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Chapter #368: Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 1 - September 21, 2019


"Edward Abbey & Friends" topper sign from Back of Beyond Bookstore, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Edward Abbey & Friends, University of New Mexico (1954-1955) Ch. 1

“Long live literature and reading!” – Jimbo Forrest
“I’m not afraid to die!” – Ralph Newcomb
“Sure a lot of noise here!” – Edward Abbey

Author’s Note –
In October 2008, I attended Confluence, a Celebration of Reading and Writing in Moab, Utah. As mentors and teachers, Amy Irvine, Craig Childs and Jack Loeffler represented a triumvirate of writing expertise unparalleled in the Four Corners Region. Jack makes New Mexico his home. Amy hails from Utah. Craig has Arizona, and Colorado well covered. For three days, the famous authors shepherded a group of twenty-five budding or wannabe authors through classroom and field studies.

Plush Kokopelli hides out in the back of the Back of Beyond Bookstore with Seldom Seen Smith - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Bard of Moab, twentieth century author Edward Abbey (1927-1989) was not the supposed focus of the conference. Still, the mystique of “Cactus Ed” hung heavily in Moab’s radioactive air. Craig Child’s 2008 book, “House of Rain” has received favorable contrast to Abbey’s 1968 classic, “Desert Solitaire”. Amy Irvine’s 2008 debut book, “Trespass” was then fresh on the shelves at Moab’s Back of Beyond Book Store. In her 2018 long-form essay titled  “Desert Cabal” (Torrey House 2018), Irvine took on and wrestled with the “privileged white man” legacy of one Edward Abbey.

For his part, Jack Loeffler had been the longtime best friend and chronicler of Edward Abbey’s life. In 2003, fourteen years after Abbey’s death, Loeffler published  “adventures with ED, (a portrait of Abbey)” (UNM 2003). Like ghost stories around a desert campfire, Jack Loeffler’s Confluence stories seemed to rouse the restless spirit of Edward Abbey himself. For the next three days, someone or something kept bringing the subject of Edward Abbey and his writing to the fore. Looking back, Edward Abbey figures in seventeen of my own blog articles, beginning prior to the 2008 Confluence Conference.

Aural historian and author, Jack Loeffler enters the Moab Confluence Conference in 2008 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In October 2019, eleven years after the original Confluence Conference, I will make my annual trek to Moab, mainly to attend “Book Week”, as I now call it. On October 18, both Amy Irvine and Craig Childs will participate in a panel discussion at Star Hall. On October 22, Jack Loeffler will be signing his new book, “Headed Into the Wind: A Memoir” at the famed Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab. In the spirit of their generous teaching and encouragement to write, I hope to put a copy of this brief saga in each of their hands.

Like most novice readers, I loved the “naturalist” passages in Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” (1968). The classic book tells of Abbey’s two seasons spent in the mid-1950s as a ranger at then little-known Arches National Monument. In 2018, over 1.5 million people swarmed over the now Arches National Park. Despite his cranky, bigoted, anachronistic and anarchistic tendencies, Edward Abbey did get at least one thing right. He decried the nascent destruction of wilderness and the creeping industrialization of the Desert Southwest. Now, more than thirty years after his death, rapacious development, mineral extraction and illicit off-road vehicle use have more than made their mark. They have changed, and in many cases, destroyed much of the natural landscape Abbey vainly tried to protect.

Amy Irvine, author of 'Trespass' and 'Desert Cabal' at the 2008 Confluence Conference in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Later in life, Abbey denied that he was ever was, acted, thought or wrote like a “naturalist”. In fact, he decried the characterization. He did not deny being a naturist and an anarchist. In 2010, I read Abbey’s most famous novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, for the first time. That was thirty-five years after its original publication. At that time, I accepted its “radical eco-manifesto vibe” as a reflection of the writer and the 20th century, in which he lived. According to my beliefs, consciousness is everlasting, but orneriness in all of its human manifestations is not. The Edward Abbey we knew in life or from his many books is not the beneficent spirit of Moab Abbey we might encounter today.

