103. Monticello, UT

Friday, Sept 18, 2020

Today was my travel day for the week and I’m heading to Monticello, about 40 miles south of Moab, UT/Arches Natl Park. I spent time in The Arches area in 2003 at Portal RV Park and 4 yrs ago, I think, at ACT campground, both in Moab. I priced campsites in the heavy tourist area of Moab and found pricing between $75-90/nite. Moab comm’l campgrounds with services just aren’t worth that kind of $. On the other hand, the next nearest town is Monticello, 40 miles away. I opted for a nice full service, treed campground in Monticello for $200/week.

It was kind of an ugly drive. Having been here before, I know the scenery is fabulous. It’s just that I have a nephew and wife in California who apparently are entertaining their grandmunchkins around the campfire and the smoke is drifting this way. It was beyond a hazy drive – more like a smokey fog obscuring most of the views. Thankfully the wind has shifted out of the East and is predicted to continue that way for the weekend so it should start clearing this evening and be much better tomorrow. In addition I didn’t feel well last night and got very little sleep.

As one can see above, on the turn south from I70, there is a marked change in geology as the mountains change to a distinctive red color. Not obvious is the increase in the number of buttes, standing rocks and other evidence of lots of wind erosion.

Saturday, Sept 19, 2020

Far less smoke this morning close in and at semi ground level. Still very hazy in the distance and the higher up you look. The campground I’m at is not fancy but the sites are long enough, level and easy to back in. Shade, water, electric (50A) and sewer, what more do you need?

Across the side street is the 18 hole Hideout Golf Course. So I drove over to see what kind of course they might have in this arid rocky area. What a surprise! The entry and clubhouse are at ‘high ground’ with the lush green, treed course rapidly descending into the valley and then back up the incline. Greens are visible in the far distance nestled in the hills and trees. It seems that in the 1940’s through early 1960, Monticello was the site of a private and then US Dept of Energy uranium/vanadium mine and processing plant – in fact one of the largest in the country – contributing radioactive material for the Manhattan Project. In 1960, with demand for uranium diminished, the mine and plant were shut down. The area suffered from heightened incidence of cancers.

The current golf course site was the location for the plant’s tailings and uranium/vanadium sludge. In the 80’s it was the location of 2 superfund cleanups and in the 90’s the community received millions to rehabilitate the land. The golf course became part of that rehabilitation and is considered the second best course overall in Utah and the 23rd best Municipal course in the country. It and the local Morman temple are the highlights of the community.

I got quite the local story on the mine from the lady running the very nice information center and museum. Her dad worked in the plant and her mother corresponded with her dad about 6 months before coming west to marry him. Amongst the first things her dad took her on a plant tour (no security) and he opened a regular door in the plant into a big room to show her the big pile of yellow rocks in the middle!

I decided not to drive the nearly 60 miles north to Moab. First, Moab would be only the beginning then of the sightseeing day; second Moab, due to its closeness to Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Deadhorse SP, is a tourist Mecca and even though it’s mid Sept. the town was teeming yesterday when I went through it. They were turning cars away from Arches yesterday when I drove past and I heard a report from my former Last Resort crew member who is camped some 20 miles further north of Moab that visitors were being turned away from Canyonlands, north of Moab, today. Third, I’ve spent time in Moab, Arches etal in 2003 and again 4 yrs ago so I really don’t need to see it all again.

Canyonlands NP is effectively divided into 3 huge areas, though contiguous. This is because of the paucity of navigable roads. US 191 (from Flaming Gorge/Vernal) runs north south along the eastern edge. Access to the most popular part of the park, ‘Islands in the Sky’, is off US-191 about 10 miles north of Moab and Arches and dead ends some 50+miles south against basically impenetrable rock, mountains and canyons. Adjacent to the west is ‘The Maze’ part of the park accessible only by off road vehicles. The 3rd part of the park, ‘The Needles’, is accessed about 10 miles north of Monticello or about 65 miles south of the north entrance. That south access road runs westerly about 20 miles before coming to the actual park boundary and then runs another 30 miles in the park before it too runs into impossible canyons. You then have to reverse course and return the whole distance. Never having seen this part of Canyonlands NP, I decided to explore The Needles.

Many road intersections are identified as ‘by the Walmart’ or the ‘3rd traffic traffic light down’. Many inlets are identified by a lighthouse or break walls. The intersection of US-191 and the turnoff to ‘The Needles’ is identified as Church Rock; you’ll know it when you see it.

The drive along the road to access the park is interesting in its own right…

…but the sights within the park are amazing.

