I had been wanting to go see the Hondoo Arch in central Utah for 20 years or more.  For some reason, it has been shown for decades on just about any road map of Utah you ever see, in spite of the fact that they hardly show any other arches anywhere, and that there is no way to get there without taking 60 miles of dirt roads, which aren’t even shown on the maps at all.  Why put it on a road map if you can’t get there?  So I decided I would, anyhow.  I had plotted out, for hours, the exact route by looking down at the area of the San Rafael Swell in Google Earth, and printed out four large 11x17” maps of the terrain with all the landmarks showing (various hills, buttes, and canyons).  So, with a full tank of gas, I took off from Green River. 

     I hadn’t taken my new truck out on any real 4-wheel-drive outings since I got it over a year ago, so I was looking forward to some really crummy, muddy, sandy, bumpy, rocky, washed-out, pot-holey roads in the utter boondocks.  I expected to be lurched side-to-side and up and down for hours, with many a crunch and crash of the wheels and axles, causing sore arms on the steering wheel and sore belly muscles from all the wild tension of just hanging on for the ride.  But no – the dirt roads were quite disappointingly smooth!  I was blatting along at 50 miles an hour for half of the trip.  Any kind of car could make it.  There was only one short area where the road actually got scary and a bit dangerous, clinging to the side of a cliff with a dropoff to the left.  And I will never manage to get all the dust out of the truck – you could write your name with your finger on the dashboard.  But what I didn’t expect, was what glorious scenery I had discovered!!

     The San Rafael Swell, which is a huge, long, uplifted ridge of rock, is perhaps the one place in the US most often mentioned as a candidate for a future National Park.  I had been in parts of it before, most notably on one of the longest, most exhausting hikes I ever took, to see the practically unknown Mystery Arch (I decided it should be called the Misery Arch instead).  But I had never seen the canyons to the west of the main upheaval ridge.  It has everything one could wish to have in a national park!  It would certainly be worthy of the name, which is more than I can say for a few others that already are national parks (as in Death Valley.)  I drove from one magnificent view to another.  I wasn’t planning to take any pictures till I got to the Hondoo Arch – but I took about 80.  The great thing about it was, there was not one thing as far as one could see that was made by the hand of man!  It was as pure and natural (except for the skinny dirt road I was on) as it had been since the days of the Indians, or the many millennia before that.  Not a building, not a fence, not a telephone pole.  I didn’t even pass another car or human the whole way in.

I didn’t take this picture from the air, obviously – but it shows the massive slanted rock ridge of the Swell,
the highlands behind it where I went, and the interstate freeway that they hacked right through it!


     I hope they don’t national parkerize it though, ever.  Of course that would protect it from ever getting houses built on it, or Walmarts or McDonald’ses; but it would bring paved roads, visitor centers, parking lots, sidewalks, warning signs, garbage cans, picnic tables, guard rails, campgrounds, restrooms – and a million people a year to see it.  I am glad there is still at least one fabulous scenic area left in the country just for us real nature nuts to discover, untamed and unspoiled, like the San Rafael Swell – a place that only hardcore outdoor lovers will find and explore.  I don’t mean that little families from Peoria should be excluded, not at all – but most wouldn’t want to make the effort, or get their cars all dirty.  To me, the effort to get there makes it all the more special, and I can vacuum out the dust.







     After going around one sharp bend, finally, for a few seconds, the Hondoo came into view.  I let out a big yeehaw!!  After all these years, I was there!  Almost – it disappeared again behind a cliff, but I knew I was close now.  There is no chance of not finding it, such as some other goose chases I have been on looking for arches and natural bridges – this one is clear at the top of a ridge, and visible for miles.  I drove as close as I could, right at the edge of what I found out later was quite appropriately known as Muddy Creek – and got totally bogged down in the sand.  That was the only time of the whole day where I had to put the truck in 4-wheel drive, but I got unstuck.




I made it!


     The Hondoo doesn’t look really big, since it is so high, but I am sure from inside that it seems massive – the inside is as high as a 6-story building.  It faces east, so by the time I got there, the sunlight was almost past it; I have already decided to go back again, camp out, and get early morning shots!  But I definitely have no big desire to climb up inside it – that steep sandy slope right under the opening is the kind of wretched incline where one step forward causes you to slide about three steps back.  I wouldn’t mind trying to walk across the top, though….




     I took a totally different route on the way back out, and discovered the ruins of an old uranium mine.  I found out that a hundred years ago, so much uranium had been found there that a town of 450 people had existed right in sight of the Hondoo Arch!  You would never know it now, hardly a trace of it was left, which was great for the scenery; there was only the old machinery shown below, well-hidden around a bend in a cliff.  In fact, the uranium ore was of such fine quality that Marie Curie, who did the first major studies of radioactivity in uranium (and was the first woman professor at the Sorbonne, and won two Nobel Prizes), came all the way from France to this very area to see where the ore came from.

The black hole just to the right of the machine is the entrance to the mine:


     I was thinking that the way out was considerably less scenic than the way in, until suddenly, between two hills, a giant, magnificent fortress appeared on the horizon!  What on earth was that?  But the dirt road, annoyingly, was veering in the opposite direction.  So I backtracked, parked, and hiked up a rocky hill for the grandest view of the whole day.  It looked like some vast ancient fantasy castle out of the Lord of the Rings or something.  From up on the hill, I could see a hundred miles – and once again, not one thing of humankind was visible; how rare is that in this world?  So this was Temple Mountain, I figured out.  I had heard the name, but never thought it would be anything special, just another mountain.  Apparently the early Mormons thought it looked more like one of their temples than a castle, but enormously larger; and it does.  I found a spot near a cliff edge where I decided I wanted to build a house and live there forever.  But unfortunately, it is government property, so that won’t be happening.  And I am glad, because I am sure hundreds of other houses would already be there, messing up the specialness of the place.






Temple Mountain
got its name
because it is shaped
somewhat like
these two famous
temples in Utah:

Logan Temple, left
Manti Temple
, right




   Eventually, after 60 miles on dirt roads, I made it back to some blacktop, and found myself at the entrance to Goblin Valley State Park, famous for its weird rock formations.  The entry fee was $13, which is absurd for a state park – most national parks aren’t even that high.  I would have done it though, except by then it was nearly closing time, the sky was cloudy, and pictures would have turned out lousy.  So I’ll go back some day; but I knew it couldn’t match the magnificence of what I had already seen that day, for free!




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