’t aware of any other streams nearby…but the canyon was/is still full of things that I haven’t seen, little treasures tucked-away beneath wind-blown trees, lying in the shadows of whole and broken boulders of fallen granite, and ever-changing scenes of Nature’s drama of unfolding life and death. In my searching for the falling water, I had to go off-trail and deeper into the wild of the canyon forest. Amid the waking plant life and the blanket of the previous season’s fallen leaves, I found what appeared to be the skeleton of a deer or other medium-sized vertebrate.
A great mind once posited that matter can neither be created nor destroyed…it simply changes form…becomes something other than what it was as the result of some greater force acting upon it. As we find beauty in a decaying building, crumbling walls of barns and castles, trees whithering and rotting back into the forest floors of their cradles and graves, I believe we can find an equal beauty in the physical remains of a once living and breathing being as it returns to its elemental form where it will nourish the tiny creatures and plants that share its environment…for such is the stuff of life and death…regeneration…coming together in a new and other form….
I had seen their sign on the way up the trail, huge hoof-prints, huge droppings, and bits of long, black, coarse hair…but not much else…no sounds, anyway. It was hard to tell how old the marks and droppings were, but I kept looking to the sides of the trail for a bit…and then gradually didn’t think more about them. I have seen their sign on other hikes and have only seen them once before…a solitary cow standing in the middle of the early morning trail…. On my return trip back down the trail, a couple of other hikers were stopped ahead of me, had their cameras out, and were pointing up the slope…all we could see was the female…laying there all large and sleepy in the woods. I crept up the slope a couple of steps as the other hikers tucked their cameras away and started down the trail again. As I kept zooming-in and taking increasingly closer shots, it seemed that I could see another ear flicker in the woods behind the cow. The brush was too dense to see more than an outline of the other moose, so I tried to quietly head down the slope and over to the one side where I could see another access that might give me a better vantage point to see who else was back there. Well…the couple of drops of Native American blood that I have remaining from my ancestors waaaay back did nothing to help me sneak-up on the creature that was hiding back there. The bull moose heard me and slowly got up and started ambling through the brush, once or twice turning to look in my direction. Again, the brush was thick and I only managed two non-blurry pictures that give a good indication as to what he looked like…with his antler buds starting to protrude from his forehead.