Last year when we were touring Monument Valley, we stopped at the Fort Bluff visitors center and learned about the Hole in the Rock. Essentially, a group of Mormon pioneers were sent to colonize a new area of Utah and because of terrain and hostile natives ended up traveling through an enlarged crevasse in a rock wall. This was a big deal for a couple of reasons. First they had to use dynamite to enlarge the hole and second they had to lower their covered wagons down a steep slope to get through the hole. Still doesn’t sound like that big of a deal? Check this picture out.
Fort Bluff visitors center is a recreation of the little community the pioneers settled in and every cabin has actual heirlooms provided by their ancestors. When we were touring the cabins we discovered a Perkins cabin. Turns out the dynamite work on the hole was done by the Perkins’ brothers from Wales. The leader of the group met them while doing mission work in the mines of Wales and talked them into the expedition. Since some of Lee’s family is from that area, we were really interested in the connection and it made the story even more interesting.
Unfortunately the only way to see the hole from the south is by boat, so we made a vow to see it from the north when we returned to Utah. When we were exploring Utah we ran across another small museum/visitors center and learned more about the expedition.
After those two visitor center we knew this was a Must-Do on our list but we weren’t really sure how to accomplish it without a four wheel drive vehicle. Luckily Cori, who had initially recommended Fort Bluff to us, was also captivated by the story and she wanted to go. Since the Chinook has 4WD capability it was an easy decision and the four of us planned a day trip. One of the best parts of traveling in the Chinook is that the dogs can come as well, and because it was a really long day we brought Jack along.
One thing I should mention about this road is it is long and dusty. I mean keep your windows rolled up dusty. It also has numerous attractions along the route, BUT you need to be very careful about what you do along the way if you want to make it to the end before dark. It simply cannot all be done in one day. We chose to drive to the end and then stop on the way back, but I am going to show you the stops as they occur from Route 12. In the first ten miles there are several turnoffs and two of those go to slot canyons. Before going on any side roads I would absolutely do your research and make sure that the canyons themselves are passable.
In contrast Devils Garden at MM 13 is right off the road and easily accessible. It is also a gem of a place with fantastic rock formation and easy to walk short trails. There is so much packed into this one tiny area, it is an absolute must see and best of all no 4WD is required as it is relatively close to Route 12. It’s also dog friendly and we let our dogs explore off leash.
After Devils Garden there are two VERY cool slot canyons. Spooky and Peek-a-Boo are both really great but we didn’t have time to do those and hole in the wall. Next time we will definitely do those and Devils Garden again and the great thing is that is all 2WD accessible. One thing I should mention is Spooky and Peek-A-Boo are both tight and require some climbing. They are only recommended for those who are physically fit and should not be undertaken lightly.
After the slot canyons, it is a long 15 miles to Dance Hall Rock historic site. The pioneers used this natural amphitheater for celebrations and although it doesn’t look like much from the road it is definitely worth the short walk to see it up close. This area also has a pit toilet, which was the only one I saw on the entire route.
Fair warning, after MM 40 the road gets much rougher. There are switchbacks and hills and sections of slip rock. Personally I wouldn’t go any farther than Dance Hall Rock without 4WD, but of course it is your call. At MM 41.5 there is a Boy Scout memorial dedicated to 10 troop members who died in an automobile accident on one of the switchbacks.
Around MM 50 we came upon a plaque on a large rock. This is the place they recommend you stop without 4WD and gotta say I don’t see the point of going this far if you aren’t going to complete it. The plaque was pretty lame and ultimately confusing, because this was NOT the spot the pioneers traveled. Again, without 4WD I would stop at the Dance Hall and turn around. It’s also worth mentioning that the last 7 miles took 1 hour and 15 minutes to traverse. As rough as the road could be prior to that, it definitely requires 4WD. We actually saw lots of ATV’s in that area and that seems like a great way to travel.
Thankfully when we finally arrived at the end it was clearly marked and it was everything we had hoped. The idea that people traveled through this was was amazing to all of us and we just stood their with our mouths open. The tunnel was blocked a few years after it was opened by a landslide, but it can be traversed by climbing. Lee and I were both really tempted but when he saw a 10 years old huffing and puffing he decided it was probably best not to try. If you have time though we were told it was really great. You can see rings in the walls they used to hold the wagons and you can go all the way down to the water. I wouldn’t mind going back to just do that and I absolutely am going back to do some of the slot canyons.
All four of us really felt it was worth it, but honestly you really have to want this. The last 7 miles is really rough and the entire trip (with stops at Devils Garden, Dance Hall,m and Hole in the rock) took us 8 hours and 20 minutes round trip. What made it worth it to us was that is was both historically significant and beautiful. We also realized how special the day was because many people would never get to experience it. It is highly unlikely that anyone on vacation would take a day to do this and we are always grateful for sites that we know we would never have seen in our old lives. One last though I would like to share. This route was hard for us and I can’t even imagine how the pioneers did it. A six week journey turned into six months but ultimately they made it through. I think it is worth noting that it is unlikely it would have been accomplished if it wasn’t for the Mormon religion. The entire state of Utah is full of pioneer settlements that started in the most inhospitable places.
If you are still interested, Lee found a couple of YouTube videos about the journey. They are old but interesting if you want to check them out.
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Sounds like an exhausting but awesome day! I’ve thought many times in our travels how brave the pioneers in covered wagons must have been. Charting new places – with small kids even! So impressive!
Totally agree and even more awe inspiring when you walk in their shoes
Great information about the Hole in the Rock, thanks. We visited that amazing exhibit near Escalante last year and I agree, the picture of the babies on the blanket with mom handling the wagon is truly badass! It’s an amazing story and you’ve done your usual outstanding storytelling here. Love the pics of you and Lee, you guys look really fantastic. Enjoy the journey!
Thanks Liz. That picture is very memorable.
Your narrative and pictures took me right there and I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure from my couch. I didn’t know about the Hole in the Rock; it’s an amazing story. BTW, Lee looks slim and trim and you both look healthy and fit…great job.