May 16, 2008
NaVee Vernon, Summit County’s historical director, distributes a business card printed with her name, e-mail address, phone number and also the words, "Unless history lives in our present it has no future."
"In school, you don’t really study the history where you live," she observes, "but it’s more interesting to me to find out about the history of where I live than it is to find out about any other kind of history."
In her five-year tenure with the county, Vernon, among other things, has undertaken the task of helping locals and visitors become aquainted with historic treasures by car. She created a do-it-yourself guide to the entire county, a guide to Kamas Valley and the Uintas, and last year, created another drivers’ guide for Echo Canyon. This year, in preparation for the annual Lincoln Highway Convention in Evanston, Wyo., June 17, she unveiled yet another car tour that encourages travelers to take the long route along the former highway, which has since become the alternative route to Interstate 80.
"I don’t think a lot of Park City people know the East Side at all, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think East Side people know much of Park City," she says. "Silver Creek kind of divides us a little bit, you know. It’s kind of fun to try and put us all together."
A good portion of the detour onto the old Lincoln Highway means driving in Echo Canyon, a natural omnibus route used by Shoshone and Ute Indians, then by the Pony Express and Union Pacific and now by Mack trucks and modern journeymen to get to Wyoming or head to Salt Lake City. The throughway also unites two of Utah’s landscapes: Rolling green hills stand at one side and large redrock buttes on the other. According to John Eldredge’s "Illustrated Emigrants’ Guide to the Historic Sites Along the Hastings/Mormon Trail," in 1860, British explorer Sir Richard F. Burton said, "Echo Canyon has but one fault: Its sublimity will make all other similar features look tame."
"Echo Canyon has its unique, own beauty," says Vernon. "It’s a natural museum, all of its own."
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The new and old uses of the canyon are in plain view. Power lines are strung right by the train tracks sandwiched between I-80 and the old Lincoln Highway, which is now considered a frontage road.
Integral to the area’s history are the "breastwork" tucked up high, fortifications built of stones to protect Mormon soldiers during the "Utah War" from 1857 to 1858, an armed dispute between the United States federal government and members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The conflict was hardly bloody, and the negotiated resolution was historic: Brigham Young was replaced as governor by non-Mormon Alfred Cumming, and Utah citizens were pardoned for seditions and treason, provided they accepted federal authority.
"I’ve learned a lot. It’s funny how you live in your own town and don’t even know it," Vernon says. "Echo Canyon surprised me."
There are countless other noteworthy areas in Summit County from Coalville with its farming and coal-mining past to Park City’s silver mining and skiing hub to towns like Wahsatch and Emory that disappeared after being missed by the highway or bypassed by trains. In the future, Vernon plans to plot as many unmarked curiosities as she can. With the help of Robert West, Summit County Public Works’ transportation specialist, already she has initiated a new program to tag historic sites with brown signs explaining their significance, so that they may be more easily discovered.
"We have such wonderful history here," she says. "I’m just trying to do the whole county in little spurts."
To pick up brochures for the Summit County historic driving tours, visit Summit County’s Historical Society Museum, located in the Summit County Courthouse at 60 North Main in Coalville. For further details about Summit County’s history, visit summitcounty.org/history.