The Hole-in-the-Rock trail in southern Utah challenged youth and leaders from three stakes both physically and spiritually. The experience changed more than a few lives.
Pushing or pulling, taking a handcart over jagged stone is tough. The rocks slow you down, jar your bones, sap your strength.
But sand is worse. When faced with a hill of it, all you can do is take a deep breath and run. With enough speed, and a little help from others, you make it to the top, where you can rest, drink half a lake of water, and move on.
But what nearly does you in are those long stretches of sand that claw at your feet and handcart wheels. Your only option is to keep pulling and pushing, pulling and pushing, until you have to stop before you collapse. Getting started again takes nearly all your energy. Still, foot after foot, you gather your strength and move ahead. Finally, suddenly, you discover you’ve left the sand behind.
Your destination is still a long way off, but somehow, having made it through the sand, you know you can finish. You know you can make it to camp or to home—to that place where you will rest and heal and prepare to face with greater confidence the next hard thing you need to do.
Down the Hole-in-the-Rock
Sand and stone confronted nearly 750 youth and their leaders in June 2010 as they drove, walked, climbed, and pulled handcarts over portions of the Hole-in-the-Rock trail between Escalante and Bluff, Utah, USA.
The trail was built in the winter of 1879–80 by Mormon pioneers who had been called by President John Taylor to settle the San Juan region of Utah. When southern and northern routes to the area proved to be too dangerous or not passable year-round, the 250 pioneers decided to build a new, more direct trail. Part of the route they chose was through a wilderness so barren and hard to get through that those familiar with the area considered the task impossible. The pioneers gave themselves six weeks to get to their destination. It took them six months.
Over the course of those six months, they used picks, shovels, and black powder to build a nearly impossible road down a crack in the edge of the Colorado River gorge they called Hole-in-the-Rock. Some 1,200 precipitous feet (366 m) down the hole, they were confronted by the muddy Colorado River. After floating their wagons across the river on a raft, they still had to blast and cut and pray their way through another 120 miles (193 km) of sandstone ravines, cliffs, box canyons, and sheer drop-offs.
When the exhausted group finally arrived at their destination, a farmable area near the San Juan River, on April 6, 1880, they built cottonwood log homes and named the place Bluff after the spectacular sandstone bluffs surrounding the settlement.
Enduring Where They Endured
Re-creating the experience of the Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers, members of the Blanding Utah Stake, the Blanding Utah West Stake, and the Kanab Utah Kaibab Stake pioneered paths of their own. One stake went down, then up, the Hole-in-the-Rock itself. The other two stakes trekked from Bluff to the last major obstacle the pioneers faced—San Juan Hill.
The goal for each of these stake activities was to help the youth appreciate the faithful sacrifice, undaunted perseverance, and inspired ingenuity of the original pioneers. Perhaps more important, stake leaders wanted the youth to find in themselves the same inner strength and faith in God that the original pioneers exhibited in settling the San Juan country.
Many, both youth and adults, found what they sought. Lyle Bales, one of the “Pa’s” called to lead a temporary “family” on his stake’s trek, said, “I have been so blessed to be a part of this experience. I needed to rub shoulders with youth and leaders of this quality. I admire the character and determination they possess. They have been great examples to me, and I am a better person for being there.”