Down In the Dell | Get Out | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Down In the Dell 

A stretch of urban open space is a reminder of an earlier Salt Lake Valley

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I was that little girl—the one who dreamed of having horses. High on a shelf in my parents' study, an empty apple-juice jar collected all my hopes and dreams for that horse. At most, it once added up to about $22. Eventually, my parents—in an odd twist of parent/child roles—began "borrowing" from the jar when they needed cash.

Needless to say, I never got that horse, but I did grow up riding. I can still feel myself in the saddle, the gentle sway of Apollo's tawny ribs under my tiny knees. Back in those days, you didn't have to drive much farther that 9200 South to get to a stable surrounded by open space and endless riding trails. By the time I quit riding, sometime around 1996, strip malls, housing developments, offices, warehouses and new roads were already pushing the riding stables farther onto the fringes of the valley.

These days, it would seem that there's no place to ride any more unless you take a long drive away from the Wasatch Front, east toward Heber or north toward Henefer. But, surprisingly, you'd be wrong. There is a fantastic place to ride a stone's throw from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon: Dimple Dell Park.

On a recent afternoon, a few hours before sunset, my husband and I loaded Cooper and Harley, two of his mother's horses, into a long silver horse trailer and drove 15 short minutes from her house in South Jordan to the main trailhead for Dimple Dell Park. For someone well acquainted with the open spaces surrounding the valley in the foothills and on mountain trails, but less familiar with the open spaces of the valley, Dimple Dell was a revelation.

The 644-acre Dimple Dell Park follows the Dry Creek drainage, a winding depression that cuts through the middle of a suburban Sandy neighborhood. Established in 1963, when Salt Lake County purchased land along the drainage, the Dell was an early, forward-thinking piece of city planning. It was created to provide a "quality experience for people in a nature-dominated environment." Wisely designed, this "island of urban nature" includes minor developments and amenities that make it inviting and easy to use. A network of hiking, walking and equestrian trails crisscross the Dell. Picnic sites provide a welcome place to rest in the shade.

We saddled the horses and went through the ritual of setting saddle blankets and tightening cinches. Gravel crunched under the horse's hooves as they settled their weight from side to side. When all was ready, we turned from the parking lot to the trail. Cooper and Harley, nose to tail, stepped out onto a narrow, sandy path. Eventually, the path merged onto the wider main trail and began following the contours of the drainage. From down low in the dell, cottonwood and elm trees, native grasses and brush blocked all view of the houses that ran along either side. The noise of traffic quieted until only the whir of insects was audible.

I once saw, on a visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah, two photographs side by side, each taken of the foothills looking from the Avenues to the University of Utah. A span of nearly 100 years separated each frame. The difference between the two scenes was easily visible. As houses moved in, the natural curve of the land disappeared.

It's nice to be reminded of what the Salt Lake Valley once looked like before the houses and roads. Photographs are one way to preserve our home's natural legacy. A place like Dimple Dell lets us experience that history. Inside Dimple Dell, the city fades away.

A handful of joggers passed as we rode the trail. Dog-walkers politely stepped out of the way, pulling their animals aside to let us pass. With the light quickly dimming, we turned back towards the truck and trailer just in time to see a deer and her fawn move off through the evening light and disappear into the park.

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