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