Over the years, I have read many, but not all of Edward Abbey’s novels and essays. Reflective of his times, his characters often bear an overtly strong resemblance to the man, himself or to his few stalwart friends. By his own admission, Abbey rather “missed it” on the fictional part. This was especially true of the few female characters that he included. Ed may have incorporated them as homage or an apology for his real life interactions with the opposite sex.

In his later books, much of Abbey’s rhetoric stemmed from the fraught environmental politics of the 1970s. Repeatedly, Abbey assailed corporate greed and complicit government in their assault on the natural environment. As he predicted, that unholy alliance has only accelerated the destruction of public lands since his death. Often, Abbey’s polemics were thinly disguised appeals for active “monkey wrenching” of any machinery, infrastructure or development he disagreed with.

Author and environmentalist Craig Childs signing books in 2012 at Star Hall, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Edward Abbey hated reviewers, but always read his own reviews. If he is reading this review, it is from the “Far Side”, I hope he will forgive me my peccadilloes, as I forgive him for using almost every word in his vast vocabulary somewhere in his writing. To read Abbey thoroughly, one needs a dictionary and a thesaurus nearby.

OK. That is it for criticism. Now for the story…





Our Cast of Characters:
• Edward Abbey (1927-89), author, essayist, radical environmentalist.
• Jim “Jimbo” Forrest (1932-present), teacher, radio/TV announcer, photographer.
• Ralph W. Newcomb (1925-2011) cowboy, bronco rider, artist, sculptor.
• Malcolm Brown (1925-2003) artist, sculptor, architect, landscape artist.
• Amy Irvine (1953-present) author, feminist, iconoclast, environmentalist.
• Craig Childs (1967-present) author, naturalist, environmentalist.
• John “Jack” Loeffler Jr. (1936-present), aural historian, jazz musician, biographer.
• Kirk Douglas (1916-present) actor, filmmaker, author.
• Edward Lewis (1919-2019) film producer (Lonely are the Brave 1962).
• Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976), blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter (Lonely are the Brave 1962).
Jim McGillis (1948-present) teacher, writer, photographer (“Author” of this chronicle).

Author’s Note –
Jim (Jimbo) Forrest with his two sisters, Cheri and Martie and his 1929 Model-A Ford pictured in 1948 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Jim Forrest (now Jimbo to me), first met Edward Abbey in 1954, when Jimbo was twenty-two and Ed was a war (and peace) weary World War II veteran, twenty-seven years old. By fate alone, both men had enrolled as graduate students in philosophy at the University of New Mexico (UNM), in Albuquerque. In fact, they were the only two graduate students of philosophy attending UNM that year.

Edward Abbey has been gone from this Earth since March 1989. Jimbo Forrest is alive and well, now living in Southern California. Jimbo recently reconnected with Edward Abbey, the author. Via an internet search, he also discovered my internet ramblings about Edward Abbey, and thus connected with me. From here on out, this will be Jimbo and Ed’s story, with occasional help from their “crazy friend”, Ralph Newcomb. I am just the auto-didactic who types the words.

Jimbo Forrest -
In 1954, Jimbo Forrest traveled Old Route 66 from California to the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“I am Jim Forrest. When I was sixteen, in 1948, I worked in a “malt shop” in LA, and got 50c/hour. I managed to get in 40-hours, by working on Saturdays. After working five weeks, I had $100, and bought a 1929 Model-A Ford. They told me that the car was older than I was. (So were my parents.) It was a good car. Let me pause here and see if I can find that photo.

I graduated from San Jose State College in June 1954. I spent the summer working at the American Can Company at night, taking a couple more courses, and then working at a used car lot during the day. In September of 1954, I drove my 1947 Plymouth (which I bought from the car lot where I worked) to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I found a cheap, old, small apartment on Edith Street, at the bottom of the hill leading up to the University of New Mexico. It was good exercise pedaling up the hill every morning on my bike, sometimes through the snow.

Dust jacket photo of the Jack Loeffler book, 'adventures with ED, A Portrait of Abbey' - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Why am I writing this now? I met Ed Abbey in 1954. After 1956, I never read even one of his books until 2019. Recently, for reasons unknown, I ordered Jack Loeffler’s book, “adventures with ED, (a portrait of Abbey)”. Many things in those first pages reminded me of Ed. There were the classes we took, the people we knew, and the adventures we shared, I started wondering who the author, Jack Loeffler really was.

