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Epic Journey

The Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition

In the autumn of 1879, some 250 men, women, and children undertook one of the most challenging and dramatic pioneering expeditions in American history.  Their mission?  To establish a settlement along the San Juan River in the southeast corner of Utah.  Their plan?  To blaze a direct transportation route through 200 miles of remote and breathtakingly rugged country that stretches southeast of Escalante.  An expedition they expected to last six weeks became an epic six-month journey demanding scarcely imaginable endurance, determination, faith, and grit.

Taking a Shortcut

Two circuitous routes to the San Juan River existed when the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition began.  Lack of water and unpredictable relations with native people along those routes—along with a desire to reach their destination quickly—prompted mission leaders to forge a direct route.


When the pioneers finally glimpsed the Colorado River it lay 1800 vertical feet below them.  The wagon train camped for six cold and snowy weeks while men carved out the narrow, precipitous path to the river for which the expedition is now named.

Dance Hall Rock

The Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers camped at Forty-miles Spring for more than three weeks, watiting for all expedition members to arrive and for leaders to determine if the proposed route was feasible.  To pass the time, they held dances in a natural amphitheater they called Dance Hall Rock, now a National Historic Site.

Redrock Labyrinth

After the Herculean effort of sagely maneuvering 83 wagons down to the Colorado River, the pioneers’ journey was far from over.  Ahead of them lay two months of arduous travel through ore than 140 miles of canyon and rolling slickrock.

Escalante’s Role

Three Escalante residents: Charles Hall, Andrew P. Schow, and Reuben Collett made the first scouting reports on the Hole-in-the-Rock route.  Hall and his sons cut timber on the Aquarius Plateau for the ferry the expedition would use to ford the Colorado River, and many Escalante residents helped build the vessel.  During the long journey, expedition members periodically returned to Escalante for supplies and mail.

To learn more:


Hole in the Rock - An Epic in the Colonization of the GreatAmerican West. by David E. Miller


for more historical fiction with fact footnotes try:  The Undaunted by Gerald N. Lund,

OR EVEN BETTER- stop into our Visitor's Center where we have these books, and more, along with Escalante residents to talk to about this wild west!

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