National Geographic : 1952 Jun
Roaming the West's Fantastic Four Corners included speeches by Utah's Governor Herbert Maw, Zeke Johnson, and Art himself. Now several thousand dollars have been appropri ated to improve Chaffin's trail, and oil and uranium prospectors moving in along it have boosted Hite's transient population to nearly a hundred. The road up to Hanksville at the time we traversed it was hardly a boulevard. Of its 58 miles, about half is spent crossing and recrossing the bed of North Wash. One dis gusted driver reckoned he had crossed it 76 times in 30 miles. Hanksville itself proved to be a sad spot. Once knee-deep in rich prairie grass, the region around it is now unimaginably barren and desolate. The answer can be compressed into one bleak word-erosion. The Mormons who settled this section in 1880 were both courageous and determined, but their very efforts to grow and expand as a community were their undoing. Water for irrigation was insufficient and unreliable, and the attempt to wring more from the earth by grazing and dry farming stripped away the topsoil. In such a situation, perhaps the least use ful doctrine for the settlers to have brought with them was polygamy. Yet it was pre cisely to practice this prohibited system that many of the Mormons came to isolated Hanks ville and its environs. One group holed up at Lees Ferry on the Colorado. When Arizona's Governor George Hunt visited the area, he was told about the polygamy and urged to stamp it out. Said Hunt, after a sour look at the town, "If I had to live in this place I'd want more than one wife myself." Another group settled near the Capitol Reef buttes. In a certain gulch there, Mor mons and their wives hid from the "Federals," and thus it acquired its piquant name, Cohab Canyon-short for "cohabitation," the offi cial charge placed against polygamous Saints. Such refuges served their purpose well enough. The Government couldn't be both ered to hound lawbreakers so far off the beaten track. Hanksville and its fellow oases developed undisturbed. When polygamy died there, it fell to a subtler enemy, the economic impossibility of supporting more than one wife on wind-blown acres like these. Valley of the Goblins Mormons of the Four Corners Country have come to take for granted the remarkable scen ery that surrounds them. For example, one seldom sees a farmhouse set with an eye to the view, though there are some amazing sites for a picture window. The Mormon ranchers around Hanksville long have known about the fantastic Valley of the Goblins, better known as "Goblin Gulch," only 10 miles to the north; but they have never made any fuss about it. This amazing little valley, about eight square miles in area, looks like a convention of freaks. Crowded into its galleries and amphitheaters are hundreds of crazily carved sandstone figures, in inspiration somewhere between the bizarre creations of a Dali and the prehistoric statues of Easter Island (pages 706 and 726). Staring at this extraordinary galaxy, I could only laugh and think to myself, "What a place for a high-school initiation on some moonlit night!" Public interest in the gulch dates back only to 1949, when Art Chaffin and P. W. Tompkins of San Francisco visited it and took what are thought to be the first pic tures ever snapped of its weird formations. Now it is in danger of being loved not wisely but too well by tourists more interested in leaving their mark than in preserving a very fragile whim of nature. Where Pioneers Met Their Match Enthusiastic, but undeniably parched, we left the Gulch and drove west over State Route 24 through badlands as dusty and thirsty as ourselves. The deserted settlements we passed bore mute evidence of the struggle which Mormon pioneers made to cultivate this forbidding country, only to be forced away by flood and erosion from a land that just did not want to be farmed. Beyond the cottonwoods of Caineville we crunched up the slopes of Blue Valley and prayed that the rains would leave us alone. This stretch of Mancos formation is one of the worst places in the United States for a vehicle in a storm. In pioneer days, wagons crossing it in wet weather had to stop every 100 feet to have the mud hacked from the wheels. Passing up the narrow entry to Capitol Reef National Monument, with canyon walls tow ering 1,000 feet above us, we encountered signs warning us to "Get out fast in case of cloudburst!" A good bit of advice, we thought. But how? Our luck held good, however. No rains assaulted us, and in 30 minutes we emerged from the gorge in front of the comfortable house of the superintendent, Charlie Kelly. From his windows we could look up at the red cliffs and white domes of the reef itself. Said Kelly, "There's one last place you've got to visit before you head home. And that's Cathedral Valley."