Saturday, September 18, 2010

Strange Bacchus Highway Sightings and Events.

The highway that runs along the Oquirrh mountains from North to South is called 8400 West as it travels through Magna, then changes to the Bacchus highway, heading South past 4100 South. It still runs through what was once Coonville--where ATK (Hercules) is today. At the intersection of 5400 West, at the bend if you head east from there, you can still see one of the Coonville stone foundation. Most of the dry farms up there go back to the Coonville days, which started in the 1850s when Abraham Coon and a few other families ran cattle and Wilford Woodruff had his sheep herds there.
Quite a few TV shows and movies had been filmed there: Touched by an Angel, Stephen King's The Stand, etc.
Growing up, it was a quiet road that traveled over the Oquirrh foothills (remnants of sand and gravel bars left over from the ice age Lake Bonneville, aroyos cut through them, and alluvial deposites) all the way to a small town named Herriman, and to the Kennecott mine and Butterfield Canyon. I remember hearing about the town of Lark and how it used to be somewhere along there, until Kennicott removed it--yes, another whole town moved by Kennecott: remember Ragtown and Garfield?
Anyway, close to Herriman there used to be what we called the sand dunes. It was actually an old tailings dump left over from early mining and smelting operations. People would ride motorcycles there. We'd hike it, looking for old bottles, and play on the old wooden constructions that would just out of the mineral tainted sands and wonder what they'd been used for. Usually we did this as part of our trips to Butterfield canyon. I heard later about the heavy metals and silicates we were breathing when the wind kicked up dust storms, or when we chased down dust devils--it was fun to to stand in the middle of a strong dust devil. Sand would get into places you'd never guess.
There was also an old mine dump at the bend in the road near 11800 South. I used to go rock hunting there. I picked up some spectacular chunks of Pyrite, molybdenum, Zink, and black limestone. There was so much sulfur and sulfuric acid all over the place that your shoes would go brittle and you'd smell like it for days afterward.
You never knew what wildlife you'd see, especially at night. To this day I catch glimpses of coyotes, deer, elk, owls, and other birds of prey and scavengers. Mountain lions aren't uncommon. But now with all the growth and construction, these sightings are becoming much more infrequent.
The highway is also a prime place to take a date and park at one of the great spots overlooking the valley. On a clear night the lights are spectacular. You can see the Wasatch Front all the way from Ogden to the south of the Salt Lake Valley.
The gravel pits were great places to go shooting. We'd take our twenty-twos and plink cans all Saturday afternoon. Once when part of a pit wall collapsed, we found a layer of sediment at least ten feet below the surface full of snail shells and some kind of mummified plant like matter. I wanted to take some of it home with me because it was interesting, but I couldn't find a container. I went back a week later and found it completely bulldozed away. Who knows what stories that layer of sediment could have told about Lake Bonneville?
Since the highway was such an out-of-the-way place for so long, used mostly by west side residents and Kennecott workers, it was only fitting that strange stories would pop up now and then. There would be the usual hitchhiker stories or the lone wanderer along the road. A few people had claimed to have seen UFOs; experienced feelings of spookiness while driving alone in the night. One lady in particular used to tell me she always felt as if something, maybe a presence, rode in her back seat all the way from the the old iron scrap place to the last rail road bridge before heading into Magna.
Personally, I remember one snowy night back in my high school days (late 80s) when a bunch of us filled a car to go to a dance in Herriman. The radio was turned up, and we were chattering about girls and anything else that would come to mind. Then all of a sudden a terrible green glow filled the clouds above us. It wasn't the flickering come and go of lightning, but a steady and heavy glow that revealed the texture of the clouds and flurries over and around us. It lasted for at least ten seconds or more. Sheet lightning? A meteor? Who knows, but it was significant to have us nervous the rest of the night.