He describes so many things about Ed, including our mutual friends and the places we went. I do not remember ever hearing about Jack Loeffler, much less meeting him. Jack must have had a photographic memory, or maybe he took copious notes each time the two met. I doubt this, as Jack writes about the enormous amount of beer they both would consume during their many adventures.

In Loeffler’s book, there are several pages of photos of Ed, his family and his friends. There is a copy of a theater poster for the movie, “Lonely are the Brave”. When I first met Ed, he was beginning to write his 1956 novel, “The Brave Cowboy”, which later became that movie. When Ed and I first met in 1954, he had a manuscript with him, made up of the yellow 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper that we all used in our typewriters for its cheapness. I remember Ed, clutching that sheaf of paper telling me all about Ralph Newcomb and the Albuquerque Jail Episode”.


The inimitable and ineffable Ralph Newcomb, playing guitar at a UNM beer party in Albuquerque, New Mexico 1954 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Author’s Note –
According to legend, Edward Abbey, after being arrested in Albuquerque for an unknown offense, landed in the Bernalillo County Jail. There he met a somewhat frequent resident of the jail, Ralph Newcomb. Although neither man broke out of jail that night, Ralph became the inspiration for Jack Burns, the protagonist of Abbey’s 1956 novel, “The Brave Cowboy”. In the novel, protagonist Jack Burns commits a crime and lands in jail, with intentions of helping a friend already incarcerated there. Upon discovering that he faces a long prison sentence, Jack breaks out jail. From there, he saddles his trusty horse and goes on the lam, heading for potential freedom in Mexico.

Jimbo Forrest –
“Visions are going through my head (but not of sugar plum fairies or the like) of experiences in New Mexico from 1954 to 1963. I’m wondering where to start. In Jack Loeffler’s 2002 book, adventures with ED (a portrait of Abbey), there is a photo section. On the second page of pictures, there is a photo of three men standing under a leafless tree (Albuquerque can get very cold in the winter, as I discovered). From left to right, wearing jackets: Julian (Jerry) Palley, Prof. Alfredo Roggiano, and Ed Abbey.

From left to right, Julian Palley, Prof. Alfredo Roggiano and Edward Abbey in January 1955 at the University of New Mexico, taken by Jim Forrest - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In January 1955, I took that photograph. Then, I handed my camera to Jerry, and he took a similar photo, but with me on the left. Each of these three men helped me learn more about life than I was to learn in the philosophy classes I was taking. Jerry Palley was a graduate student and instructor in the language department. He later became a professor at the newly formed University of California at Irvine. Dr. Alfredo Roggiano, from Argentina, came to Albuquerque as a visiting professor of Spanish literature. On the right is Ed, later known worldwide as the author of many essays and novels.

I have no idea where Jack Loeffler got that picture. Maybe I gave Ed a copy after I had the film developed. As mentioned earlier, I handed my camera to Jerry, and he took the second picture. In the second photo, I’m the one on the left. Juxtaposing those photos brings back memories of the experiences, thoughts, and adventures I had concerning Ed during my years in The Land of Enchantment.

The above is an explanation of how I came to Albuquerque. I’d like to continue with a mention of our mutual philosophy instructor, Archie Bahm, and our relation to him, and to each other. After that, I will tell when, where and why Ed and I slept together.”


End Part One - To read Part Two, Click HERE.

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Chapter #367: Planned Desecration of The Book Cliffs - June 3, 2019


The Spirit of the Ancients Rise up in opposition to the Hydrocarbon Highway planned for their ancient rock art sanctuary - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

Utah, the BLM and Uintah County Plan to Desecrate Sego or East Canyon, Utah

The ancient site known as Sego Canyon is an easy day trip from Moab, Utah. The name "Sego Canyon Petroglyphs" is a bit confusing because the main panels of petroglyphs and pictographs are actually located in Thompson Canyon. From Thompson Springs, Utah, take Utah Highway 94 North, which becomes BLM 159 (Thompson Canyon Road). Accessible with any automobile, the gravel road will lead you to the unpaved parking area adjacent to the “Sego Canyon Rock Art” site, as Google Maps identifies it. You may access the main panels from the parking area at 39°01'05.3"N 109°42'37.2"W.

