SALT LAKE CITY — The Bear Lake Monster. Whales living in the Great Salt Lake. A neighborhood of hobbits in Sugar House.
Only a short drive within the state can take you to any one of Utah's legendary locations. While Utah's places of legend and folklore make for good stories, are they actually true?
Whales in the Great Salt Lake
Folklore claims that sometime around 1873, an Englishman named James Wickham brought two 35-foot Australian whales from San Francisco to the Great Salt Lake in tanks made especially for them. He hoped the whales would live and reproduce, and he would have whales on-hand for their precious oil.
The whales adapted to the lake, the story claims, as if it were the ocean, reproducing young. Though nobody has been able to confirm it, people have claimed whale sightings in the lake.
According to a 1995 Deseret News article, however, only one newspaper — the now-defunct newspaper Utah Enquirer, of Provo — wrote about such a momentous event as two whales being transplanted to Utah.
"If there actually were whales in the Great Salt Lake, just waiting to supply the oil lamps of pioneering Deseret Territory residents, no mention is made of them in any source the Deseret News could find," the Deseret News wrote.
Even if the whales did come to Utah, the University of Utah's Department of Biology says the mammals could not have survived the lake's high salt content.
Though you might not see a whale, you can check out the lake's salt content yourself by taking a boat ride or walk the Spiral Jetty.
Allen Park, "Hobbitville"
Legend has it that a small, secret neighborhood in Salt Lake was built exclusively for little people, probably hobbits.
Once inside this secret suburb, you would see tiny houses, posts with strange sayings painted on them, and you might be chased away by small people throwing vegetables and wielding pitchforks.
The story misses the mark.
Dr. George Allen and Ruth Larsen Allen built the 8-acre neighborhood, Allen Park, in the 1930s and 1940s as a bird sanctuary. The small houses and log cabins were not built for hobbits or little people.
Allen was the town's doctor, and bought the houses when a town owned by Kennecott was turned into the slag dump by the company.
"I guess they're little houses, but they're one- and two-bedroom apartments," said Amy Allen Price, the daughter of the Allens.
The wooded neighborhood does boast hand-painted and carved adages on its handcrafted stone lightposts, saying things like "The night has a thousand eyes," "List to nature's teachings," and "Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own."
"I don't think secretive is the word, just very private," said Chad Farnes of the blog "Utah's Present History," who met with Price and photographed the neighborhood.
The neighborhood is private, and they ask that visitors not disturb the tenants, though you can get a view from a distance.
In the mouth of Parley's Canyon, a towering rock — said to be used as a watchtower for Native Americans — rests almost level with the highway cut into the hills.
According to the oral tradition, hundreds of years ago, a young Native American woman threw herself from the rock's edge after learning of her love's death.
Though oral tradition is hard to prove, the sandstone rock did welcome early travelers into the Salt Lake Valley from Parley's Canyon.
Now, the rock continues to welcome people into Salt Lake, but it has taken a much more colorful form. The rock's surface changes with every mark of paint added by those brave enough to scale Suicide Rock.
The Suicide Rock trail, dotted with historical markers, leads into the canyon and to the reservoir, about 3 miles away.
Bear Lake Monster
Lurking beyond Bear Lake's resorts, scenic shores and blue waters is the lake's monster. Folklore claims the monster hides in the parts of the lake too deep to be measured. The creature is said to be anywhere from 40 to 200 feet long, brown, with a head like an alligator (though some said it was a walrus-like head) and big eyes set a foot apart.
More than a century later, people still claim to see the beast of such a vague description from time-to-time.
The monster's origins stem from Native Americans in the area, who claimed that their ancestors had seen the monster, according to the Bear Lake Chamber.
The story became popular, however, after Joseph C. Rich, wrote the monster's story down and sent it to the Deseret News. It was published on July 31, 1868.
Though the story has little evidence to back it up, it certainly gives tourists an extra thrill as they're out on the lake. In case of snow, fill your time with winter skiing and hiking.
Places like these become cherished not just for their beauty, but for their story when you take some time to explore the legends of Utah.
Top image: Chad Farnes