After descending through the Hole-in-the-Rock, early Mormon pioneers of southeastern Utah then crossed the Colorado River heading eastward toward present-day Bluff, San Juan County. They faced overwhelming obstacles as their journey continued up, over and around slick sandstone and narrow canyons.
Weather was likewise a challenge at times. Floods and washouts have made parts of their route impassable today, even for modern off-road vehicles.
The route that can be followed is still challenging for most. How these pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did what they did with animal-drawn wagons is difficult to imagine. Trails were blasted into steep and slippery sandstone, there was a lack of food and water, the heat at times and cold and snow at other times all added to the challenge of traversing this beautiful but hostile land.
For those scouting a route, the anticipated exploratory journey of eight days turned into weeks. There was wind and deep snow and their provisions ran out. On Christmas Day of 1879 the scouts reached a point where they felt utterly lost — that death was all but certain.
The four faithful scouts ascended a small hill or knoll in an effort to ascertain which way they needed to proceed. From that summit they finally saw the Blue Mountains, a landmark they had been searching for. They could then determine a route to pursue, which proved their salvation in finding a way to their destination on the San Juan River.
To this day, the little mound is referred to as Salvation Knoll. Circumstances were still desperate. The scouts went four days with no food at all. However, because of Salvation Knoll, they had renewed hope with regard to their original goal and were ultimately successful.
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.