A Landing a Day

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Thistle, Utah

Posted by graywacke on December 16, 2008

If you want to know who Dan is and what all the numbers and abbreviations mean, please see “About Landing.”

Dan –  Another WBer close on the heels of MT:  UT; 56/44; 6/10; 7; 165.0.  Note that I’m still 6/10, which is A-OK. 

So, I landed in the Fifth Water Ck watershed.  I have never seen a creek name like this, but I was totally blown away when I found out the Fifth Water Ck flows into the (are you ready for this?) . . . the Sixth Water Ck!!!  The Sixth Water Ck flows into the Diamond Fk R (a new river!), which flows into the Spanish Fk R (4th hit), which flows into Utah Lake (4th hit), which flows into the Jordan R (5th hit, making the Jordan the 122nd river with 5 or more hits), which flows into the Great Salt Lake (10th hit), which, of course, doesn’t flow anywhere.

But back to the Fifth Water and Sixth Water Creeks.  Wow.  What a crazy watershed.  I’ve had StreetAtlas label the various creeks in the Sixth Water Creek watershed.  Here’s the map.  My landing site is up north where the lat/long flag is.  (Note that the “No Name” entry is an error; that’s actually the First Water Ck).

Sixthwater Creek Watershed

Although it’s hard to see, the First Water Creek (once again, mislabeled “No Name”) flows into the Sixth Water Creek just before the Sixth Water Creek flows int the Diamond Fork.

So bear with me while I try to sort out the logic of the creek names.  OK, so the Second Water Creek flows into the First Water Creek which flows into the Sixth Water Creek.  The Third Water Creek flows into the Fifth Water Creek which flows into the Sixth Water Creek.  The Fourth Water Creek (Like the Third Water Creek) flows into the Fifth Water Creek which flows into the Sixth Water Creek. 

Well, that makes no sense.  Wait, let me try it from another angle.  The first tributary on the Sixth Water Creek is the First Water Creek.  The second tributary on the Sixth Water Creek is the Fifth Water Creek.  Oh, never mind.  And get this . . . further upstream on the Sixth Water Creek (not shown on the map above), there’s a tributary of the Sixth Water Creek which is named  . . . ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! . . . the Dip Vat Creek.

Man.  Nothin’ makes any sense.  Some crazy dude must have named these creeks!!

OK, now I’ve got to check out what the heck a Dip Vat is.  Well, here’s an article I found out about an old dip vat in Alabama.  I know that Utah’s a long way from Alabama, but I assume that this is more-or-less what was going on near Dip Vat Creek:


Old dipping vat discovery recalls fight with ticks
By Jim Cox Editor & Publisher

Old Dip Vat

Three men came across a unique piece of Clarke County history last week.  West of Fulton they came across an unusual concrete structure set deep in the ground. It is about three feet wide, at least 12 feet deep and a good 20 feet long.  It is an old dipping vat from the 1920s when the dipping of livestock was mandated to fight a big tick infestation.

The entrance to the chute-like vat is steeply sloped. Cattle and horses had to be prodded into the vat but once they got on the slope they slid right on in. The exit has a set of steps leading upward. At the top, a concrete platform had a drain that allowed the dip to drip off of the livestock and drain down a trench back into the vat.

Beale Harrison, a local farmer,  remembers the dipping. “We had to dip every animal we had – goats, hogs, cattle and horses – every two weeks.  It was very trying times. You’d gather at a dipping vat and the inspectors would run your livestock through and they’d use a mop with green paint to mark those that were dipped.   “If the range riders came through and your animals didn’t have a green mark on their hip you’d be in trouble.”

So, obviously, there must have been a notable dip vat along Dip Vat Creek. 

I mentioned dip vats to Jody (to blog readers who don’t know, she’s my wife).  She’s sitting across the table right now, on her computer.  She started doing a little research, and found out that these dip vats are a source of soil and groundwater contamination.  (To blog readers who don’t know, Jody and I are both environmental types who work on soil and groundwater contamination).  Well, a quick search on the web shows the extent of the problem.  As an example, Jody found a website that lists all Superfund Sites on Native American Lands.  There are a total of 151 Superfund Sites (I counted them up, Jody didn’t).  And of the 151 Superfund Sites, guess how many are associated with dip vats?  Give up?  The answer is 52!!!  So, I’m sure that nationwide, there are likely thousands of contaminated dip vat sites.

