Legends and curiosities of Hole in the Rock, Utah

USA MAINLAND, QUIRKY PLACES — By on June 1, 2018 at 23:23

Story by Crystal Gabrielle. Photos Copyright © Crystal Gabrielle.

After finishing another house-sitting job, I was heading from Grand Junction, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I decided to swing out through Utah to see the sights.

On Hwy 191, approx. 12 miles south of Moab, Utah, a big white arrow and the words HOLE N” THE ROCK painted on the side of a red cliff caught my attention.

Follow the arrow, it's just around the corner! Hole in the Rock, Utah.

Follow the arrow, it’s just around the corner!

On the other side of the rock I was surprised to find a tourist attraction. It looked funky and fun so I pulled off into the ample parking lot. (I was there in mid-May. I’m guessing it’s not “ample” during peak season.)

I parked in front of the General Store and thought about getting some ice cream. The first thing I noticed were these unusual Jeeps: one had camo as its color scheme and the other was made out of license plates.

Camo Jeep and resident Jeep made from license plates, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Camo Jeep and resident Jeep made from license plates

Turns out the camo Jeep belonged to some tourists visiting from out of state. Because of the rugged desert terrain (perfect for four-wheelin’), you see a lot of Jeeps and dune buggies around Moab. This was one of the more unique.

The other Jeep is a permanent fixture at Hole N” The Rock. It’s a piece of metal art created by Lyle Nichols of Palisades, Colorado. The tires, seats and other fittings are made from rusty scrap metal—everything from nuts and bolts, horseshoes and bicycles chains to scissors and a giant wrench. A fun contest was held to name it. From 17 honorable mentions my favorites were: Jeepenstein, Poetic License and Steel Crazy After All These Gears.

Funky Jeep detail, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Funky Jeep detail

One of the delights of Hole N” The Rock is spotting the unexpected and doing a double-take when at first it looks so real. In the photo below you’ll see the lizard that hangs from the side of the rock. If you look closely at the second frame, you’ll notice the Jeep that sits up on top of the rock. (If you scroll back up you’ll notice it in nearly every photo, sitting like an insect on the rock. There’s even a man in the driver’s seat.)

Lizard on the side of the rock and Jeep way up top, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Lizard on the side of the rock and Jeep way up top

When I walked over to the head of the rock to see the lizard, I decided to venture a bit farther around the front of the rock—which is right on the highway so probably most visitors don’t think of going there. I was rewarded by finding this desert dragon.

Desert dragon, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Desert dragon

Not far from the dragon is a cactus garden with a Japanese touch. This is a recurring theme throughout the property: odd or unexpected pairings, such as the antique saxophone on the fence of the petting zoo.

Zen cactus garden, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Zen cactus garden



Antique saxophone on the fence of the petting zoo, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Antique saxophone on the fence of the petting zoo

I didn’t have time to visit the petting zoo but it sounds fun if you have kids in tow. A sign at the front says: “Our zoo is designed to feed and interact with the animals. Your visit will be much more fun if you have a pail of zoo treats to share. The animals have come to anticipate and appreciate treats from you!”

Billed as “A cast of characters performing daily!”, the zoo features emus, ostriches, camel, wallaby, miniature horse and donkey, pot-bellied pigs, horned Shetland sheep, baby doll sheep, pygmy goats, Angora goats, zebra, Watusi (modern American breed of domestic cattle, derived from the Ankole group of Sanga cattle breeds of central Africa and characterized by very large horns) and an aviary of exotic birds.

Polynesian tiki and American Indian at the entrance to the petting zoo, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Polynesian tiki and American Indian at the entrance to the petting zoo

When you’re not feeding/petting the animals, rummaging through The Trading Post for locally made Native American pottery, jewelry and dream catchers, exploring the grounds or shopping for souvenirs and T-shirts, you can do a 12-minute guided tour of the world-famous Hole N” The Rock House.

I didn’t get a chance to do the tour, but I peeked inside and saw one of the cave rooms. It was a kitchen that looked like it came straight from the 1950s, except that the ceiling and walls were chiseled and blasted out of the rock. The ceiling and walls were painted mint green, exactly the color you’d expect for a kitchen from that era.

Entrance to the cave home, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Entrance to the cave home

It’s natural to wonder how and why a 5,000-square-foot, 14-room house, complete with carpeted floors, got built inside of a rock way out in the Utah desert. I wanted to know, so I bought a booklet called The Story of the Hole N’ The Rock by Maxine Newell. (And, yep, the book title has one apostrophe after the N, while the name painted on the rock features two.)

The first thing I learned is that the rock is Entrada Sandstone. Described by Wikipedia as part of the Colorado Plateau, this formation was deposited during the Jurassic period sometime between 180 and 140 million years ago in various environments, including tidal mudflats, beaches and sand dunes.

The back of the Entrada Sandstone, Hole in the Rock, Utah

The back of the Entrada Sandstone

I wanted to condense the history of this place for you into a snappy and scintillating overview, but that proved impossible. The history of the family who settled here and eventually blasted a home out of the rock is sprawling and complicated.

