Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hole-in-the-Rock Utah

Last Saturday I was privileged to take a trip down the desert road south of Escalante (my hometown) to a place that is very special to me, called Hole-in-the-Rock.  When a lot of folks hear this name they correlate it with an arch and store south of Moab, Utah.  While that Hole-in-the-Rock is impressive, I wish to tell you about another today.  Now, I know many of you that are from Utah have heard the story, but I also know many have never ventured to the site.  While mid-June is not the ideal time to go due to rough roads and 100 plus degree heat, I am humbled and find myself in awe every time I visit the site.  Though I live under 80 miles from the site, I have only visited about a half-dozen times in my life.  This trip will always be remembered as one of my favorites, as I took my kids for their first time and was able to relate the story, which did involve some of my ancestors.  For those unfamiliar, let me tell you a short version of the story.

The year is 1879 in South Central Utah.  Pioneers belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ-of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) had been in the communities of Cedar and Parowan for just under 20 years.  many settlers to the communities had been there for less time than that.  It's hard to imaging traveling across the plains by wagon and handcart, only to reach Utah, settling, and being called to settle again in the Cedar City area.  This was not the last experience in settling a new area for 250 of these people.  In the summer of 1879, church leadership called these 250 people to pick up their belongings and travel to the far southeastern corner of Utah to establish colonies in what would be known as "the San Juan Mission", named after the San Juan River which flowed through that country.  The church had hopes that settlement of the area would help to ease tensions with native American tribes in the area, as well as bring stability to the area.  This area was one of the very few remaining areas in the continental US to be explored and mapped, due to it's ruggedness.  The canyon of the Colorado River proved impossible to cross, and the 2 existing routes into the area took travelers nearly 200 miles around these impassible features.  It was determined that the party would seek a more direct path, as the area was only about 135 miles in a straight line from the Cedar City area.

Murals at the Hole-in-the-Rock Heritage Center depict scenes from wagon venturing down the road constructed at the "hole"

Looking up the Hole-in-the-Rock
This is where my heritage and ancestors come into play.  Escalante was settled at this time, a very young settlement in itself (1875) and men from the community were called to explore the area and find a path that would accommodate passage for the party down to the Colorado River, across it, and through the area beyond to their goal.  The exploring party located a crack in the 1,200 foot sandstone walls, which the party believe could be blasted out and improved to create a road to the river.  With this news, the San Juan Mission party set out on their way.  Initial travel was fairly easy along existing roads to their last sight of civilization they would encounter on their journey, Escalante.  After a short stop, the party proceeded south out of Escalante towards the Colorado River, nearly 70 miles away.  The next 50 miles were relatively easy.  The party made their way to 40 mile spring, and Dance Hall Rock, where they paused to send members of their party to explore the route to the crack the Escalante men had discovered.  Their report on return was very discouraging.  Going home was discussed, but mountain snows had already fallen, which would prohibit a return at this time.  The group decided to press on, camping at 50 mile spring while work commenced on the "hole".

Powder was in short supply, and it was soon determined there was not enough for the job.  To improvise, the party blasted holes in which they drove poles which created a base to tack the road to the side of the lower ledge.  Blasting above continued to create the fill for the road.  A barge was built on the river below to allow the wagons to be ferried across the river.

Looking down the hole to Lake Powell below.
The road was completed on January 25th, 1880, and wagons made their way down the narrow slot the following day.  The slot was barely wide enough for a wagon, and you can still see where the wagon hubs rubbed against the sandstone walls.  The wheels were chained to keep them from turning, horses and men held the wagons back to keep them from sliding down the steep "road" out of control.  One by one each wagon made it safely down and across the river.  The country on the east side of the river was the next challenge.  Cottonwood Canyon again proved a formidable foe, but once crossed the country beyond offered easier travel.  The party arrived in a valley where they established the community of Bluff, Utah in April of 1880.  The party had spent more time on this short distanced journey than other members of their faith that crossed the great plains to Salt Lake City that during those years.  These settlers went on to establish the communities of Blanding and Monticello, Utah as well.