In the third picture above, immediately below the Wooden Shoe Arch, there is a horizontal band. Could you read the inscription? It says ‘Albertus Van Raalte was here’.😎😂 (For my West Michigan Dutch friends and relatives)

You may remember that I bought a Jeep as a toad behind the motorhome. The model was Trail Master and it is officially “trail rated” by Jeep. Among the five criteria each vehicle is rigorously tested and evaluated by includes vehicle traction, maneuverability, ground clearance, water fording and off road articulation. Well, I’m old and not going to make my own tracks up a mountain but I did see a trail off shoot near the end of the Park road. The sign warned that it was for off road vehicles only on this trail. Why not???

So off I go on this dirt, gravel, natural rock ONE lane trail with hairpin blind turns, steep climbs and descents and beautiful views. Upon meeting any oncoming traffic, agreement was needed who would go off the trail, and where, to pass. Numerous areas at the bottom of swales where flash flooding took what little trail there was necessitating a 10’ or so “no trail” ride. Fun. Glad I got the ‘trail rated’ model even if this is the only time I use it as such. All the pictures from #5 on in the above slide show, were from along the trail.

Monday, Sept 21, 2020

After some chores this morning, I took a ride to check out two sights I saw when driving the motorhome to Monticello. I couldn’t find a safe place to stop at the time. One is called Wilson Arch and it’s not part of any park system. It’s just sitting there on the side of the US191 road,

It’s an immense arch and people are free to climb to it, around it and in it. There was a group up there under the arch and as best I could tell, it looked as though they were eating a picnic lunch.
And next to the arch formation was a fin formation. I couldn’t really get a good picture angle but that big rock is probably only 20-25’ thick. Kind of like a fin on a fish.

About 10 miles further up the highway was a tourist trap called “Hole N the Rock”. A very kitschy looking place. I had to look it up online and decided it was probably worth a stop.

Also note the ultimate off road driving experience on the top of the rock. A white Jeep Wrangler displayed as though it’s about to drive off the rock. Also note to the left of the large “H” a huge gecko type sculpture crawling on the side of the rock. Also note the niche blasted in the rock beneath the “OC” with a rock sculpture of FDR within. Finally note the projection sticking out of the ledge above and to the right of the “K”. That’s two 10” bores through the rock ceiling to provide a chimney for the fireplace inside. The white Souvenir Shop used to be the Hole N the Rock diner and to the right of it are two of the three facades providing natural light to the cave inside.

In the 1940 a Mr Christensen started blasting a cave in this rock. He and his wife worked on it for 12 years. He was a former miner, an artist, a sculptor and taxidermist. Over that time they built and blasted a 5,000 square foot interior structure which became their home and business. The business was a diner blasted into a large cave. Adjacent was another cave room which was the commercial kitchen. In addition to regular appliances, the carved a large stone bowl in the wall with piping from a propane tank to a burner within. The stone bowl served to hold frying oil in which they made their French fries. Ice boxes are blasted into the rock. No heat or air conditioning inside as temps stay between 65 and 72 degrees year round.

Thru the back door of the kitchen, you enter their home. IT IS SPACIOUS AND WELL OUTFITTED. 3 bedrooms, either 2 baths or 1.5 baths (large deep tub is carved out of the rock wall), home kitchen, dining room, huge living room with beautiful fireplace, an large office, a studio for his painting, sculpturing and taxidermy, and an equally large studio for her rock collecting, sanding, polishing and jewelry making. In one corner of the living room is the start of a planned 100 step interior stairway which he was building to the very top of the rock where they were planning on a patio and garden. He died, in his 50’s, of a heart attack shortly after starting it and she continued the diner, tours and jewelry businesses for 17 more years. The interior guided tour of 12 minutes duration was $5.00.

No pictures are allowed inside. I was fortunate enough to snap a pic into the diner’s kitchen before being reminded of the rule. The kitchen is the only painted room to conform with health regulations that a restaurant kitchen must have walls, ceilings and floors that can be cleaned. I’ll try to find some online pics that may show the inside of this incredible dwelling. The outside (and inside) is littered with eccentric sculptures. There is also a zoo of some sort on premise which I did not visit.

Kitchen for the diner

Stock photos; Art studio, taxidermy and sculpture studio, and child’s bedroom.

Final resting place

Jeep sculpture

Will be leaving Friday for my next stop.

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5 thoughts on “103. Monticello, UT”

  1. Wow! Didn’t know Utah had so much to see! All I ever did in Utah was snow ski! Very interesting narrative, thank you for letting us “tag” along!!


    1. Actually Joan in my opinion I haven’t been to the really magnificent parts of UT on this trip. Not sure if I will either as I’ve been to them before. Alluded to in this post is Arches. Also wonder full is Bryce, Zion, the nearby north rim of the Grand Canyon, adjacent Vermillion Cliffs and Escalante, the 120+/- mile Rt 12 Mountain ridge road between Bryce and Torrey. Entire SW UT including the sights you’d see just riding the interstate would qualify as a national park in any other area of the country, save i understand, Alaska.


  2. Great post as always. I not responsible however for any of the California craziness.
    It truly is run by fruits and nuts.


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