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Kenneth Mays
Dance Hall Rock, with an interpretive sign in the foreground, is west of the Colorado River.

One of the legendary stories of sacrifice and endurance from early pioneer Utah is that of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who blazed the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail in southern Utah.

Settlers in Parowan and elsewhere in that region were asked by their church leaders to leave their homes and settle in what is now San Juan County. The route they chose saved many miles from a route north through Green River and Moab or south through northern Arizona, crossing the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry.

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However, getting there by way of the shorter route was an extreme challenge because of the difficult landscape they needed to traverse, particularly the deep rock canyon formed by the Colorado River. The first leg of the journey went from present-day Escalante, Garfield County, to the crevasse or chute known as Hole-in-the-Rock. It was a distance of about 60 miles.

Before reaching the actual point of that steep, natural crevasse, or notch, through the sandstone, the pioneers camped while scouts looked for a viable route to their destination. Near that site was a large sandstone formation shaped somewhat like an amphitheater. It was there the travelers held square dances in the evenings. Their spirits were high as they waited for word from the scouts. That changed when they learned of the overwhelming challenges ahead.

Kenneth R. Mays is a board member of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and has also been an instructor in the LDS Church’s Department of Seminaries and Institutes for more than 35 years.