Utah is Home to an Abandoned Town Most People Don’t Know

Utah boasts numerous captivating destinations, ranging from its renowned national parks and ski resorts to temples and museums. Yet, amidst its scenic wonders lies a lesser-known gem – the abandoned town of Thistle. Once a bustling railroad hub, Thistle met its demise in 1983 due to a devastating landslide, a story seldom told.

Thistle: A Railroad Town with a Rich History

Nestled in Spanish Fork Canyon, approximately 65 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, Thistle emerged in 1878 with the establishment of a station and depot by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Flourishing into a thriving community, Thistle boasted a population of around 600 at its zenith. The town teemed with amenities including a hotel, post office, school, church, store, saloon, and residences. Its strategic position at the junction of two vital railroad lines, connecting Denver to Salt Lake City and Thistle to Marysvale, added to its significance.

Beyond its railroad roots, Thistle thrived as an agricultural center, benefitting from its fertile surroundings and a natural spring. Its residents enjoyed a vibrant social scene, replete with dances, picnics, baseball games, and rodeos.

Thistle: A Ghost Town with a Tragic Fate

The town’s fortunes drastically shifted in 1983 when relentless rainstorms triggered a colossal landslide, engulfing Thistle and blocking both the railroad and highway. Among the largest and costliest landslides in U.S. history, it resulted in an estimated 50 million cubic yards of debris and over $200 million in damages. The natural dam formed by the landslide created Thistle Lake, submerging the town and its environs under 200 feet of water across a 3-mile stretch.

Forced to evacuate, Thistle’s inhabitants left behind cherished possessions and memories. While some salvaged belongings, most faced total loss. With the government declaring it a disaster area, displaced residents received compensation and relocation aid. Rail and road networks were rerouted, leaving Thistle abandoned and relegated to obscurity.

Thistle: A Hidden Attraction with a Haunting Beauty

Today, Thistle stands as a ghost town, its tragic tale largely unknown but occasionally attracting curious visitors. Accessible via a dirt road leading to the lake’s edge, remnants of the town and landslide await discovery. Partially submerged buildings, including the hotel, depot, and church, offer haunting glimpses of Thistle’s past. The intact yet disused railroad tracks and bridge serve as silent witnesses to the town’s former vibrancy. Markers and signs narrate the town’s history and the calamitous landslide.

Thistle’s allure lies in its poignant beauty and somber narrative, a reminder of nature’s power and human resilience. It remains a place deserving of remembrance and reverence, an indelible part of Utah’s heritage.

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