It’s an 80-acre homestead site and the Christensen family settled there in the 1920s. The house in the cave started when the family wanted some bedrooms for their sons (they’d been sleeping in tents).

It was expanded over many years, and its development depended on the fortunes of the family—which were sometimes strained to breaking by the Great Depression, as well as some of the personalities involved. It was even affected by jail time served by one of the sons. While scratching out a living for his family making bootleg liquor during Prohibition, he was set up and betrayed by a party-goer.

One of the many vintage signs at Hole in the Rock, Utah

One of the many vintage signs scattered around Hole N” The Rock

During part of its time supporting the Christensen family, Hole N” The Rock functioned as a diner and watering hole for uranium miners and locals desperate for fun times and some release from their worries and cares during the Depression, Prohibition and World War II.

A sign on-site says “Albert Christensen and his wife Gladys expanded the diner into the Blue Room, a private club for dining, dancing and drinking. The late-night parties and rough-trade clientele are still the stuff of legends.”

Antique wagon train, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Antique wagon train


Antique carriage, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Antique carriage

In 1957, the guided tours were started by Gladys after Albert’s death when she was having a hard time making ends meet. In her booklet, Maxine Newell writes “A long-time rock hound, Gladys added a rock and gift shop to the enterprise and began charging 50 cents for a tour of the house. Glady’s son, Hub Davis, recalls an embarrassing moment when he was visiting his mother and decided to sleep in. He woke to find a surprised tour group staring at him.”

The outhouse and the jail cell, Hole in the Rock, Utah

The outhouse and the jail cell

Ownership has changed hands at least twice since then. I’m guessing that some of the many oddities around the property were added later, in an effort to make it even more alluring for tourists to stay a while. Some of the stranger features are so outlandish I could not make any connection between the cave house and the reason for the feature, such as this installation in the photo below. It’s billed as a way to get a new hair style, presumably by electric shock.

This might be where Doc Brown from Back to the Future got his hairstyle. Hole in the Rock, Utah.

This might be where Doc Brown from Back to the Future got his hairstyle

Artist Lyle Nichols of the license plate Jeep has more of his work on display. This giant cactus (see below) is made of 881 bowling balls, hundreds of drill bits and miles of rebar and steel. The tire next to it is made from crushed fuel tanks, chunks of glass and rebar. The center is twelve pieces of Kansas Cream limestone. (Taken from a sign next to the art installation, this may be a misspelling for Kansas Créme® limestone.)


Bowling ball cactus and spare bits tire, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Bowling ball cactus and spare bits tire

Another example of the whimsy to be found at Hole N” The Rock is a sign that promises a Big Foot sighting. I eagerly followed the footpath to the back of the property and found, literally, a big foot made of plaster of Paris, complete with hair on the toes. This was near an overhead miner’s trolley. I had to look twice when I saw a man inside the trolley. He looked so real.

Big Foot below, miner above, Hole in the Rock, Utah

Big Foot below, miner above

It was hard to do justice to this strange and splendiferous place with mere photos and the written word. You’ll simply have to stop at the Hole N” The Rock next time you’re on your way to Moab, Utah or Arches National Park. Allow several hours so you can explore it properly and do the tour of the house.

Find out more at theholeintherock.com.

———

Crystal Gabrielle, travel writer and author of chick lit with cosmic grit

Crystal Gabrielle

Crystal Gabrielle is a double Aquarius with a vast interest in metaphysical subjects, as long as they’re fun. She’s been a house sitter in various parts of the Southwest and California, and she enjoys getting on the road. She embraces anything that brings more magic into life, and she’s not afraid to talk to herself out loud when a good idea possesses her. Check out Crystal’s tarot reading gig at Fiverr and her travel-related Kindle book, House Sitting Secrets Revealed.

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    3 Comments

  • Estrella Azul
    Twitter: EstrellaAzul
    says:

    Wow. Just. Wow! That’s such a quirky place, and looks like a lot of fun to explore. I’ve noticed more and more, in many places, how people plop completely unrelated-to-the-period things to attract more tourists. Sometimes it looks actually interesting, like above!

    Hope you get the chance to stop there next time you drive through there, to take the tour of the house. I’d be thrilled to see what a 14-room house carved into the hill I pass looks like on the inside 🙂

    PS: My favorite pic from here is of the antique carriage!

  • I’ve heard of Hole N’ The Wall, but I’ve never been there. This would be such a cool place for my family to visit. We ride motorcycles and this would make a great trip destination.

    I would totally live in a house built in a cave. Of course, WiFi might be an issue, but how cool would that be. Kinda like being a Flintstone. LOL

    • Milli Thornton
      Twitter: millivrstravels
      says:

      Christine, if you ever get to visit Hole N” The Wall, please let me know! It does sound perfect for a family motorcycle visit. (If you ever want to contribute a story to Milliver’s Travels based on one of your motorcycle adventures, I would LOVE that!)

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