Escalante, Utah for most is not a destination, but part of a journey- a journey which traverses thousands and thousands of acres of the most beautiful undiscovered country in the western United States. This scenic landscape is a place where a camera is in demand around every bend and turn in the road.
Escalante is home to the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument museum. With such a monument as its backdrop, Escalante lies on somewhat of a frontier where the rugged landscape consists of plateaus and multi hued cliffs run for distances on end. No doubt that is why this region was the last of the Continental United States to be mapped. It is also why Escalante’s neighboring town of Boulder was the last to receive its mail by mule train.
This journey via scenic Byway Utah Route 12 takes the traveler to Hell’s backbone, Powell Point, Boyonton Overlook, and The Hogback. This place is paradise for the artist, geologist, and outdoor enthusiast.
However, for those who are generational residents of Escalante this austere landscape is home. It is a place where solitude and beauty play a duet and the product is a tune which has echoed throughout the ages. It was Silvestre Velez de Escalante who first explored this region in 1776 with his superior Francisco Atansio Dominguez. They had left Santa Fe, New Mexico attempting to reach Monterey, California. Their Journey marked the first entrance of Utah by white men. This journey became known as the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition.
It wasn’t until the mid 1860′s that feet were once again recorded passing through this land as members of the Southern Utah Militia under Captain James Andrus during the Black Hawk Indian War. In 1872, members of the John Wesley Powell expedition met a group of settlers from Panguitch exploring the area. It was he that recommended to the settlers that the place be named Escalante in honor of the 1776 expedition led by Escalante himself. It wasn’t until 1875 that the area was finally settled.
Quiet and solitude are the words best used to describe the 2010 settlement of Escalante. On a Sunday morning the main drag of Escalante is without patrons. Passers- by may pump gas, but the convenience store is closed. However, the beauty which surrounds the community hums its own Sabbath Song. Set on exploration, I roamed the hushed streets, and learned of its history.
On a side street there is a beautiful little park which houses a memorial to all of the men from Escalante who have served their country. This little town boasts its fair share of veterans.
Perhaps, in the humming of its historical tune you may hear the Desert Mystery of the young Everett Ruess. The twenty-two-year- old artist-poet-explorer from California left Escalante with his two burros and melted into the desert and canyons of the Escalante River never to return. He loved the open air and the adventure of the wild country embedded in the mountains and canyons of this frontier land.
In one of his last letters written from Escalante he wrote: ” Dear Father and Mother: After a truly delightful trip over the mountains, finding my way without any trails, I have reached the Mormon town of Escalante. I am going south toward the river now through some rather wild country… The water is very low this year. I may even come back through Boulder. So I may not have a post office for a couple of months. I am taking an ample supply of food with me.”
“I have had plenty of fun with the boys of this town riding horses, hunting for arrowheads, and the like. I took a couple of the boys to the show last night-”Death Takes a Holiday.” I liked it well as the play, enjoying the music especially.
“I promised you some picture and am sending a few of them now, as it will lighten the load and they are getting travel-stained…”
“Tonight I have been sitting by the fire with two of my friends (Norman Christensen and Merrill Porter), eating roast venison and baked potatoes. The burrow bell is tinkling merrily nearby Chocolatero crops alfalfa. He is a good burro now…
“So tomorrow I take the trail again and the canyon south.
Love, from Everett
The mysterious disappearance of Everett Reuss, today still goes unsolved. The people of Escalante searched for him like he was their very own son. His expedition was given daily coverage by the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Los Angeles Evening Herald gave an account of his disappearance on Feb 14. His parents embarked upon the 2400- mile trip that included Escalante and all the places he had been. Reuss was a likable and gifted boy. His trail simply went cold at what was presumed to be his last camp. An inscription on the wall of the cave read NEMO 1934.
There are many theories that chart this mystery, but perhaps its ending is best said by the pen of the man himself… Everett Reuss
I only live to see again
To mix and match
My colors to the visioned splendors
I’ve failed to catch.
Reuss captured the colors of Escalante and its surrounding frontier in his poems and sketches. He, like so many others who pass by this wondrous land are drawn to and captured by its breathtaking beauty. It is a land of mystery a land to which Reuss himself lost his life in exploration. Perhaps the theory many would like to believe concerning his whereabouts is that he is still out there roaming the hills and reaching another peak. After all this was his pledge:
“Here in utter stillness,
High on the lonely cliff-edge,
Where the air is trembling with lightning,
I have given the wind my pledge.”
Source: The Escalante Story 1875-1964 by Nethella Griffin Woolsey