What animal has a striped tail, is shaped like a skinny coyote, but is much larger, and has a much longer, almost unnatural snout, and it's eyes reflect a golden glow in the headlights? It sure as heck wasn't a mountain lion. It stood in the middle of the road, as if smiling, tongue hanging out. The horn wouldn't make it move, until I nearly hit it. I've seen Great Danes that looked almost that big. It slipped away into the dying, late fall grasses and sagebrush, and seemed to disappear. I stopped the car and backed up to look for it. I'd never seen anything like it, nor seen anything like it again.
Dave was a friend of mine who used to love to hike the Oquirrhs, regardless of whether he was on Kennecott property or not. One night, just after sunset, he was coming off Hogsback, near Lion Rock, when he saw a strange glow coming out of one of the deep aroyos coming off the mountain. He was the curious, if not at all superstitious, type, so he immediately changed course to investigate. The closer he got, the more he felt a terrible warning feeling, as if something were telling him to stop and turn around. He ignored it as long as he could, until he heard a strange noise, like the howl of a dog, but not quite. He'd heard coyotes often enough that there was no question it wasn't that. The feeling became so powerful that he felt he finally had to stop and turn around. He knew it wasn't safe running in the dark, let alone hiking, but he couldn't stop himself. Soon he was running wildly toward the highway. At one point he nearly got hung up on an old barbwire fence.
My grandmother, who was of the last generation born in Coonville, told us of the night the lightning balls came down the stovepipe during a storm. I vaguely remember her description. It was a bright glow and made hardly any noise at all, except for a little crackling noise when it disappeared.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ever heard ghost stories about Magna? The history here is rich, so there are plenty of old houses, former settlement sites, old graves, closed doors, and boarded up windows to speculate about.
West of the corner of 9150 West and 2700 South (Magna Main Street), you'll find the site of the old Webster elementary school built circa 1914. It burned down several years ago, and now a new senior citizen's center has been built there. Beyond that, under the hill with the white C (stands for Cyprus high school), you'll find the old site for Ragtown, where old Kennecott company housing once stood. It's no longer there, of course, but some of the old folks who lived there remember hard conditions, including flooding, disease, and poverty--one of the reasons The Pleasant Green cemetery has so many unmarked graves. They're mostly babies from immigrant working families.
For most of us who grew up in Magna, we think of that area as the "Flumes" or the "Flues," depending on what side of town you came from. Water from the old industrial sites would pour down from the hillside through an aqueduct of sorts. It would fall into a pond lined with crusher bearings. The local kids had a sport of trying to slide down the aqueduct and catching one of two boards before falling into the pond--you could never see what was actually at the bottom of that water. I remember swimming there. The water would leave a gray film over everything it touched. We'd also hunt frogs along the canal that ran through the area--and let me remind you this was all private Kennecott property, so it was a risky practice of trespassing.
Some people said the place was haunted--whether it really was or not is a matter of opinion, and I'm the skeptical type, who tends not to believe in ghost stories. I just like telling them. But anyway, I remember hearing the story about a guy (lets change his name) named Louis Maestas. He was several years older than our crowd, so he would have had to be in his mid-twenties around the time that this story would have taken place. I remember being in junior high, so that would have been in the early eighties.
Louis was a local thug, to say the least. I remember his long, dark hair and criminal reputation. It was common knowledge he sold drugs, stole cars, and was in and out of jail. No one, except people like him, wanted to be around him. His trouble had a way of rubbing off on you.
As the story goes, he went on a drinking binge and wrecked his car in the ditch along 9150. Witnesses say after abandoning it, he supposedly wandered into the flumes west of Webster elementary and disappeared. Some people thought he'd committed suicide; others thought he finally skipped town. He showed up several days later in his back yard ranting and howling like a maniac. It was early morning, before the sun had risen, and his mother went out the back door to see what the commotion was all about. As he tore at his filthy clothes, the same ones he was wearing several days before, he babbled about ghosts and demons and horrible visions down in the trees along the canal.
Of course nearly 27 years later this story has become inspiration for the novel I'm currently working on.