The Point of the Mountain, a key part of Utah’s future, holds tons of info on its past

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SALT LAKE AND UTAH COUNTIES (ABC4) – The area where Salt Lake and Utah Counties meet, known as the Point of the Mountain, is expected to play a huge role in Utah’s future.

The website for a potential development project in the area by Envision Utah, carries a titillating header above an introductory paragraph for the plan, reading “Rarely does a region have an opportunity like this.”

“The Point of the Mountain area, extending from Sandy to Lehi, is well situated to become an economic powerhouse for a growing high-tech economy,” the project section of the site illustrates. Additional planning documents suggest that in an ideal scenario, the area could generate municipal revenue of over $4 billion and state revenue from sales and income tax of over $19 billion.

There’s a lot to be excited about, although much of the planning is being made decades in advance, with the full vision of the community set to 2050.

Whatever happens at the Point of the Mountain, whether the soon-to-be-vacant prison site becomes a transportation hub or a world-class sporting venue, if a brand-new innovative research university fills in some of the space, or if it becomes a compact, yet vibrant development area, it’s going to change the dynamics of the area immensely.

Image comparison of the development at the Point of the Mountain from 1993 to 2015 (Courtesy of Utah Geological Survey)

What’s interesting though, is that the Point of the Mountain has always been an important part of the region, even in prehistoric times. Between 13,000 to 30,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville dominated the landscape, sprawling from past the current Idaho border to just short of Cedar City and from the Wasatch Mountain range across the present border into Nevada. Back (way back) in those days, the Point of the Mountain was a “prominent feature” in Lake Bonneville, according to Utah Geological Survey Senior Geologist Mark Milligan.

When the massive Lake Bonneville shrunk into its primary remnant at the Great Salt Lake, it left behind shorelines on the surrounding valleys that aren’t unlike the rings on a bathtub. The aftermath also left features such as beaches, deltas, wave-cut benches, spits, and bars. It’s very likely that if had you been standing tens of thousands of years ago in the area where the Point of the Mountain spit is now, you would have seen enormous waves crashing on the shore of the lake. You might also be dodging a saber-tooth cat on the prowl, or even been admiring a wooly mammoth, as some of the fossil records on the shoreline indicate.

Some of those prehistoric, Ice Age-era waves would have been quite large, according to Milligan. The sediment in the area tells the story, he says.

“There was a study done that looked at the sediment there, the sand, the individual grains, and the gravel, and most of the transport was from the north side around to the south side, which tells you there were a lot of big storms that had a lot of wave energy, driving that transportation from north to south,” he explains.

There’s no telling how big the waves were, but considering the water had a huge amount of space to build, as it stretched all way from where the Idaho border is now, it’s safe to say they were quite large.

Courtesy of Utah Geological Survey

Further research at the Point of the Mountain has continued to yield fascinating details about Utah’s past, but unfortunately, gathering the data has become a race along with the rapid development in the area. As more digging and excavation is done in the gravel pits in the area, more ancient earth is exposed, but soon, removed. Milligan calls this a ‘double-edged sword.’

“Where the mining exposes the deposits, and there are scientists interested and available, they can look and see inside these deposits,” he says. “But once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

That same gravel that can provide so much information on the history of the region is also the same gravel being used to build its future, as it is a major part of construction materials. It’s been an important part of Utah’s economic boom, but it’s also carrying the opportunity to learn about the past away with it.

A gravel pit near the Point of Mountain (Courtesy of Utah Geological Survey)

“The gravel pits are removing the geologic record, but they’re also exposing it,” Milligan states. “So if there had been no mining at the Point of the Mountain, there would be no exposure into these deposits.”

A classic double-edged sword, indeed.

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