Dry Fork Flume

Picture of intact flume about 1920. Courtesy of Thorne Studio

Why this interest in an old flume? People of the Uinta Basin have been trying to figure out the mysterious sinks in Dry Fork Canyon for over 100 years. The earliest recorded attempt occurred in 1887 when the men of Dry Fork Canyon tried to construct a ditch around the largest sink in the canyon in an effort to save the water for irrigation. They fruitlessly dug a ditch around the sink hole, only to have the water disappear into another sink hole. After this frustrating attempt, a company was formed to harness the water in Dry Fork Creek for irrigation and milling use. The Uintah Milling and Flume Company worked from 1893-1897 at this task, building a road to the sinks and constructing a flume. However, the flume leaked so badly that the dirt supporting the trestles washed away causing it to topple over.

Picture of the flume about 1920. Courtesy of Thorne Studio.No more efforts to resolve the mysterious sinks were made until 1912 when J. Winter Smith, a civil engineer, reported that the water which enters the Dry Forks sinks was lost to all practical purposes. He also states that the water lost does not reappear in either Dry Fork, which is below the sinks, or in the Ashley Creek Springs. Again, the public abandoned the idea of trying to solve the mystery of the sinks until 1940s when locals dug a 4 foot x 5 foot test pit by hand alongside the channel of Dry Fork. The pit reached a depth of 63 feet before digging was stopped. Later, the Bureau of Reclamation deepened it to a depth of 93 feet.

Throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, talk continued about where the water went to and how it could be harnessed. However, this time the government was doing the talking. The Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Utah Water and Power Board, and Soil Conservation Service all put their efforts into solving this mystery. In 1966, it was proposed that the "lost water" was emerging in the Ashley Creek Springs, the main municipal water supply for the city of Vernal. A dye test was performed in 1967 to prove this hypothesis. On August 22, Rhodamine pink dye was introduced, at a concentration of one part per million, at the upper gaging stations of all three forks of Dry Fork simultaneously. By 4:00 pm on August 25 a pinking color was plainly visible in the water. During the 26th and 27th of August, all water distributed by the Vernal Municipal water system was pink in color. This caused some consternation in the citizens of Vernal until they were informed by the local radio station that the dye was harmless. This experiment and two more dye tests solved the mystery of the Dry Creek sinks.

Cabin at Dry Fork Flume Mill site.
The flume supports as they look today. Large cabins that may have been stables.



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Jeffrey A. Rust