A couple of months ago my husband and I left Alaska on an extended business/family trip. Our journey took us down the Alaska Highway to the Ontario, Oregon/Fruitland, Idaho, area where we stored our 34-foot fifth wheel trailer. There we spent nearly a week packing our stuff and cleaning our trailer. Then we took it to a consignment lot and headed south to a rendezvous with our oldest son and his family in Salt Lake City.
We continued south to Lake Powell, which is located in a vast wilderness of rock canyons near the southern border of Utah. There we loaded all the camping gear, food, clothing, etc. needed for four adults and eight children (four belong to a daughter who asked me to babysit them while she took a trip with her husband) into our son’s boat and proceeded to cross Lake Powell to our camping spot.
Lake Powell is a reservoir located on the Colorado River along the Utah/Arizona border with most of the lake being in Utah. The Glen Canyon Dam was finished on September 13, 1963, and the Colorado River backed up to fill the Glen Canyon and numerous smaller canyons to create a reservoir. The Escalante River and the San Juan River also flow into the lake with the combined output called the Colorado River.
The lake is 186 miles long, 25 miles wide, and covers 161,390 acres. Its average depth is 132 feet with a maximum depth of 583 feet. The water level of the lake was down a lot, but the lake holds 24, 322,000 acre feet of water when full. Two million people visit Lake Powell each year, including several trips by my son and his family.
The lake is surrounded by high walls –at least 100 feet high and probably much higher - made of Navaho sandstone. On our 40 mile trip across the lake, our son asked us to watch for a break in the wall. I knew a little about the Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition in 1879 and quickly guessed that my son was taking us there.
We were soon at the spot where we anchored the boat and proceeded to climb up to the hole. The climb was a difficult one for me even though the grandchildren seemed to scamper up the mountain and over boulders without much trouble. There were spots where I needed help in both ascending and descending the route, which took maybe two hours both ways.
The hole was much different than I imagined it to be. In my mind, there was a hole in the canyon wall with a steep drop-off straight down to the Colorado River. I was wrong. The Hole-in-the-Rock is a small canyon with a narrow opening on the rim and a steep but slanting descent. The area close to the lake has a lot of sand and rocks of every size. As the terrain tapers to a very narrow and steep canyon, the sand disappears and the rocks increase in both size and number until the area is covered with mostly solid rock. There is a historical sign about half-way up.
I understand that the pioneers blasted rock off the side of the canyon to make it wide enough for a team of horses with a wagon to fit through it. After making the canyon wide enough, the pioneers dug holes in the side of the canyon to hold poles made from trees. Then they placed smaller branches and brush on the poles to make a hanging “road” from the top of the canyon as fall down as needed. The holes are still visible, but the poles and brush disappeared long ago. I must say that I would not like to be in a wagon going down that road!
The whole project seems impossible to me, particularly since the bottom of the canyon was 130 feet below where we anchored the boat. I understand this part of the project took weeks and even months. Once the road was complete or maybe while still working on it, the pioneers emptied their wagons by making numerous trips down the canyon with a load of goods and then back up the canyon for another load. Once the wagons and horses were all on the canyon floor, the pioneers still had to cross the river and travel through many miles of the same type of terrain.
After seeing what the Hole-in-the-Rock really looks like, I had a desire to learn more about it. I knew that Gerald N. Lund wrote a historical novel about the expedition titled The Undaunted – The Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers. I looked for a copy of the book in my son’s library, but he did not have one. I eventually ordered the book, which came today.
I read the Preface to the book and found some interesting quotes. The first one is by the late David Miller, then a professor of history at the University of Utah: “In all the annals of the West, replete with examples of courage, tenacity and ingenuity, there is no better example of the indomitable pioneer spirit than that of the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition of the San Juan Mission. No pioneer company ever built a wagon road through wilder, rougher, more inhospitable country, still one of the least-known regions in America. None ever demonstrated more courage, faith, and devotion to a cause than this group … who cut a wagon passage through two hundred miles of this country…. Today their feat seems well-nigh impossible. Yet they proved that virtually nothing was impossible for a zealous band of pioneers. (Miller, Hole, ix)” (p. vi).
Another quote is by President Gordon B. Hinckley: “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all. (Hinckley, “Faith of the Pioneers,” 3)” (ix).
Even though my ancestors were not part of the Hole-in-the-Rock experience, I am interested in learning more about it. Maybe someday I will do more exploring in the area. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to go to this website. This site provides historical information, maps of the trail, photographs, videos, GPS coordinates, and much more. This is another site that shows good pictures of the trail.
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