Thompson Springs, Utah lies at the base of the Book Cliffs and is the portal to the Sego Canyon Rock Art Site - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Sego Canyon itself begins north of Thompson Springs as a fork of Thompson Canyon. Unless you prepare ahead for off-road recovery and dry camping in the wilderness, do not drive any farther up Sego Canyon. In many places, it either crosses the streambed or utilizes the streambed as its roadway. There are no fresh water sources and the road is subject to flash flooding. The trail dead-ends at a defunct mining site, along the southern border of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.

In the year 2014, the sanctity and solitude of Sego Canyon faced imminent demise. For eleven thousand years or more, most early human visitors either painted or carved their visions into the walls of Sego Canyon. The result was a series of interesting and illustrative panels unsurpassed in all of the American West. Undaunted by its sacred and serene beauty, the Grand County Council planned to put a stop to all of that.

Although called the Sego Canyon Petroglyphs, the ancient and sacred site is actually in Thompson Canyon - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)At that time, all three options in the long-term usage plan for Grand County Public Lands called for a fifteen mile long, one or two mile wide transportation corridor straight up Sego Canyon. Commonly called the “Hydrocarbon Highway”, this newly paved and widened road would serve a Mecca of tar sands mines planned on property controlled by State of Utah School and Institutional Lands Commission (SITLA). Unless SITLA and Grand County agreed upon this blatant industrialization of the desert, they would have no access to the tar sand deposits that lay beyond the rim of the Book Cliffs.

Public outcry, both in this blog and throughout the country shamed the Grand County Council into abandoning their reckless plan. Even so, less than five years later, the Grand County Council has revived its draconian plan. After the embarrassment engendered by their callous and uncaring plan finally receded in local memory, several agencies charged with protecting our ancient heritage sites again wish to desecrate them. As the price of crude oil continues to rise, tar sands will become ever more competitive in the marketplace. As prices now rise in 2019, even the local Native American tribe hopes to make the Hydrocarbon Highway plan a reality.

In 2014, natural gas exploration wells were drilled within site of the Book Cliffs, near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Under the current administration, former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke laid waste to nearby Bears Ears National Monument. At its inception in 2016, Bears Ears consisted of 1.35 million acres. After Zinke had his way with it, only 201,876 acres remained under full federal protection. After disgraceful manipulation of both federal lands, and the budget of his agency, in January 2019, “Slinky Zinke” slithered away into a hoped for obscurity.

Yet, like The Terminator, of movie fame, Zinke reemerged from his lair in April 2019. This time, he was a newly minted executive and board member of Nevada based U.S. Gold Corp. Their tag line is, “World-Class Projects in Mining Friendly, U.S. Jurisdictions”. Zinke's compensation package included salary and stock valued at more than $100,000 and “expenses” of $120,000 per year. After draining his federal budget to support a lavish and questionable jet-setting lifestyle, Zinke can now spend at a similar rate in the private sector. Although forbidden from lobbying his former agency, U.S. Gold Corp. CEO Edward Karr cited Zinke’s “excellent relationship” and “in-depth knowledge of the governmental regulatory and permitting process for mining and exploration companies”. These relationships and knowledge with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Interior Department were included as justifications for his hiring.

In 2014, wildcat tar sands mines were spotted near the Book Cliffs and Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Succeeding Zinke in April of 2019, David Bernhardt joined the current administration as its new Secretary of the Interior. After working within the Department of Interior for many years, Bernhardt had more recently served as a lobbyist for the extraction industries. During his tenure as a lobbyist, Bernhardt's clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
In other words, Bernhardt is fully in the pocket of Old Energy, as represented by oil, gas and most of all, the “Clean Coal” industry. Get ready for Mr. Bernhardt to push for full-scale development of tar sands in the State of Utah. Although Zinke cannot lobby his former federal agency, there are no restrictions on his lobbying the State of Utah School and Institutional Lands Commission (SITLA).

