Oral Histories

Alan D. “Tug” Wilson


Q: What about your trips down into the Needles area. I know that was one of your favorite areas.

AW: Well, that starts with the Boy Scout Troop, I think, #317. Bill Hines was the scoutmaster of it. We met in a little house near Star Hall, a little church or something. We met in the basement. We were a very unconventional troop. Moab at that time had about 1200 people. It was half real Mormon and the other half were what were called Jack Mormon and a few non-Mormons such as us, the Taylors, etc. Our troop was the non-Mormon troop. so we were the collection of renegades. There were a few Mormon boys in it who just didn’t fit in with the church way of doing things and we always liked to go backpacking, as we called it originally. Some of these boys liked a beer or water bag lemonade and fit into our group. In 1949, in that spring, some people named Ray and Virginia Garner arrived at our house at Arches with a letter from the director. There’s nothing that upsets the superintendent more than a tourist or visitor coming with a letter from the director. The letter from the director said “Please take care of this important person.” So Ray and Virginia Garner were set up approximately where the visitor center parking lot is at headquarters at Arches today. Actually, back in the rocks a little bit there where the dugway started to go up. We made them a great big tent and they spent a good part of the summer with us. They used our bathroom for showers, etc. They made a lot of films around Arches and what happened was Virginia would be photographed carrying everything and her husband, Ray, would have the camera. She always had the pack and something. In fact, I remember one day Ray really went farther than most folks would go. Merle, Earl, and dad had to push his station wagon along what is now the paved road heading north up Moab Canyon so Ray could photograph his wife walking through the wash near the new visitor center in full pack. It’s like today you have professionals cruise through that. You hear of the park people doing it. Anyway, Ray Garner essentially got Merle Windbourn, which is very unusual, to agree to take him into the Needles. They went down to Dugout and Merle knew someone, I think his name was Thorndike or something like that.

Sam Taylor, Jimmy Walker were senior members of our scout troop. We all owe a lot of credit to Bill Hines for taking so much interest in working with Moab kids.

Q: He knew that country down there?

AW: Yeah, he knew that country but he also knew someone at the Dugout Ranch. I recall his name was something like Thorndike .The name is probably in the articles Ray and Virginia wrote about their trip.

Q: One of the cowboys?

AW: One of the cowboys, but the head cowboy for Scorup-Sommerville. He had a Jeep himself of some sort. Anyway, Merle took Garner into, as we now know, Horse Canyon and Keyhole Ruin where a bunch of the cowboys had been. But Garner had ropes. Garner was an experienced climber of great skill. He had just climbed I think El Capitan in Yosemite or something more difficult , I believe, before he arrived at Arches. He was a good climber and his wife was a good climber so they were able to get into things like Keyhole Ruin and they found a cradleboard. They climbed out of Chesler over into Virginia Park but they did not realize that if you went up Chesler Canyon (hope that is the name..on the West side near the Joint trail parking lot) you can walk into Virginia Park but they didn’t claim that they didn’t understand that at the time. But the funny story was Merle and Ray, in that Ray Garner was not the person who liked to get up early and Merle was always at work by at least 7:30, maybe even earlier than 7:00. It gets hot in the desert and Merle liked to cook, get camp over with, Jeep packed, etc. and get going. Ray just wouldn’t get out of his tent. So one day near the end of the trip, so Merle tells it, being a man of very few words, in Devil’s Lane he was really getting annoyed with Garner. I think being cramped in a little CJ Jeep you would get a little testy after a few weeks in the Needles. He carried somewhere between half and a case of dynamite on this trip to make road if he needed to. He never went anywhere without dynamite. He was a guy who could build anything with a few sticks of dynamite. Since he was on his way out he decided to give Ray Garner a very good welcome wake up call in the morning on the last day. He blew up the dynamite. Ray came bolting out of the tent wondering what in the hell had happened. I am sure Merle had a grin cheek to cheek. But that was a very important trip. Then in March of 1950…

Q: What happened to the cradleboard?

AW: I don’t where the cradleboard is today.

Q: Where were the Garners from? Were they Californian?

AW: They were from California. In fact, Dick Negri was asking me a lot of questions about the early days and I had a rough idea where Virginia Garner’s last address was. He contacted her and has had an ongoing dialogue. She’s willing to give a number of the photos and films, she’s actually sent a number of photos to Dick recently. He was able to track her down and had a good discussion with her.

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