National Geographic : 1949 Sep
First Motor Sortie into Escalante Land BY JACK BREED With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author T HE station wagon groaned and creaked as it staggered to the top of a sand dune and mushed down the other side. Behind it lay 30 miles of such trackless, rough terrain that only by a miracle had the car kept going. Ahead stretched a mysterious land of weird shapes carved by wind and rain-a wonder land of ember-glowing rocks, saberlike peaks, awesome canyons, and delicately chiseled natural bridges looped in gleaming arches against a steely sky. The lead vehicle of our Escalante Expe dition of 15 adventurers stood at the edge of the last frontier in Utah, one of the least known wilderness areas in the United States. Our mobile headquarters was this handsome Pontiac station wagon, which carried the flags of the National Geographic Society and the Explorers Club, of New York (page 372). Generous citizens from neighboring towns, and especially the U. S. Bureau of Land Management, had contributed three jeeps, two trucks, 35 horses, and all the food. Rollin Usher, of Cortez, Colorado, had lent us his trim Stinson monoplane for aerial work; and Art Greene, of Marble Canyon Lodge, in Arizona, had agreed to meet an overland group at Hole in the Rock crossing with his special boat and take us on Colorado River trips.* Mystery Land near Bryce Canyon By facing southeast from Inspiration Point a visitor to Bryce Canyon National Park can look down on the Escalante Country, named for the Spanish padre who explored the area at the time of the American Revolution (page 379 and map, page 380). Like many curious people who view the region from there, we, who were now much closer, were anxious to find out just what was hidden among all those cliffs and canyons. "Did you ever hear of any natural bridges or arches in this country?" I asked John Johnson. "Yes," he said, "I've heard tell of one or two, but in my 40 years here I've never seen any. I'm always too busy looking for stray cattle or good grass feed to notice the scenery." Leaving Cannonville (page 376), we dropped off the roadway into Paria River Valley, following the stream bank until we were able to cross. We continued on a rough, sandy trail east toward Dry Valley and a chalky precipice near Slickrock Bench. After ten miles we came out into a broad, flat valley, open to the south but hemmed in on the north by thousand-foot white sandstone cliffs. A Color Photographer's Paradise It was beautiful and fantastic country. A mile to the left near the base of the cliff I could see red pinnacles thrust up from the valley floor. The few natives who had been here called this area "Thorny Pasture," but we renamed it "Kodachrome Flat" because of the astonishing variety of contrasting colors in the formations. Huge rocks, towers, pinnacles, fins, and fans surrounded us. Everywhere the results of erosion could be seen in all stages (pages 374 and 375). Continuing southeast, we fought our way over sand dunes, ledges, and rock benches and through numerous washes. I was glad the car had oversize tires and extra-powerful gears. At 4 o'clock we stopped high on a plateau near the upper Wahweap basin and climbed to the top of a commanding mesa. With binoculars I scanned the country beyond us. Carefully studying every fold and canyon in a high white palisade four miles to the north, I thought I could see a break through one of its numerous fins. The others agreeing, we set forth toward the gleaming palisade. Our highest expectations were soon realized. What we saw was an arch-a new arch, un charted and unnamed! This striking natural bridge is carved from creamy rock, a rarity in a land of brilliant reds. Actually, it is a double arch, with the larger span on the end of a buttress that juts from the main sandstone butte. Near the anchor end wind has blasted a smaller hole through the buttress (pages 371 and 373). * In the party were Don Moffitt, range manager for the United States Bureau of Land Management; Allen Cameron and his son Kelly; Burnett Hendrix, Ralph Hunt, and Rollie Allen, all of Panguitch, expert jeep drivers; John Johnson, Wilfred Clark, Doyle Clark, Sam Pollick, and Tom and Clark Smith, from the little Mormon towns of Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrie ville, ranchers who knew the region and lent horses, feed, and guide services; biologist Golden Kilburne of Utah State Agricultural College; David Hart of Santa Barbara, California; and the writer.