A young couple visiting the Sego Canyon Petroglyph Site mimics the pose of the ancient couple to the left, in this image - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)SITLA owns thousands of acres of potential tar sand mining claims just north of Sego Canyon. If Bernhardt and the likes of Zinke find a way to collaborate tacitly on the extraction of “black gold” from the Sego Canyon tar sands, you can bet that they will. The residents of Grand County, Uintah County and the public at large must remain vigilant. If not, the priceless artifacts and ancient artwork within the Sego Canyon Rock Art site could be defiled.

The rock art images that look down from the walls of Thompson Canyon predate the construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which recently burned in Paris. With scientists’ inability to date the earliest pictographs at Sego Canyon, those drawings may predate all human history, including the pyramids of Egypt. No one knows for sure. Anyone who has stood and marveled at the unique beauty of Sego Canyon knows that a paved tar sands haul road would forever alter and destroy this ancient and sacred site.

A high speed haul road similar to the one pictured could be built adjacent to Sego Canyon, the oldest and most sacred of rock art sites in the Southwest (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Who are the people or spirits represented in Sego Canyon? Over the millennia, several types of rock art appeared on the canyon walls, each representing a successive human culture. Some experts claim evidence of human habitation in Sego Canyon dating back to the Archaic Period (6,000 – 2,000 BC). Elsewhere, at the Calico Early Man Site, near Yermo, California, human made material extracted from beneath 100,000-year-old alluvial deposits include a "rock ring". The ring dates back to 135,000 years by thermoluminescence (TL), about 200,000 years by uranium-series analysis, and about 197,000 years by surface beryllium-10 dating. Since there are no adequate ways to use carbon or other dating methods on the earliest Sego Canyon pictographs, their age is indeterminate. For human safety and protection from vandalism, the BLM recently closed Calico Early Man Site to the public. Until adequate funding magically appears, the site will remain off limits to all.

Beginning in an undetermined and ancient age, what we call Barrier Canyon Style rock art panels appeared in Sego Canyon. The Barrier Canyon Style included both pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (pecked) into the rock surface. Some appear faded and darkened with age, while others have a fresher look and appear similar to red ochre paintings of more recent vintage. The dark, faded and therefore most ancient pictographs often have subtle facial expressions and the appearance of clothing or robes.

Perhaps one of the oldest rock art pictographs in the world, The Black Knight may represent an Anunnaki God giving birth to a robed human figure, who walks out from his dark cloaks - Click for larger image (htts://jamesmcgillis.com)In one image, on the far left side of a larger panel is a dark figure, emerging from a grass field. Much like an ancient Sumerian Anunnaki (436,000 BC – 3,700 BC), he wears a dark robe and a spiked or pointed helmet. Obscured by age and weathering, his shoulders and countenance depict him moving forward and to his right. Although small in scale, he represents an apparently giant figure. Scanning down to where his arms might be, he appears to have his hands resting on the shoulders of a much smaller and more humanlike figure.

The smaller figure, superimposed on the lower half of this “Anunnaki Warrior” appears to be walking straight out and into the foreground. He has dark, curly hair and wears a biblical-style flowing robe. Some writings reference the “black headed ones” whom the Anunnaki once ruled. Legend has it that the Anunnaki ruled Gaia, our Mother Earth throughout prehistory. Tired of laboring for the scant amount of gold available on Earth, the Anunnaki developed a slave class, later known as humankind. As gods on Earth, they may have experimented with genetic engineering, including the recombination of their own DNA with that of “Early Man”.

In this enhanced photo, Mother Nature and Yahweh hold each other in reverence and shelter the ancient petroglyphs of Sego Canyon, below - Click for larger, unenhanced image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)So here, on the walls of Sego Canyon, we have a pictographic suggestion of an Anunnaki god “birthing” Adam into the Garden of Eden. Above the very panel depicting this immaculate birth, are two huge portraits, carved in the stone of the canyon wall. On the left, in profile, is Mother Nature, as represented by a Nubian woman. To her right, intertwined and looking into her face is the classical, white bearded Yahweh, or the “Face of God”. Here, the contrast of a dark and a white face mimics the Anunnaki “Black Knight” and his progeny Adam, a white man with black hair.

