Wayne County, Utah
by Ken Allen
Spanning the spine of the Wasatch Mountains, the western ridge of the Rocky Mountains and the eastern shore of the Great Basin, is a political creation called Wayne County. Seen from high above, Wayne County would appear to be an anomalous trapezoid cut in a Federally decreed map spanning the plateau and reef region of south central Utah. Created on May 2, 1892 from Piute County, it is surrounded on latitude lines by Sevier and Emery Counties on the north and by Garfield County on the south. The mountain ridges of Piute County bound the west, and the Green River of San Juan County in the desolate wilderness of the Canyonlands bounds the east. It goes without saying that survival of life in this high county is challenging. In the western quartile, mountains and hills, cliffs and canyons, and massive reefs and ledges surround small fertile valleys and a few hollows along a 7100-foot high plateau above Capital Reef. The region is laced with fantastic delicately colored rock formations of yellowcake, coal and iron. A map hardly does justice to the terrain.
The Fremont River snakes nourishment worth more than gold through the western plateau. Like a great spine, it flows from the elevations of the extreme northwestern corner at Fish Lake southward through the Rabbit Valley roughly parallel to State Highway 24; it passes the Mormon farming towns of Fremont, Loa and Lyman, turning eastward beyond Bicknell at the Bickell Bottoms, where it is joined by Pine Creek. It is then joined from the south by Bulberry Creek and Boulder Creek, then it winds between Teasdale and Torrey, along the scree of the south-facing chocolate-colored cliffs of the geologic Moenkopi formation. This ledge forms the skirt of the 11,300 foot high cone peak of Thousand Lake Mountain, which pokes like a pyramid in the distance above a thousand foot high wall. Opposite are the north-facing white, pink and lavender rock cliffs of the geologic Chinle and Navajo formations. A prominent ledge of Navajo limestone frames the base of the gently receding slopes and blue timber-covered ridge of 11,330-foot high Boulder Mountain, its peak hidden from the floor. of the nearby valleys. Boulder Mountain is the lifeblood of the valleys below it. Yet its prominence is nearly lost in the surrounding 11,300 foot high Acquarius Plateau, which is large enough to hide the City of San Francisco. The northeastern corner and the southwestern corner of this fantastic mesa are National Parks: Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon.
Below Boulder Mountain, just southeast of Torrey, the Fremont River flows into the narrowest gorge of the Fremont River Valley. North of Torrey, out of the rocky hollow east of the bare, brown Torrey Bluff, Sand Creek flows eastward, joining Sulfur Creek and the Fremont just beyond the gorge above the north-south fold of Capitol Reef.
Capital Reef divides the land as if separating heaven from hell. The Fremont cascades 2000 feet down the fold of the Reef in less than five miles, draining the whole front of Waterpocket Fold, as the face of the Reef is called. The river, nearly dry during some parts of the year, passes between treeless mesas, through canyons and hollows of moonscapes, slowing along the Caineville flats, and then it flows onward to the oasis of Hanksville. Just beyond Hanksville, the Fremont is joined by the Big Muddy River to form the Dirty Devil River. The Dirty Devil meanders southeastward through great mesa-rimmed canyons of Garfield County to the mighty Colorado River above Glen Canyon, which today is filling with the silt of Lake Powell.
In the 1930's, the spectacular portion of the Fremont River Valley east of the Bicknell Bottoms was known as the "Wayne Wonderland," where fossils and a petrified forest once evoked curiosity. In 1937, President Roosevelt proclaimed the Fremont River Gorge and the nearby north-south Waterpocket Fold in the earth’s crust Capitol Reef National Monument. In 1968, an Act of Congress created Capitol Reef National Park, at the same time designating the wild country along the far eastern edge of Wayne and Garfield Counties as Canyonlands National Park.
About one mile south of Highway 24, three miles southwest of Torrey, is a 7000-foot high circular valley no more than three miles across surrounded on all sides by hills and rocky ridges. In it is the tiny village of Teasdale and the remnants of a few small subsistence farms. Above the light colored Navajo cliffs to the south looms lofty Boulder Mountain with its broad flattop plateau obscured from the view of much of the valley. Bulberry Creek flows eastward out of a draw of Boulder Mountain through the center of Teasdale, providing the water to irrigate garden lots and nearby farm fields. Black lava rocks are strewn over the sandy red hills from an ancient flow off the adjacent peaks. The natural vegetation is pinyon, juniper, sagebrush, rabbitbrush and bullberry. A broad scrub-covered mound rises a few hundred feet among the eastern fields northeast of the town center. To the west are red sandstone hills where a water tank once stood full of culinary water.
A narrow road cuts a notch forming a portal to Main Street, and a dusty rutted track angles back to the northeast to the cemetery, where the monuments of graves in the open desert rise above the scrub. A few fresh graves populate with those more than a century old.
The people of the valley of the Escalante River enjoyed relative isolation until their soil gave out under the stress of heavy grazing and torrential desert rains. Then a few trudged north over Boulder Mountain, settling with their sheep and cattle in this valley along Bulberry Creek. Soon it was renamed Teasdale, after the Mormon apostle George Teasdale who had called upon them to tame the land and to civilize it.
Teasdale was settled nearly exclusively by widow Lydia Catherine Mann Adams and her large contingent of grown children with their young families. Lydia was an early Yankee convert to Mormonism from Leeds, Ontario, Canada who had crossed the plains with the Mormon pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois. While a younger brother stayed behind in Iowa, to die in battle serving in the Union Army at the Battle of Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee, during the War Between the States, she married a widower, Scotsman and ironmaker David Barclay Adams, likewise an early Mormon convert, and answered the call to Zion. She followed her young husband and took his first wife’s children to raise as her own, as he assisted in founding Cedar City attempting to establish the Iron Mission in the region. Lydia came to Bulberry a widow, having buried her husband on the other side of Boulder Mountain in the well-kept cemetery of Escalante.
A state road leaves town to the southeast climbing past Grover, where for many years it ended in a trail around Boulder Mountain. Back then, the trails south to Escalante in Garfield County skirted the mountain. On the east, the main trail, recently paved as Scenic Byway 12, leads up and over to Boulder Town from Grover, climbing well over 8,000 feet past ponderosa pine forests, then through true montane forests of aspen and fir, and then into treeless desert highlands. In places, the traveler looks down sheer cliffs hundreds of feet in the presence of vistas of endless miles over the Waterpocket Fold across the eastern desert to Colorado and Arizona. Looming at a shortened distance of fifty miles of clear air stand the silent volcanic cones of the Henry Mountains like ancient pyramids 7,000 feet above the mile-high arid basin below. Dropping down to a plateau to follow a ridge called the Hogback above Calf Creek, the traveler enjoys miles of an unsettling and unshielded view down several hundred feet on each side of a stingy two-lane road. To the west is Hells Backbone far above a sheer walled canyon known as The Box. Below, the benign but potentially devastating Escalante River wends eastward through a once fertile valley now rarely canopied in its trademarked rich blue sky. Today the purity is marred by the windless haze of a distance coal-fired power plant. No place on earth compares to Boulder Mountain and its surroundings.