After exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, Anasazi State Park Museum, and Devil’s Garden Natural Outstanding Area, we were excited to finally reach the town of Escalante and the two last stops of our day: Hole-In-The-Rock Escalante Heritage Center and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.
Hole-In-The-Rock Escalante Heritage Center is a visitor center and small museum that pays homage to early Mormon settlers who, on a mission to settle southeastern Utah, carved a trail down a near-vertical cliff to move wagons, livestock and supplies.
The spacious outdoor plaza features interpretive displays, information panels, historic photographs, a covered wagon, vintage farm equipment, and two large murals depicting the struggles of the pioneer expedition during their six month trek in 1879 and 1880.
The pioneers chiseled, dug, and blasted a crude, steep road, now known as Hole-In-The-Rock Road, down a steep cliff to the banks of the Colorado River. The story is so outrageous it seems unbelievable, but it is true and speaks to the perseverance and determination of the nation’s early settlers.
The small museum displays photographs and heirlooms from the pioneer families, an ancient telephone station, and artifacts from the small town of Escalante. While Natalie and I were browsing the museum displays, we heard music being played on a piano — it was Carter! My son sat down at a vintage piano and played. It was awesome to see!
We really enjoyed our stop at the Escalante Heritage Center and learning the story of the Hole-In-The-Wall expedition. The volunteer docent was super friendly, the restrooms were clean, and the grounds were beautifully landscaped.
The Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition
In the autumn of 1879, 250 men, women, and children set out on an expedition to establish a settlement along the San Juan River in the southeast corner of Utah.
What was supposed to be a six week journey became a six-month nightmare and one of the most challenging and pioneer expeditions in American history.
A lack of water, conflict with the Native Americans, and a desire to reach their destination quickly prompted expedition leaders to take a shortcut and forge a direct route. Unfortunately, when they reached the Colorado River, it was 1,800 vertical feet below them. The wagon train was forced to camp for six cold, snowy weeks while the men carved the narrow path to the river now called Hole-In-The-Rock. While camping, they held dances in a natural amphitheater called Dance Hall Rock, now a National Historic Site.
After maneuvering 83 wagons down the almost vertical drop to the Colorado River, pioneers still had two more months of travel through 140 miles of canyon and rolling slickrock.
Know Before You Go
- Hole-In-The-Rock Escalante Heritage Center is located just east of the town of Escalante at 1300 Highway 12, Escalante, Utah 84726.
- Admission to the indoor/outdoor museum is free. A donation is optional.
- The outdoor murals were painted by Escalante artist Lynn Griffin.
- There are clean, new, flush restrooms available, which is a great relief after driving through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument!
- The Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm but hours may change based on volunteer availability.
- Inside the small museum, you can watch a 20 minute interpretive video.