As depicted, Yahweh and Mother Nature are in love both with each other and with All that Is. The Anunnaki god, depicted beneath the divine couple, appears to release Adam into what we now know as our own world. After genetic manipulation and creation of humans as a slave class, the Anunnaki lost their final battle in the Pleiadian or the Orion Wars, around 2,000 BC. Upon banishment from Earth, the Anunnaki absconded with Earth’s available gold and returned to their place of origin at Niburu, a brown dwarf planet (or star system) with a highly elliptical orbit around our Sun.

Where some might see a Native American Tipi, others might see a rocket ship. complete with metal armor blasting off from the surface of the Earth - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Niburu, also known as “Planet X”, “Planet Nine” or “Nemesis” continues to threaten Earth, as we know it. Niburu has a periodicity that is still in question. Depending on your preferred information source, Niburu returns for a near-Earth dash every 3,600 or 11,000 years. As pictured by scientists and mystics alike, Niburu exists as a huge dark ball of superheated tar. Periodically, as it passes close to the Earth, Niburu is prone to ejecting great swaths of semi-molten petroleum. Old Testament Biblical accounts of fire and brimstone raining from the sky attest to this phenomenon.

As children, we learned a myth about the origins of terrestrial petroleum deposits. Although that myth is widely believed, the petroleum deposits in our Earth did not come from dinosaurs grazing in ancient swampland. Eleven thousand years ago, or at some multiple of that time span, Niburu spewed untold amounts of boiling tar on to the upper reaches of Sego Canyon. As happened in the Bible Lands, so too did the Sego Canyon "Lake of Fire" cool and mix with the desert sands, solidifying and becoming the tar sands, oil and natural gas Author Zecheria Sitchin first decoded and wrote about the Anunnaki and their place in the creation of humankind - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)deposits that we know today. The original "Moabites" were a West-Semitic culture, which flourished in the Ninth Century BCE, or about 11,000 years ago. That time span would coincide with three 3,600 year circuits of Niburu or one major circuit at around 10,800 years.

Remember, the Anunnaki sought to enslave humankind and extract gold for their wealth and pleasure. Old Energy mavens such as Ryan Zinke, David Bernhardt, Edward Karr and the Uintah County Council have their sights set on places like Sego Canyon or East Canyon. Our current day “Anunnaki Wannabes” seek the black gold locked in the tar sands of Sego Canyon. If their self-serving ways prevail, they will build their “Hydrocarbon Highway” straight through Sego Canyon. If so, the ancient depictions of Mother Nature, Yahweh and the Spirit of the Ancients found there and nowhere else shall vanish from the Earth.

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Chapter #366: Thompson Springs, Utah - History - February 19, 2019


Now abandoned, this wood frame house in Thompson Springs, Utah had a rail car addition tacked on at one time - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Bob Robertson's Boyhood Memories of Thompson Springs, Utah

Some say, “History repeats itself”. In Thompson Springs, Utah, it simply vanishes.

Exiting Interstate I-70 at “Thompson”, as the locals call it, is like entering a time warp. Approaching the town on a desolate two-lane road, it feels like you are entering Thompson in the 1890's. In those days “Old Man Thompson” still ran the lumber mill. These days, there are no more trees to fell. There are no
All the storefronts in Downtown Thompson Springs, Utah now stand abandoned to the weather - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)more Thompson's listed in the phone book. No more steam trains linger at the railroad depot, taking on passengers, coal or water. The nearest passenger station is now miles away, at Green River.

In the past ten years, I have written nine blog articles that mention Thompson or Thompson Springs. I physically revisit the place every year or two. For some reason, Thompson, as a place resonates with me. In 2018, I heard from Mr. Bob Robertson, who was once a resident of Thompson. Since then, Bob has shared with me many details about the history of “Thompson”, as many call the place. Therefore, the rest of this article is in the words of Bob Robertson and his mother, Dorothy (known as Tods).

Bob Robertson (left) and his older sister Maurine pose near their home in Thompson Springs, Utah, circa 1940 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“Your blog prompted many memories and thoughts about the area I’d like to share, so bear with me as an old man reflects (while he is still able)!

