The Legend of Timpanogos

Boy meets girl. Boy pretends to be a god. Girl jumps off mountain.

While it is not an actual Native-American legend (its origins can be traced to a tale told by a BYU professor around a campfire in 1922), the tale of Red Eagle, or Timpanac, the Indian warrior and Utahna, or Ucanogas, the Indian princess, comes in many forms. In one telling, our Romeo falls for Utahna and convinces her that he’s a god to win her love. Typical. Their love affair ends when Utahna learns he is not a god. What a let-down, right? In her grief and to atone for Red Eagle’s hubris, Utahna jumps from Mount Timpanogos. The outline of a woman in Timp’s profile is the form of Utahna, obviously.   

The Gadianton robbers will get you

A Mormon legend of evil spirits who haunt the mountains.

In The Book of Mormon, The Gadianton robbers were a notorious gang of thieves and murderers, and legends that their spirits still haunt the world are told to frighten young children. As in: “Eat your vegetables or the Gadianton robbers will get you.” In an 1861 address, LDS Church President, Brigham Young told his flock that the Wasatch mountains is home to the spirits of the Gadianton robbers, “There are scores of spirits here, spirits of the old Gadianton robbers,” Young intoned. “There are millions of these spirits in the mountains—they are ready to make us covetous.”

The Secret of ‘Cecret Lake’

A historic typo in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

mountain lore

In the late 1800s, Little Cottonwood Canyon was the site of a mining boom (and subsequent bust, of course). Many of the place names were coined by miners or taken from the titles of mining claims. While industrious, the miners weren’t winning any spelling bees. Cecret Lake (pronounced Secret) is a popular hike during wildflower season and a widely accepted misspelling. The USGS even goes along with the “Cecret” on its maps of the area.

mountain lore

The ‘Lost’ Mine

A family secret gets out and is useless.

mountain loreThe LDS pioneers came to Utah in 1847; two years later, in 1849, the California Gold Rush was on. Brigham Young, not wanting to lose all of his able-bodied men to gold fever, forbade his followers from heading west and, not wanting to attract outsiders and distract folks from farming, outlawed prospecting in Utah. But people being people, there was some poking around. A hunting party was exploring Ferguson Canyon, east of Cottonwood Heights, and supposedly discovered gold in them thar hills. When Brigham heard the news, he swore the men to secrecy. One by one they died, until the last, on his deathbed, decided to tell his family the secret. But his fevered directions were vague and searches for the gold were fruitless. In another account, the man is actually “Brother Ferguson” who tried to lead his family to the gold but on the way had a heart attack and died.

Fun Fact:

mountain lore

UDOT owns six Howitzer artillery pieces that it uses to fire shells onto slopes to deliberately trigger avalanches.

Alta: ‘Home of the Avalanche’

Mining was a tough life (and death).

The mining boom in Little Cottonwood canyon had another side effect: The large population was vulnerable to the frequent avalanches. By 1872, Alta Town had become the home of several thousand miners and camp followers and that winter 10 died in a December avalanche. In 1885, 16 were killed in a deadly slide that destroyed the town and left 50 feet of snow on its ruined Main Street. The frequency and deadly nature of the slides prompted The Deseret News to dub Alta the “Home of the Avalanche.” Today, avalanches in Little Cottonwood canyon are still a threat but are mitigated by the Utah Department of Transportation’s aggressive avalanche control and the brave men and women of Alta and Snowbird’s ski patrols.

Does Bigfoot Bear the Mark of Cain?

Mormon folklore has it that Bigfoot = Cain.

mountain lore
Sasquatch crossing sign in the Oregon wilderness

In The Book of Genesis, the world’s first homicide is breezily reported: “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Cain is exiled and marked as a murderer. Debate over exactly what the “Mark of Cain” was often takes a racist twist, but nevertheless Cain is doomed to roam the Earth in torment and the idea that he still is knocking about, forever cursed, is part of many religion’s lore. Early LDS apostle, David W. Patten, tells a tale of meeting a strange man along the trail. “His skin was very dark (there’s that racist thing.) I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the Earth (sic) and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the Earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men.” There have been 130 Bigfoot sightings in the Wasatch, according to the website Sasq-Wasatch (get it?), leading some tall-tale tellers to make a huge stretch and connect the tenuous dots. 

See more Outdoors content here.