Celebrating Forests and Pioneers  
By Dian Thomas

Pioneer Day and the National Forest Service celebrate their birthdays this month. It is 161 years since the pioneers came into the Salt Lake Valley. It is just 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt signed the bill that created the National Forest Service.

Last week I shared stories about growing up at the Manti National Forest Service in Monticello, Utah, where my father was the Ranger for more than 12 years. This small town in southeastern Utah also had a wonderful pioneer and Indian heritage.

The advantage of living in a small pioneer town is that every year the whole community gathers together to celebrate Pioneer Day.

Having grown up there and being in the 24 th of July parade many years, I was very aware of the key names of the stalwart people who settled this area. Some of the names I remember were the Joneses, the Lymans, the Blacks, and the Redds. I learned about them from the stories we heard at the Pioneer Day celebration. People reflected on the many hardships these families endured as they crossed the Colorado River and the rugged time they had coming up over some of the rockiest terrain on earth.

I must admit as a kid I just did not get the magnitude of the difficulty of their journey.

Mother and Dad had often told me stories of my ancestors and the challenges that had been faced by my grandfather. He was from a family of 10 children; the oldest was 18 and the youngest was six months. My grandfather was two when his father died of scarlet fever. Two weeks after he did, his wife died of the same disease. This left the ten children alone to raise each other. Every time one of the older children would marry, he or she would take a younger child to raise.

My grandfather passed away before I was born, so all I know were the stories of hardship. But stories like that are stories a child doesn't forget.

When I was 12, we moved from Monticello to Salt Lake. I enrolled in seminary, and my teacher was Mr. Josephson. He was a rather tall and large man and had a personality to match. When he gave us advice, we tried to follow.

One day in class he asked, “How many of you have been down the Colorado River?” Not a hand went up. This was 1962 — the year before the Bureau of Land Management was to begin construction on the Glen Canyon Dam. Building the dam would block the water coming down the Colorado River. The rising water would completely change the looks of the canyon.

One of the things that would be partially covered would be the “Hole in the Rock,” which was the route that the settlers of San Juan County had taken when they settled in Utah. When Brother Josephson looked over the class and saw that not one had their hand up he said, “I want you kids to save your money and go down the Colorado River this summer. It will never be the same.”

Having been raised at the Baker Ranger Station on the edge of the wilderness, I was always looking for new adventures. A trip down the Colorado River would certainly fit.

I went home and told my mother and dad about this newfound opportunity I had learned about in seminary. I hoped this idea would not get nixed and that some way I could figure a way to make the journey.

My mother seemed more hesitant than my father, but finally they agreed that if I could earn half of the money they would help me with the rest.

I had several jobs to help me reach my goal. These included mowing lawns, baby sitting, and house cleaning. It was not long before I earned the money and signed up for the trip.

We entered the river near Hatch, Utah. The day that I remember most was the day planned to hike “the Hole in the Rock.” The guides told us to bring our money because we would see a Dairy Queen. Sure enough, I had my money in my pocket.

We started out the rugged climb up the Hole in the Rock. I think the thought of a Dairy Queen at the top was one thing that kept me hiking up the steep terrain. As we neared the top I eventually realized that we were not going to find a Dairy Queen. What we found instead was the story of a group of pioneers that had left their mother countries and come across the ocean, only to have to cross the United States to go to Zion.

Then, when they finally reached what they thought was their destination in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young asked them to keep going on to southern Utah.

The area around us was the farthest thing from a Dairy Queen. It was dry, sandy and rather forbidding. When I looked down the hole in the rock, I realized that these saints had to figure a way to take their oxen and wagons down this rough and rugged decline. They also had to figure out how to get all their provisions across the river and then go up over the steep rock and on for miles more before they found their new homes.

I finally understood what hardships these saints faced, and what they must have had to go through to get to Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello — only to find out they then had to do all that people have to do when they settle a new area. My heart was filled with gratitude and appreciation for what they endured. I also thought of my grandfather and all that he lost when both his mother and father died.

Take time today to reflect on what our forebears did so we can have the life that we have now. Every time I think of Pioneer Day, I thank God for these blessed people.


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