I have mentioned many landmarks that are multi-generational. Some are natural and some are man-made. The natural landmarks are impressive – Adobe Rock is hard to miss because of it’s sheer size and it’s uniqueness.
A major landmark of greater dimensions than Adobe Rock are the shoreline scars etched into the Oquirrh Mountains. There are two distinct ‘bathtub rings’ that are highly visible yet easily blend into the mountain benches. They can be overlooked just because they are so natural.
Lake Bonneville, an ancient lake formed after the Ice Age some 14,000 years ago, was approximately the size of Lake Michigan. Although slightly smaller than Lake Michigan, it is estimated to have been deeper and therefore it contained more water.
The highest shoreline, or Bonneville level, is testimony to the depth of this lake. Most of present-day Tooele Valley would have been underwater. Lake Bonneville was at this level for thousands of years and the evidence is not just the mid-mountain shoreline. I was always fascinated when I found evidence of shelled creatures when hiking about these mountains. The entire valley floor is composed of clay – lake-bottom clay.
As I mentioned, the lake was at the highest level for thousands of years. Sometime around 14,000 years ago, two alluvial dams located at Red Pass, Idaho finally eroded through and allowed the exodus of a massive amount of water from Lake Bonneville. When the lake arrived at its new level – the Provo level – it remained at that level for so long that a new watermark was formed.
A drier period of climate was experienced, attributed to a more southerly flow of the jet stream – totally unrelated to the industrial escapades of this planet’s favorite two-legged inhabitant, caused the lake to evaporate to a third level. The shoreline that represents the third level of Lake Bonneville is barely discernible at the extreme north part of the valley and on Antelope Island. The final remnant of Lake Bonneville is the Great Salt Lake.
A huge man-made landmark is the slag dump of the International Smelting and Refining smelter that was located at the mouth of Pine Canyon. This slag dump can be viewed from the northern part of the valley at the base of the Oquirrhs. This remnant of Tooele’s significant past is all that is left of over 60 years of smelting and refining operations.
The International Smelting and Refining Company began to build its legacy in 1909. One of the initial (and essential) portions of this operation was building a railroad spur from the mainline of the now Union Pacific rail line through Tooele to the smelter site. The rail line went directly through town from Warner Station, up Vine Street, along the bench to the mouth of Pine Canyon.
Once the rail line was completed, construction of the smelter and auxiliary building could begin in earnest. When completed in 1916, it had the capacity to handle not only locally-produced ores but ores from the Bingham side and from many places outside Utah – including Canada.
It is truly difficult to imagine importing ore from Canada in today’s industrially unfriendly America. Nevertheless, the smelter reached its pinnacle in the 1920’s but remained productive up until 1972.
Refining that much ore for that long is going to make a big pile of slag. Slag is the byproduct of melting down the concentrated ore into its base minerals – copper, zinc, lead and small amounts of gold and silver. This slag was carried to the dump by slag-cars on a rail system that ringed the top of the slag dump. Once over the desired dumping area, the car would tip its contents over the side of the dump, adding to the size of the dump.
This slag is basically molten rock, likely the closest thing to lava this side of the volcanoes in Hawaii. This Erda farmboy always had a front row seat from his home when they ‘dumped the slag’ at night. The red, molten material would flow down the side of the dump and glow for close to an hour before darkening as it cooled. The glowing red was detectable when they dumped during the day but not nearly as impressive as when dumped at night. It was even an added side-show when watching a movie at the drive-in theater (another landmark story) and demanded a measure of attention to be paid, taking time away from John Wayne or Cary Grant. Another of the fine benefits of growing up in Erda.
The huge smelter and smokestack were long since removed. The slag dump is not as visible as it once was. Yet, it is difficult to completely hide over 20 acres of slag. It stands today as testimony to the industriousness of the people in the Tooele Valley.
The railroad eventually was removed, along with many other legacies of this period. The railroad not only carried ore and supplies, but it carried the workers to and from work at the smelter. In its prime, the Tooele Valley Authority (TVA) transported workers right past the Oquirrh Hotel, the 48 Steak House and the Kirk Hotel when it was built in 1926. No traffic jams getting to work in those days, just be on time to catch the train.