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Nestled within Spanish Fork Canyon are the remains of a former mining town called Thistle that was founded in 1848 by the Pace family. Thistle was one of the major railroad stops for the newly built Rio-Grande railroad but the community endured out-migration and then a disaster in 1983. In that year, a landslide due to excessive flooding and snowmelt destroyed the town, only leaving small remains of the once-prosperous mining and railroad location. Of the few remaining structures, most were destroyed by a fire that tore through the canyon in 2018.

Remains of Thistle Landslide as observed in 2010

Sky, Plant, Mountain, Plant community

Thistle House

Plant, Mountain, Water, Building

Thistle Ghost Town is located just past Spanish Fork, Utah, in a narrow canyon next to the US I 70 freeway. The remnants of this ghost town include one house halfway submerged in a small lake next to the road. While there may only be one house still standing today, Thistle used to be a prosperous and bustling town when it was founded in 1848 by the Pace family and other Mormon settlers coming from Nauvoo, Illinois. After the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the town quickly expanded, becoming one of the smaller train stops between Dever and the Rio Grande. Thistle residents helped lay down new tracks and build train cars, and once the railroad was complete, supplied coal and cargo to passing trains. At its peak in the late 19th century, the town was home to about 650 residents, mostly railroad employees and their families, though some pre-railroad settlers also lived in the area. 

The town remained fairly prosperous throughout the early 1900s, but the economy quickly declined as the automobile began to replace steam locomotives. By the 1950s, most residents had left, forced out by a lack of work and income. In 1983, a flood destroyed what was left of the town. A massive landslide nearby caused mud and debris to dam the Spanish Fork River, diverting water over the banks and into the town of Thistle. The remaining dozen or so residents, including the descendants of the Pace family, were safely evacuated, but their homes were irreparably broken with damages amounting to over 200 million dollars. The floodwater washed away most of the town completely before collecting the valley, creating the pool that the one remaining home now stands in. Most former residents decided to move away rather than attempt to salvage their homes out of the wreckage. Now, there are two or three new houses in the area, built by the few families that decided to stay in the flood-prone area. 

The history of the Thistle area does not just include the ill-fated town. Years before Thistle existed, the canyon was an important trading route for various indigenous groups, including the Ute. Two local Ute leaders, Taby and Peteetneet, would lead migrations through the canyon every spring and fall. In 1776, one of the first European expeditions into Utah also passed through the area. The Domínguez–Escalante expedition was led by two Spanish Franciscan priests who were looking to find a new route to Santa Fe. Ute guides helped the group through the treacherous mountains around Spanish Fork and then down into the Escalante region. A slight variation of this route eventually became the Old Spanish Trail, a major trade corridor going from Santa Fe to the West Coast. As the Spanish, and later Mormon, communities grew, the Ute inhabiting Spanish Fork Canyon were forced out of their ancestral territory. They resisted Mormon expansion, launching attacks against nearby settlements. The frequent skirmishes prompted the US government to forcibly remove the Ute tribe to reservation in the 1870s. 

Bauman, Jenny. "Thistle, Utah." University of Utah Archives. Last modified September 4, 2006. Accessed May 28, 2021.

Salt Lake Tribune. "Thistle Is Prosperous."

Strack, Don. "Railroads in Utah." Utah History Encyclopedia. Accessed May 28, 2021.

Utah Humanities. The Beehive Archive. Last modified April 15, 2007. Accessed May 28, 2021.,Salt%20Lake%20City%20with%20Denver.

Westwood, Brad. "Utah's Expanding Railroads and Salt Lake's Westside." Utah Department of Heritage and Arts. Last modified 2019. Accessed May 28, 2021.,and%20ushered%20in%20a%20whole.