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Thistle Flood Disaster


This exhibit showcases photographs documenting the Thistle Disaster of 1983-1984. Thistle, originally the name of a town, became a term used to describe a massive mudslide which created a natural dam across the Spanish Fork River and destroyed the town of Thistle. This exhibit documents the disaster and subsequent reconstruction, as well as photographs of Thistle before the disaster.

Documentation of the disaster began in April 1983 after heavy precipitation caused instability in the earth. Utah Department of Transportation crews initially responded to reports that shifting earth had left huge cracks in U.S. Highway 6. Shortly the giant slide, moving at 6-18 inches an hour, dumped more than one million cubic yards of earth over the highway and destroyed the Denver and Rio Grande western railroad tracks. Highway crews were unable to save either the road or the tracks as the mud mountain continued to slide from early April into May. The massive slide created a natural dam across the Spanish Fork River, and the dam in turn created Thistle Lake, which completely submerged and destroyed the town of Thistle. The U.S. Corp of Engineers, the Utah National Guard, and construction workers from many companies joined UDOT workers in response to the Thistle slide. Efforts to control the slide turned to reconstruction of rail and roadways, and to the construction of a drainage tunnel which would control drainage of Thistle Lake.


Utah State Archives and Records Service