The Hole In The Rock-Escalante Heritage Center

The Hole In The Rock-Escalante Heritage Center

Utah Scenic Byway 12 is one of America’s most popular summer vacation corridors.  This long winding road passes through Bryce Country, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Capitol Reef.  What this all adds up to is a nearly endless variety of majestic wilderness landscapes to explore.  Plenty of native heritage and pioneer history can be learned in this region as well, so a trip down Utah Scenic Byway 12 is guaranteed to be a fulfilling adventure! 

When touring Scenic Byway 12 there are good opportunities to learn about the history of this region in the small towns along the way.  Nearly every town along Scenic Byway 12 was established by Mormon pioneers as farming communities back in the days of the wild west.  In modern times, the old pioneer communities now cater to the summer season tourist trade.  Most of the tourism businesses are owned by local entrepreneurs that actually are descendants of the brave Mormon pioneers, so the sense of community pride does run thick and most of the local folk will have plenty to say about the proud history of this place. 

In each small town along Scenic Byway 12, the heritage of the community is displayed in one way or another.  In some of the Scenic Byway 12 towns the community center doubles as a tourism visitors center and a local museum.  Some of the communities along this road are so small, that there is no need for any extra public buildings, so even a local senior citizens center can also act as the local tourism heritage center.  There is a good reason why visitors should take the time to check out these small town heritage centers, no matter how insignificant they might initially seem to be.  The small local museums provide accurate historical accounts that the history books and big city museums tend to overlook.  A visit to a small town museum along Scenic Byway 12 can provide valuable insight into the history of the local region and the heritage of the people that call this place home. 

There are a few historical markers along Scenic Byway 12 that offer a chance to gain some knowledge too.  Some of the Bureau Of Land Management points of interest markers explain the natural history, geology and ecosystems of the region.  Others provide insight into ancient native ruins and pioneer history.  Some of the points of interest markers are just a series of printed signs, while others are more like an outdoor museum exhibit with modern facilities.

One of the most interesting wayside points of interest along Scenic Byway 12 can be found on the eastern edge of historic Escalante.  The town of Escalante is located on the north central edge pf Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Utah Byway 12. This town also sits between the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and The Canyons section of the National Monument, so Escalante is a good basecamp choice!  Escalante offers all amenities, off road vehicle rentals and tour guide services, so this old pioneer community is now a tourism hub for this section of the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

What originally attracted the early Mormon pioneers to this desolate unforgiving place is all explained at the Hole In The Rock-Escalante Heritage Center.  Back in the days of the old west, the Hole In The Rock was a very narrow gap between towering sheer rock outcrops that led to a shortcut trail going west.  As it turned out, the shortcut was not really a shortcut at all, but after passing through the Hole In The Rock the trail eventually did get to the promised land.

The Hole In The Rock Pass was barely wide enough for a horse drawn wagon to squeeze through.  The solid bedrock surface of this narrow trail is uneven, so every time a wagon wheel hit a deep rut, the wagon would become wedged against the rock walls.  It took a lot of horsepower and muscle to pry the wagons loose and drag them through the Hole In The Rock and soon this narrow pass became a famous symbol of the sheer determination of the Mormon pioneers.  The monumental effort involved soon became an inspiration for western artists back in the old days to paint pictures of this majestic place. The old west Hole In The Rock paintings are still some of the most cherished in American history.

The Hole In The Rock-Escalante Heritage Center is easy to find when touring Scenic Byway 12 just east of town.  The Heritage center sits on a hillside, so the views overlooking the valley are unobstructed.  When standing there looking at the terrain of the valley, it becomes easy to envision the old pioneer days and what a struggle the journey must have been.  When looking at the heritage site displays and narrative plaques in this wayside heritage center, a lot of insight can be gained.  The murals of pioneers prying wagons through the Hole In The Rock are as captivating as can be!  The Escalante Heritage Center is a hands-on outdoor museum experience for visitors of all ages, so everybody that came along for the ride can learn a little something.

Taking the time to stop and check out the little things during a trip does add to the overall experience.  Obviously, only driving from point “A” to point “B” on Scenic Byway 12 in order to make good travel time and then wondering what the Hole In The Rock was all about at the end of the day is not the way to go!  Standing there in person is how memories are made, so a quick stop at the Hole In The Rock-Escalante Heritage Center is a must to do!  

For those who are a bit more adventurous, hiking, biking or driving an off road vehicle through the actual Hole In The Rock site on the other side of the valley is an option too.  The Hole In The Rock Jeep Trail is rated as being “difficult” and this means that only modified off-road vehicles will be able to successfully do the trip. Falling short of The Hole In The Rock is what most trail riders do, but even so, the view will certainly be inspiration for painting a classic old west style pioneer picture!


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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