Thompson Springs began its life in 1883 as a station stop on the D&RGW Railroad. A post office was established in 1890, under the name “Thompson’s," named after E.W. Thompson, who lived near the springs and operated a saw mill, to the north, near the Book Cliffs. The town became a community center for the small number of farmers and ranchers who lived in the inhospitable region, and it was a prominent shipping point for cattle that ran in the Book Cliffs area.

The town gained importance with the development of coal mines in Sego Canyon, a few miles north of town. Entrepreneurs built a railroad there in 1911 to connect the mines with the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad at Thompson. The spur line operated until about 1950.

This abandoned miner's rock home used a railroad track for its doorway header - Click for larger image (http://jaqmesmcgillis.com)One added aspect of interest is the actual community of Sego, where the mines were functioning through the 1940s. I remember as a kid in school in Moab, there was a carload of kids driven from Sego to Moab daily to go to school. Education was Grand County's responsibility, until the mines closed around 1948 or 1949. The internet tells of how the community included specific ethnic groups, housed in separate locations in the canyon, which was typical of the times. There was a Japanese section, different European sections, etc. There is very little indication of old home sites now, but there is a cemetery.

It was much like Bingham Canyon Mine in northern Utah, where my wife was born in 1940. Her dad and his brother worked in the mine there during the The Thompson Springs passenger railroad depot was abandoned in 1997 and torn down in 2016 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Second World War, but the uncle was an accountant and her dad drove heavy machinery. Therefore, they had to live in different locations within the canyon.

Construction of Interstate I-70, two miles south of Thompson, drew traffic away from the town, since the former Old Cisco Highway (US-6 & US-50) was no longer maintained. In 1997, the passenger train station closed and moved to Green River, twenty-five miles to the west. The loss of railroad passenger service led to further economic hardship for Thompson Springs.

My Dad (Maury Robertson) ran a gas station in Thompson Springs, beginning in 1935. He lived in a tent with Mom and sister Maurine until they moved the abandoned small one-room Valley City schoolhouse to Thompson, which became their bedroom on their house next to the service station.

A 1935 image of the Robertson Service Station in Thompson Springs featured UTOCO Oil Products beer for sale, inside - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I was born in 1937. Later, my Mom made the following comments for my own son about my arrival:
“Dear Dan, Your Dad was born when we lived in Thompson. We hadn’t planned to have more children, for Maury was afraid there would be problems of health because of Maurine (Bob’s sister). In addition, we were very poor and living conditions were bad in Thompson. During pregnancy, I got big & miserable with hay fever & also the gnats landed & mixed with my hay fever drink. At that time, Maury had the hired man drive me to Moab two weeks early. The nights in Moab were so hot I about melted – the nights on the desert in Thompson were cool.

Dorothy and Maury Robertson (parents of Maurine and Bob Robertson) sit for a portrait in 1942 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When Bob was born, my Dad (Cap Maxwell) drove out to Thompson to tell Maury & he was so tickled with a boy that he told the truth. Maury thought it was a girl all the way to Moab, for he did not think Dad would tell the truth. Cap was a great tease. We argued about what to name the boy. I wanted Vincent Clark & Maury wanted Jim after his father. We already had one Jim in the family. Maurine came to the hospital & said let us name him Bobby & so that was it.

He had a rough upbringing with the hired men that we had at the station in Thompson. Collin Loveridge used to throw him in the air so high I’d nearly flip & Albert Brown, who was a big “roughy” used to get him up in the morning & feed him & let me sleep in. When Bob would not eat his toast for me Albert said, “Oh, I put sugar & Jelly on it, he likes it.”


This abandoned storefront once served as a grocery store in Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)My Uncle Curt (Dad's brother and business partner in Moab tacked that old schoolhouse onto a storefront that old Doc Williams bought. It became living quarters for my folks, moving Mom & Dad and sister Maurine out of the tent. That was where I got my start. The two-pump service station has the name labeled on the front "Robertson Service," It’s kind of hard to make out in the picture. The brand was Utoco (Utah Oil Co.). Dad also drove the gas truck servicing the towns in the area, Cisco, Moab, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff).”

Since I-70 became the main east/west route across Utah, lost are locations and memories of road trips from Moab to Grand Junction, Colorado or Price, Utah. Crescent Junction became the first stop after the interstate opened. Then as kids, going west, there was the thrill of the cold-water geyser at Woodside. Traveling east, after Thompson came Cisco, Harley Dome, and then Fruita.

