The Golden Pass Road (Echo to SLC over Parley's Summit)
In following the Hastings-Donner trail west from Fort Bridger in July, 1847, the Mormon Pioneers were grateful to find a beaten track already existing across the mountains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Reconnaissance made it clear the Donners had found the best if not the only route for crossing the Wasatch along the general line they adopted.
Even so, the Pioneer trail was a difficult, not to say desperate, proposition. It required the crossing of two steep and dangerous heights, and travel in the narrow, crooked canyon bottoms was almost as hard on wagons and animals as the ascent and descent of the two mountains. In East Canyon the road crossed and recrossed the stream 13 times in 8 miles; after surmounting Big Mountain, it lurched back and forth across Mountain Dell Creek 12 times in the space of 5 miles, "all bad crossing places;" and after struggling over Little Mountain, it snaked across Emigration Canyon Creek 19 times in 5 miles before emerging into Salt Lake Valley. He who could find a route which on the one hand would keep out of the bed of the lower Weber River--the original Hastings route--and on the other would evade the stiff grades and serpentine canyons of the Donner route would earn the thanks of the Mormon community and all the Saints yet to reach the valley.
To the Indians, it was known as "Obit-Ko-Ke-Che Creek. The first pioneers called it Big Kanyon Creek. It was the largest of the seven creeks that emptied into Salt Lake Valley. It was on its bank, close to 500 East and 1700 South that the advanced party of Brigham Young's pioneer group camped, July 22, 1847. Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, the first of the group to enter the Valley, had passed this way the previous day.
In 1848, Parley Pratt and Jacob Workman explored up Big Kanyon, across Parley's Park, and the eastern canyons draining into the Weber River. He suggested that the city put up $800 to make a road through Big Kanyon as an alternate to the Emigration route. The city didn't have the funds. Brigham Young deeded the canyon to Parley P. Pratt after taking City Creek Canyon as part of his own estate and deeding Big Cottonwood Canyon to Joseph Young and what is now known as Neff's Canyon to Isaac Neff.
In his journal (after Mar. 18, 1849 entry) Pratt wrote, "I devoted the fore part of the summer to farming; but, my crop failing, I commenced in July to work a road up the rugged canyon of Big Canyon Creek. I had the previous year explored the canyon for that purpose, and also a beautiful park (since called Parley's Park), and [mountain] passes from Salt Lake City to Weber River eastward, in a more southern and less rugged route than the pioneer entrance to the valley. Emigrants now came pouring in from the States (summer, 1849) on their way to California to seek gold. Money and gold dust was plenty, and merchandise of almost every description came pouring into our city in great plenty.
"I soon so far completed my road as to be able to obtain a large amount of fuel and timber. In November I ceased operations in the canyon and broke up my mountain camp and returned to the city."
A big celebration was held at the opening at the opening of the road on July 4, 1850. It was called the "Golden Pass Road." A toll gate was erected and the tolls collected that first year amounted to $5,000 above the cost of the road. Tolls for a two-horse outfit were $.75, 10 cents for each additional pack or saddle animal, 5 cents a head for loose stock, sheep were a penney each.
Judging by the size of the first season's take, it would seem at least 6,000 immigrants may have passed over the new route. On the other hand, much of his toll would have come from Mormon settlers taking out timber and construction stone from the canyons.
Mary Ann Maughan travelled this road in August, 1850, and wrote, "We travelled the most dreadful road imaginable. Some places we had to make the road before we could pass. It is full of large rocks and stumps."
One month later, Nelson W. Whipple recorded, "The road was almost impassable." Captain Stansbury, who came to survey the Great Salt Lake for the U.S. Government, wrote in his journal, "Followed up Pratts golden pass all day. The ascent is not as steep as I expected, although the road is very crooked. The valley is very narrow, scarcely affording room for a turbulent little mountain stream which comes rushing down and winding its sinuous course at the base of the mountains on either side thru a growth of ceder, oaks, maple, service berry, quaking asp, bitter cottonwood and willows, which after the dead silence of the sand flats of the lakes and the barren flatness of the sage plains was peculiarly pleasant and refreshing."
Early in 1851, Joseph Cain and Arieh C. Brower published their "way bill" to the gold mines (description of how to get there). After emerging from the mouth of Echo Canyon the traveller had two choices, the left hand road being the "Golden Pass Road." They described the road as follows (the only accurate mileage seems to be the last one, from Young's mill to SLC.)
"To the crossing of the Weber (River), good ford, even at the highest stages of water, good grass, wood and water
From the crossing of Weber river to Dry hollow (Rockport), no camping place, 10 miles
Thence through a smooth, grassy and well watered country, 8 Miles
Thence to the head of the Great Kanyon (Mountain Dell) grass, wood, and water, 6 miles
Thence to Gov. Young's grist mill, 2 Miles
Thence to Great Salt Lake City, 5 Miles"
By this account, the distance from the mouth of Echo Canyon to Great Salt Lake City was 48 miles, 2 1/2 miles longer than the old route. Actually, when measured by roadometer, the new road was a full 9 miles longer.
Parley Pratt sold the rights to the road early in 1851 for $1,500, which he used to finance a mission for himself and his wife to South America. The road gradually fell into disuse. By 1862, however, government officials oversaw road improvements and constructed a cutoff through Silver Creek Canyon (west of Wanship). This became the road of choice by emigrants, freight wagons, and stage coaches. Improvements had been made at government expense and tolls were no longer collected. B.H. Roberts came this direction at age 10. The Deseret News once wrote that Parley's was the best entrance into the valley. The worst entrance? All the rest!