Latitude / Longitude:
5,043 ft (1,537 m)
Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)
Thistle is a ghost town in Utah County, Utah, United States, about 65 miles (105 km) southeast of Salt Lake City. During the era of steam locomotives, the town’s primary industry was servicing trains for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (often shortened to D&RG, D&RGW, or Rio Grande). The fortunes of the town were closely linked with those of the railroad until the changeover to diesel locomotives, when the town started to decline.
In April 1983, a massive landslide (specifically a complex earthflow) dammed the Spanish Fork River. The residents were evacuated as nearly 65,000 acre feet (80,000,000 m3) of water backed up, flooding the town. Thistle was destroyed; only a few structures were left partially standing. Federal and state government agencies have said this was the most costly landslide in United States history, the economic consequences of which affected the entire region. The landslide resulted in the first presidentially declared disaster area in Utah.
Rio Grande maintenance personnel began noticing unstable ground downstream from Thistle years before the landslide occurred. Maintenance crews repaired the track on several occasions, but they did not fully investigate the problem. Beginning with the remnants of Hurricane Olivia, the autumn and winter of 1982–83 featured record-breaking snow and rainfall. As the spring thaw melted the winter snow, the mountains in the area became saturated with water.
Thistle was almost completely destroyed. Most wooden buildings were carried away in the floodwaters. The state installed a temporary pumping station to prevent the lake from overflowing the dam; patrol boats skimmed up the floating remains of the town to prevent the debris from blocking the pumps. Most remains were either naturally deposited or placed on the eastern shore of the lake.