From Lee's Ferry to House Rock Springs
by William C. Suran
Like eating peanuts, once started on gathering historic information about the area in and around the Grand Canyon it is difficult to stop. Consequently on a scorching Saturday morning, July 27, fourteen of the hardy Grand Canyon Pioneers gathered again to learn more about the Mormon Honeymoon Trail.
The early pioneers after leaving Willow Springs (where we visited on our last trip) traveled up the Hamblin Wash close to the base of the Echo Cliffs to Lee's Ferry. We followed the same course but had the convenience of a paved highway and the bridge across the Colorado River at Marble Canyon. Before 1928 the only way across the Colorado river was by a rickety and dangerous ferry accessible only by a road called the Dugway that ran along the side of the Echo Cliffs three hundred feet above the river. Mormon men working out a 'work tithe' clambered along the face of the Echo Cliffs blasting out a trail wide enough for wagons to make their way to the river. Where possible they built the road over stones laid like a wall from an anchoring base and filled in behind them. Where this was impossible they drilled holes in the face of the cliff and placed logs perpendicular to the wall and braced them from underneath. These they covered with rushes to continue the road to the river. From our vantage point we could see the remains of this work above the rushing Colorado.
John D. Lee was the first man to make any significant mark on the history of the area. While hiding from the law because of his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, he built a cabin for his wife Emma and established a ranch. Emma Lee's comment, "What a lonely dell" gave the place its name. We viewed the irrigation ditches Lee dug and admired the orchard he planted to make the canyon along the Paria River an oasis in the desert.
The stone building Lee built as a fort and trading post entered the annals of history in 1889 when Robert B. Stanton and his men making a survey for a possible railway route through the Colorado canyons stopped on their way downriver. The bountiful produce from the Lonely Dell ranch provided a Christmas dinner for the party. The building stands today. What stories it could tell!
A short hike upstream brought the group to another landmark in history, the remains of a paddle wheel steamboat, the Charles H. Spencer. Charles Spencer, who conned numerous eastern millionaires into believing there existed sufficient gold in the rocks along the banks of the river to establish a profitable mining operation, brought the boat in pieces over the desert waste of Utah to Glen Canyon. He planned to haul coal from Warm Creek in Glen Canyon to his mining operation at the ferry crossing. This was for powering a steam operated water pump to blast mud from the canyon walls in order to remove the gold. It required more coal to bring the empty boat back upriver to Warm Creek than it carried down to the mine and after two trips Spencer abandoned the idea and left the boat a few hundred yards downstream from the ferry crossing where it sunk into the mud. Like the boat, the mine proved worthless too and Spencer left the area. The low water of the river gave us an unexpected view of the remains of the craft.
After a picnic lunch in the shade of an old mulberry tree at Lonely Dell in front of Lee's cabin part of the group followed the honeymoon trail farther making the trip westward to House Rock Valley. After making an inquiry from a wiry, informative woman, Adeline Halversen who works as a line rider for the Signature Rock Ranch, we were able to locate House Rock Springs, another place where Mormon pioneers carved their names and dates on the walls of the Vermilion Cliffs. When we returned from the spring Adeline posed for us with her gun and hat.
The trail the early pioneers took on their honeymoon continued to Fredonia and Pipe Springs and from there to St. George, Utah. That perhaps is another trip, but we had gone far enough. House Rock Spring may just possibly open a new can of worms for the Grand Canyon Pioneers--but that is another story.
Used by permission of the Grand Canyon Pioneers Society.