The hole itself is quite a feat of wonder when you look at it, but I look at the desert country for 70 miles to that point and find myself wondering how I could have ever walked or drove wagons that distance, let alone down the hole.  The hole itself fills me with wonder as I try to envision the noise, dust, and confusion as man and beast struggled their way down the more than 45 degree slope to the river below.  It was an amazing experience to walk down into the hole and show my kids the marks left behind from the wagons, and tell them the story of the expedition. 

If you have not made the journey I highly recommend it!  True, it is a long way through desolate country, but if you really try to envision what this group went through it becomes a very special experience.  Let me break down a few ideas to make the trip more entertaining, and to enhance your experience:
Dance Hall Rock served as a natural "dance hall" and gathering place for religious services and other gatherings for the members of the San Juan Mission Expedition
  1. Hole-in-the-Rock Heritage Center.  Be sure to start the trip off right by visiting the heritage center located on the east side of Escalante, right off of highway 12.  Here you become better acquainted with the background and history of the story, including a replica of the type of wagon used, interpretative displays, and amazing murals depicting the passage down Hole-in-the-Rock, and the amazing story of "The Last Wagon".  The Heritage Center is a work in progress, we look forward to the final phase to be completed in the future. 
  2. Stops Along the Way.  It's only 70 miles from Escalante, but it's a very windy road, full of ups and downs and is quite often rough, which slows your travel.  There are many amazing natural wonders to check out on your way.  A stop at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitor center on the west side of Escalante, just off of highway 12 as well will help you locate some of these beautiful areas.  We opted to check out a couple of our favorites, the dinosaur tracks near 20 mile wash (off of the Colletts Canyon road), Devil's Rock Garden (just before the 20 mile wash, very well marked), and Dance Hall Rock, which is about 40 miles down the road.
  3. Plan for Almost a Full Day.  This is very remote country.  There are no services once you leave the pavement.  Cell Phone service is sketchy at best.  Take plenty of food and water, first aid, etc.  Take what you would need to spend a night if the worst were to happen.  The road is improved, but again can get a lot of washboards and loose rock.  We ruined a tire from a rock puncture on our outing.
  4. Spring and Fall are Best.  Being outside was not much fun on our trip!  The best times to beat the hear are from March-May, and September-November.  Do yourself a favor and go when the weather is cool, or consider very early morning before it gets hot!
  5. It's a lot Further Down than it Looks!  I know several people that have began the hike down to Lake Powell below, only to turn around to come back up.  It is just over a mile down to the lake, and nearly a 1,200 foot drop in elevation.  The road base is no longer visible, having been washed away long ago by wind and water.  Now large boulders littler the bottom, requiring a bit of strenuous hiking, and even climbing up and down short (10 foot) ledges.  Wear proper footwear and take plenty of water!
Hole-in-th-Rock Arch through the Phone Skope.
This truly is a very neat experience.  It is amazing to think that these 250 individuals pressed on considering they were being told they were going to, "Travel through country which could not be passed, down a road that could not be built, and across a river that could not be crossed".  It was an amazing experience to show my kids what can be accomplished when you are determined to succeed, and what our ancestors sacrificed for us.  At the end of the day, I was extremely proud of my boys as they carried on and on about their ancestors, and kept requesting songs by Johnny Cash from my iPod!   What else can I say, they have the important things figured out!  My job as a dad is done!

Even in the desert country of the Glen Canyon area you can find an amazing display of color and life.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013: An Epic Hunting Season!

The 2013 Utah Big Game Draw was very kind to us here at SUH&F!

That's right, after an 11 year wait I have drawn a Utah limited entry bull elk tag, which I will be hunting with a muzzleloader this year.  However, that's not the full story!

 That's right, our good friend Zach Owens has also drawn a late-season rifle limited entry bull elk tag as well!  But that's still not the full scoop of what awaits for this hunting season!

In addition, between myself, my wife, and grandpa we also hold 3 Utah general season deer tags...but that's still not all!!!

We have also been asked to accompany and help out another friend in town that drew out on a Utah once-in-a-lifetime desert bighorn sheep tag!  Dean drew this tag on his first attempt, a feat that takes most individuals 15-20 years!  Is that all?  Nope, there's still more!