Here’s a write-up of the problem (in Florida, but probably typical of everywhere):

Cattle-dipping vats are concrete structures that were formerly used to eradicate the cattle fever tick. From the early 1900s to 1961 in Florida, cattle ranchers were required to control ticks on cattle to prevent Texas Cattle Fever, a disease that impacted cattle in the South. The disease had significant economic implications as documented in state records. Over 3,200 cattle-dipping vats were constructed statewide, and there was a very strict mandate that required periodic treatment of the cattle by marching them through a pesticide solution contained within these cattle dips.  Arsenic, diesel, DDT, toxaphene, and other toxic chemicals were utilized in the solution. The pesticide solutions have contaminated soil and groundwater resources and have created significant health concerns at hundreds of properties in Florida.

There you have it.  I hope that the dip vat in the Sixth Water Creek watershed didn’t significantly contaminate soils or water (but it sure may have . . .)

Man, this is a long entry already, and I haven’t even mentioned what town I landed near.  Well, the answer is a town with an interesting name:  Thistle.

I’m going to be exhausted by the time I finish this entry!  Thistle was totally destroyed by a flood caused by a landslide back in 1983!  

 I don’t think that Thistle was ever very much of a town – just a junction of two highways and two railroad lines.  Its relative fame comes from its demise.  From the Utah Geological Survey:

 Record-breaking precipitation in the fall of 1982, followed by a deep winter snow pack, then warm spring temperatures and rapid snowmelt in 1983 set the stage for the Thistle landslide. Once triggered, the slide reached a maximum speed of 3.5 feet per hour and dammed Spanish Fork River within a few days.

The landslide ultimately reached 1000 feet in width, nearly 200 feet in thickness, and over one mile in length. The lower end of the slide formed a 220-foot-high dam where it abutted against a sandstone cliff.  Behind this dam, “Thistle Lake” reached a maximum depth of 160 feet before being drained by diversion culverts.

The Thistle landslide and “Thistle Lake” severed railroad service between Denver and Salt Lake City, flooded two major highways (U.S. 6 and U.S. 89), devastated the town of Thistle, and resulted in Utah’s first Presidential disaster declaration. Direct damage exceeded $200 million (in 1983 dollars), making Thistle the most expensive landslide to date in U.S. history.

So, the landslide was slow-moving, but created one heck of a dam (200′ high!) and created one heck of a lake (160′ deep!).  Here’s a map that, if you look closely, pretty much shows what happened.  This doesn’t show the actual lake, but it does show where the landslide occurred and all of the highway and railroad rerouting that had to be done because of the landslide/flood.  FYI, Thistle Creek and Soldier Creek come together at Thistle to form the Spanish Fork.  The town of Thistle is labeled. 


Thistle Landslide

The expenses of the flood were obviously related to the railroad and roads.  They didn’t spend a nickel to rebuild Thistle.

From the Utah Geological Survey, here are some pictures (with their captions).  The first shows the actual slide.  The water behind the landslide is the new lake.  The town of Thistle is totally under water just up from the dam.

Thistle Landslide

Thistle landslide and “Thistle Lake,” 1983.

This picture was taken after the lake was drained, looking from the erstwhile lake back towards the dam.

Thistle Dam

Landslide dam (yellow) and shorelines (blue) of “Thistle Lake.”

This picture was also taken after the lake was drained.  But this one is taken from downstream of the dam.  The dam is huge!


View to the south (upstream) of the Thistle landslide dam and Spanish Fork River diversion tunnels.



Thistle’s old red schoolhouse (circa 1893) just before inundation by “Thistle Lake” in 1983.



Today ’s remnants of Thistle’s old red schoolhouse.

My!!  What a momentous landing!!




2 Responses to “Thistle, Utah”

  1. Loser Son said

    Coolest land yet of the blog era, I’d say.

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