Last Wednesday I hiked up Little Cottonwood Canyon to revisit the strange ruins at the top of the trail. The trail that runs parallel to the road from the base of the canyon is my favorite after-work mountain biking trail. Across the river from the top of the trail you can see some ruins hidden among the trees. Unfortunately, the river is fueled by all of the melting snow from higher up the canyon, so the water level remains too high to cross for most of the year. This fall the water level finally fell low enough to cross.
The building itself, or what remains of it, was definitely worth the hike and the river crossing. All of the walls were precisely constructed from stacked granite rocks gathered from the surrounding area and held together with mortar. The only exceptions were the wood planks surrounding the door and window frames and some relatively ornate concrete arches over each of the window openings. I can’t even imagine how much effort it would have taken to collect and stack all of those rocks into a building of that size. Given the fact that the building was mostly reduced to rubble, it wasn’t the most robust construction method, but it definitely has a visual impact that is hard to match with any of the modern construction methods.
I had a difficult time finding any evidence of what the building might have been originally used for. After many years of snowy Utah winters, curious hikers, and what looked like a few seasons of abnormally high river waters carrying mud into the building, there was little evidence of the original purpose of the building. I managed to find a pair of small metal hooks near the door, perhaps just large enough to hold two sets of keys. A hole in the floor gave way to a small drainage tunnel that must have carried drain water out to the river. What remained of the roof trusses appeared to be constructed with the same attention to detail applied to the rest of the building. Whatever material the roof was originally constructed from had long since decayed or washed away.
I searched the internet for some clues about the old building, but never came up with anything useful. Little Cottonwood Canyon was used by the Mormon pioneers as a source of quartz monzonite to build the temple in downtown Salt Lake City, but it sounds like most of the stone came from the mouth of the canyon 3 miles below this building. Still, given the rather ornate construction of the building and my lack of a better explanation, I’m inclined to guess that the structure was constructed for use as a church. Definitely worth a visit if you’ve got a few hours to spare in the Fall.