To wrap up the summary, by brother-in-law also drew a Nevada rifle mule deer tag, which we will try to accompany along with all these other hunts.  Additionally, our good friend Ryan Dastrup's lucky streak of drawing tags continues as he drew a Utah limited entry archery bull elk tag.  We have high hopes of seeing the story on a bull that he takes here on our site!

But that's still not all!  A lot of big bulls are hitting the dirt this year, as a family friend has also drawn a Utah limited entry rifle bull elk tag, which we will be along for!  I'm looking into starting a support group for the hunting widows this year, as we look to be chasing mule deer and elk from August to November in 2 states! 

Of course I am tagging along several of these hunts to try my hand at filming, but I will also have my hands full trying to find 3 big bulls, 3 good bucks, and a desert bighorn!  The exciting part for me is that my good friend, Steve Barker of Cedar City, Utah will be tagging along to film my hunt.  Steve does an amazing job with a camera, as he has great equipment, quite a bit of training, and a ton of experience when it comes to hunting! 

I hope you check often as we post the adventure from start to finish.  I want to do the best I can of showing you my experience with my elk hunt from start to finish.  We are just in the process of getting a few trail cameras out, and more serious scouting will begin within days.  Check back as I keep you updated on what I am finding!

We have high hopes of compiling our first complete hunting video this year, complete with scouting footage, narration, interviews, and we hope above all, kill shots!  I am excited to share my journey with you, and above all, I hope it helps out future hunters.  I fully intend to share not only the highs of the hunt, but also the lows and struggles we all face as we search for a trophy.  I also greatly appreciate my friends and family that have drawn out that are inviting me along on their hunts and for being able to share them here as well!

With this exciting season approaching, we are also in the process of making some changes here.  You may have noticed it has been a while since a post.  I have done a lot of searching lately on which direction I want to take things with SUH&F.  While I want to share my Utah adventures, I have a great desire to broaden our viewership, and to interact more with folks here from across the country.  We fully intend on keeping a page dedicated to Southern Utah, but want to highlight more the simple things of the outdoors that benefit all.  We want this to be a place for the average outdoorsman, the beginner, and the pro.  We really want to focus on those things that will help beginners want to get out there, while allowing the rest of us to share in good times and great products.  We also want to focus more on family, especially on starting our kids out early with a love for the outdoors.  We have noticed a big change on our own kids as we have focused more on simple things lately, and I'm getting a lot of great feedback that these are the kinds of things folks want to hear to help their own families out!

Keep in mind we will keep up our traditions here of sharing trophies and hunting stories as well!  We are going to try to have at least 3 different themes a week, from basic topics to more advanced...something for everyone! 

Our hang up, we are still looking for a new name to kick this off!  We have a couple of ideas, and when we have 5 put together (we need a couple more) we will post them in the right sidebar in the form of a poll for you all to vote!  Please offer up any name suggestions on our Facebook Page!  We are endeavoring to create something that will grow larger that what we have now, with hopes of being able to increase the frequency and types of giveaways to you, our viewers and fans!  If we can get a solid foundation we also have hopes of designing an awesome logo, and kicking out some stickers, decals, and maybe a simple line of apparel!

Above all, we don't want to loose those of you already drawn here for Southern Utah information!  As stated, we will maintain a side page full of Southern Utah information and stories!  The great thing with all of this is that we are also looking for a few folks that can contribute to writing and posting here.  Think you have what it takes to "blog" about the outdoors?  Please shoot us your contact information and a short "resume" if you will of your outdoor experience, along with what you believe your writing can contribute to our site!  Send that info to us at suhuntandfish@gmail.com.  We will collect your names and information over the next few weeks, and look forward to choosing some new authors for our new site!

Thanks you all for your support!  Change will come gradually, and with time, and until then please check back as we have some great posts lined up for the coming week!

On one last note, I want to share this photo of our grand prize winner of our latest contest, our 2013 shed photo contest.  Kade Nielsen is sporting his new pair of Vortex 10x42 Diamondback binoculars and Vortex hat!  According to his dad, Phil, this young man is pretty stoked about his prize! We look forward to our next contest, which is just around the corner!