Oral Histories

Alan D. “Tug” Wilson


Q: To get up on…..?
AW: To get up on the Cathedral Butte plateau. On my birthday, March 31st, whatever year it was, 1950, we were camped in the meadows, I was 14. Apparently my father wakes up about midnight and there’s three or four inches of snow and there’s snow coming. He looks over at my bed and there are my boots standing straight up. His comments quietly was “That damn fool doesn’t know what to do with his boots, I’m not getting up”. So, in the morning we woke up it to about nine inches of snow, the boots full, the saddles wet, and no food. We had no food. Totally run out of food. Then we couldn’t find the trail out. First, it was covered with snow and as slick as hell. Dad found the trail out. We got up on the plateau eventually, and the truck was supposed to be there. But guess what?

Q: No truck.

AW: Because Cathedral Butte was in maybe a foot or eighteen inches of snow. And deer everywhere. The deer must have started to migrate up and got caught in the late spring storm. Musselman was going to shoot them so we could eat, but someone pointed out you have to wait a day for the meat to cool off.. So we had to ride that whole distance back to Dugout Ranch having not eaten for probably 30+ hours

Q:You went up on top and then went down Cottonwood?

AW: Down Cottonwood, a long road back to Dugout Ranch

Q: There were roads in the Needles at that time?
AW: No roads except, the only thing is, the key of this is that when we got to Cave Spring we really came across the Jeep road that Merle had used, probably that the Scorup-Somerville people had built first a wagon road that became later a Jeep road.. This Thorndike, or Thorn something or other, whatever that guy’s name was had made this little Jeep road. So that gave us the interest, gave me the interest really, with the scouts to make an annual trek, roughly every May 15th when high school let out. Being largely the non-Mormon troop, we didn’t have to work the fields with all the other kids. In the old days here, high school let out on May 15th because the kids had to work the peach orchards and the melon fields, etc. School started September 15th because they had to harvest the peaches and the melons. So anyway, I got the idea why don’t we go into the Needles as our annual trip.

Q: What was the road like past the Home of Truth down in the Dugout at that time? Was it…

AW: It was nothing but a wagon road. In fact, it used to take us a full day the first time we went(in Jeeps), which would be May 15, 1951. The uranium boom was just starting. It took a full day from Moab to Cave Spring or Squaw Flats which is where we camped on the slick rock. A full day. We were grinding those Jeeps which, by the way, were lent to us by Jimmy Walker and/or others. We had a couple of gray pickups and Howard Lance had a little red Jeep at that time. He was actually the Bishop of the Mormon Church but he lent it to us anyway. We had three vehicles the first time – two Jeep pickups and Lance’s red CJ.

Q: You actually took pickups down there?

AW: We took pickups. That’s what you had. There weren’t little Jeeps to speak of. Lance had a little red Jeep and we had two gray Jeep pickups.

Q: Beyond Elephant Hill, was that passable at that time?
AW: We did not go over Elephant Hill that year. We went into Horse Canyon in ‘51, and just the early parts of Horse Canyon. We found all kinds of artifacts. We found pots. We found many things and, of course, the scouts were very good climbers. Everything we found was new. There were no Jeep tracks in Horse Canyon, except for Merle. One track, that was it. That was the first time and we just touched the surface but we had to build road everywhere we went. After that, we started the next, that summer of ‘51 and through the whole fall, we began to seriously start mapping because we were interested in Indian ruins. That was what we were interested in and arches. We began to map those. In the scout troop was Bob Robertson, his cousin Curt Robertson, Jim Morgan, and Johnny Mack, Monk Bailey, a bunch of really aggressive, nice young guys. Jim Morgan’s father was the (?)Soil Conservation Service manager and he got us some not very good quality but aerial photos that had been taken at some point. There were no maps.

Q: No. No maps.

AW: We began to mark (them with notes) and then we realized that these are not good enough. Somehow either Jim Morgan’s father or my father got a set of stereogrammic, photogrammic aerial photos done by the Army. There were two sets. I still have one. I don’t know where the other set is.

Q: Stereograms?

AW: Stereograms, right. We spent hours studying the two sets of photos, we didn’t have a stereo viewer, you realize that. We compared the two corresponding photos looking for say a cave or an arch. But it was not a stereo or 3D view.

Q: I’m not so far into the future you can stare straight ahead and still see.

AW: We spent our scout meetings ( we were a very unorthodox troop) largely planning the next year’s trip and figuring out what might be an arch and what might not be an arch. That’s how we found Angel Arch.

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