The following is guest post written by Vic Saunders, Public Involvement Manager for all of Northern Utah including Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Morgan, Rich and Weber Counties.
A roadway in northern Utah that UDOT is the subject of many questions from the public. It’s named after something that many people would never associate with Utah. Or at least many of us think it is.
U.S. Highway 89/91, which runs from Brigham City to Wellsville, is commonly known to many in the state as Sardine Canyon. Lots of folks from Ogden, Salt Lake City and points south remember using this highway to visit a relative in Cache Valley, or while attending Utah State University. You say Sardine Canyon and they know just what you mean.
Some people believe the name came from early travelers eating sardines as part of a picnic lunch on their way to Cache Valley back in the early 1900’s. They surmise that the packaging may have been left by the side of the road, someone else saw it and, hence, a name was born. Another account says the name came from the original road being steep and narrow, and to pass someone on the roadway located on the steep canyon ledge was a very tight undertaking, kind of the way sardines a packed in a tin.
But consult a geographical map and you’ll find the canyon the road follows is actually a series of three canyons. Yes, there actually is a Sardine Canyon, just a few miles south of Wellsville Canyon, hugging the side of hills southwest of the locality known as Mt. Sterling. In fact, Sardine Canyon is the original canyon many of early settlers used when traveling to Cache Valley during the 1860s. But that canyon hasn’t been used for a highway since the 1950’s, and is rutted and difficult to use because there’s no longer any public access to it. But despite all that, people still refer to the modern U.S. 89/91 as “Sardine Canyon.”
So, if today’s highway isn’t Sardine Canyon, then what is it?
First of all, it’s a highway that traverses three canyons. As you leave I-15 and head east into Brigham City, U.S. 91 picks up U.S. 89 from the south and the two routes jointly enter the first of the three, which is Box Elder Canyon. For about three miles Box Elder Canyon travels along its namesake creek, Box Elder Creek, before entering the little valley dominated by a farming community and reservoir, both of which are named Mantua (pronounced Man-a-way).
Upon leaving Mantua, motorists enter what is known as Dry Canyon. The next three miles marks a steep climb, past a famous winter tubing hill on the right and the ubiquitous “Midway Inn,” a former bar turned antiques shop, on the left, before arriving at the only place on today’s highway actually named like its “faux” namesake, Sardine Summit. At 5,868 feet, Sardine Summit marks the dividing county line between Cache and Box Elder counties, and the beginning of the long downhill cruise toward the end of the route in Wellsville.
From Sardine Summit motorists drop quickly into Dry Lake, which is the focal point of an unnamed valley about a mile north of the summit. Upon passing through the cut in the hill created for the new highway in the 1950’s, the original Sardine Canyon road is high above on the hillside to the right, where it snakes eastward. From Dry Lake, travelers pass the Sherwood Hills resort and golf course on the left before entering Wellsville Canyon.
Passing the Wellsville Peak Wilderness trail head on the left, U.S. 89/91 dives into the canyon for the final two miles of the journey, before bursting into the open at its mouth near Mt. Sterling. There one catches the vista of the Cache Valley, stretching almost as far as the eye can see. Passing Wellsville on the left, Logan is now only another nine miles. From there, U.S. 91 heads north to Idaho, while U.S. 89 turns east, making its way through Logan Canyon and the Bear River Range of the Rocky Mountains to Bear Lake.
It’s a beautiful trip that can be enjoyed in nice weather by either car or bicycle. And now you know you’re not traveling there through one canyon but three. And none of them are named Sardine.