By Keith Fisher
Back in the late seventies and early eighties, I heard a lot of rhetoric about Provo Canyon, and the North Fork subsidiary. South Fork was already mostly, in private hands. Traffic, and auto accidents was discussed, and the need for a wider road. Also discussed, was the state of North Fork under the direction of a rich guy.
Can I take you on a journey through my memory? In my childhood, before population grew, there were many magical places. Places like the old Geneva Resort, Saratoga park (With rides), and Provo canyon. None of which exist today.
Provo canyon was a narrow two-lane road with quaint picnic grounds strung out through the canyon. In those days, if you traveled up the road in the late afternoon, you could see campers lighting fires and experience the smell of fresh caught fish, frying in the open air. But there’s more.
I took a drive, to recharge my brain the other day. I drove up the canyon searching for unfiltered sunshine. I needed to get out of the haze caused by an inversion in the valley. It took fifteen minutes to get to Deer creek dam on a four-lane highway. I continued to midway, turned around and came home.
During that night, I remembered things I miss. Things my daughter will never see. What ever happened to the Chalet? To the claim jumper, (Although it wasn’t all that quaint) to Nunns power plant, Rotary Park, and the Bridal Veil Falls Tram? There were old places and wide spots in the road. A river, that flowed past cottonwoods and pines. Bringing back the Heber Creeper (Heber valley Railroad) was a great idea, but even that, changed the canyon.
I lament the loss of The Chalet Café. It was an old roadhouse, with the character that went along with that image. My parents never stopped there, I’m sure, because people drank beer in the place, but when I got older, I stopped in, and found the remnants of an old lodge with wood paneling, uneven floors and antique furnishings. The food was terrific, like mother used to make. Whether I stopped, or not, sometimes depended on where I was going, and how fast I needed to get there. I took comfort in seeing that place at the branch of South Fork.
When I was a kid, Wildwood and Spring city were places for rich people with summer homes. I couldn’t go there, but they were landmarks too. North Fork and the Alpine Loop were completely wild above Aspen grove before a movie star began to buy the mountain. Then, Timp Haven turned into Sundance, but you could still camp at Stewart falls via backpack trip.
The rhetoric I heard spewed by lawyers, talking about preserving the character of the canyons and keeping our wild places, wild, didn’t hold much value. I hardly ever go up North Fork anymore, because they’ve turned it into a rich man’s vision of nature. I feel like I’m a poor relative, treading in places I’m not welcome.
There was a time, in my childhood, when my family picnicked in the canyon. We laid out blankets on the orchard grass. Sometimes we’d get a picnic table. One time, on a hot day, we sat in the river and used a big flat, rock to set our food on. There were trailer parks and campgrounds, place markers and water fountains. I had a fond memory associated for almost every spot on the road.
In the eighties, we were promised, the new road would not detract from the atmosphere and views in the canyon. Now there is little left of the place I knew. The improved road allows a driver to go to Heber faster, and there are things to see, but who can look up from driving, to see them. There are, a couple of view area parking lots, but the views are not the same. The county took out the power plant at Nunnes and built a picnic area and campground. The reservation lists are long everywhere.
Yes, there is a bike, and jogging trail and I applaud the effort. There are spots of old road too, here and there. Hopefully they will keep them open for posterity, but the highway is far removed from the river and it hampers the view of the canyon from those places.
The free shooting range is gone, but the DWR claims Provo river is one of the best fisheries in the world. The original Canyon Glen was replaced. Can you remember the playgrounds and snack bar? There was a pay phone in front of Wildwood. It’s all gone. It lives in the memory of some of us, but it will never be seen the way it was. I guess it’s as it should be.
Although, I miss the old days, I’m not really complaining about the changes, I realize population dictated the need. The selfish use of North Fork, however, is another story. The thing that bothers me most, is the way the engineers and politicians lied. How they could sit on their campaign contributions and tell us the atmosphere of the canyon wouldn’t change, is beyond my understanding. It is NOT the same place.
Now, I can get to Deer Creek Dam in record time, but I remember a night when I raced up the canyon with the top down on my convertible. Hurrying up that winding road, trying to get to the dam before sunrise. The starlight above the walls of the canyon made our hearts glad. I parked on the south side of the dam, and stood on the sidewalk watching the sunrise over the water. It was beautiful, and then on the way home, we stopped at the Chalet for breakfast. When I was a child, we’d pause at the mouth of the canyon and get a drink from the water fountain, before driving home.
The wheels of progress keep turning. I suppose every generation laments the things that disappear. If I could offer just one piece of advice to the rising generations however, I would suggest you take lots of pictures and write in your journals. They will help you remember the good times and good places, and they will provide proof of what it used to be like.