This vintage bumper tag once advertised the now defunct cold-water Roadside Geyser in Woodside, Utah - Click for larger image (htp://jamesmcgillis.com)Valley City was home to enough people at some point to warrant a small schoolhouse (that became our home in Thompson Springs, as mentioned earlier). This is where we would drive from Moab in the winter to ice skate on the Valley City reservoir. It was not much of a spot for skating, but to us kids, it was great.

At age 21, Maurine Robertson (1930-1953) was named Grand County, Utah Queen of the Rodeo - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Sis (Maurine Robertson), who was born with a congenital heart defect, died in 1953, during my sophomore year in high school. She had lived twenty-three good years and had brought much joy and happiness to all who knew her. Two years earlier, she had been crowned Rodeo Queen and received much deserved recognition for the beautiful person she was.”


In 1955, Bob Robertson went on to graduate from Grand County High School in Moab. In 1961, after earning a BS Electrical Engineering at the University Of Utah, he joined the “U.S. Space Program” before it even had a name. After
active military time at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Bob launched a distinguished career in electronics and Author Bob Robertson and his sister, Maurine in 1952 - Click for full Robertson family portrait (http://jamesmcgillis.com)engineering.

While working for such premier corporations as Intel, Fairchild, AC Spark Plug, Astrodata, Standard Microsystems, Mini-circuits and Motorola, Bob and his family lived in Singapore, Indonesia and Russia. After a later stint teaching at Great Basin College, in Elko, Nevada, Bob moved to Boise, Idaho, where he retired working for Micron Technology. He and his wife (grandparents of twenty-two) now live comfortably in northern Idaho.

Although he has not visited Thompson recently, Bob Robertson's recollections of bygone locations and events in the old ranching and railroad town are as sharp as ever. Thank you, Bob Robertson for sharing your personal history with us all.

This is Part 2 of the Thompson Springs Story. To read Part 1, “Thompson Springs, Utah - From Boom Town to Ghost Town”, please click “Here”. To read Part 3, "Sego Canyon - Land of the Ancients", please click "Here".

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By James McGillis at 03:23 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #365: Visit Historic Thompson Springs, Utah - January 18, 2019


Along old Highway 6 & 50, an abandoned home stands in Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

Thompson Springs, Utah - From Boom Town to Ghost Town

In May 2008, when I made my first visit to Thompson Springs, Utah, I had no idea what to expect. Before that, I had never heard of the place. While in Moab that year, someone had suggested that I visit the old Indian Rock Art panels in nearby Sego Canyon. After wending my way from Moab, north on U.S. Highway 191, I referred to my Utah Atlas & Gazetteer. By following a few simple turns, I soon connected to an unpaved strip of dirt named Valley City Road. According to my map, that road ran on a diagonal, straight to Thompson Springs.

Old U.S. Highway 6 & 50 is no longer maintained through Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)On that dusty track, I thought about the name, originally called “Thompson”. Someone later added the word “Springs” to the official place name. The 1961 book, “Five Hundred Utah Place Names”, has no mention of either Thompson or Thompson Springs. Although almost every source now labels it as Thompson Springs, the locals in Grand County have shortened the moniker to “Thompson”. For the sake of brevity, I shall henceforth call the place Thompson.

Indeed, Thompson had once been a thriving town, located on old Highway U.S. 6 & 50. In the first half of the twentieth century, the town featured a hotel, a motel, a diner, a grocery store, several filling stations and a passenger railroad depot. Up past the ancient rock art in Sego Canyon ran a standard gauge railroad, which serviced a low-grade coalmine at its terminus. In the days of steam locomotives, the fresh water springs at Thompson created a In the early 20th century, Thompson Springs was a mandatory water stop for the steam locomotives of the time - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)mandatory stopping place for all trains traveling along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad mainline. By the 1970s, diesel-electric locomotives had replaced steam power, making a water-stop in Thompson irrelevant.

Simultaneously, the newly completed Interstate I-70 bypassed Thompson entirely. The old Highway 6 & 50, while skirting the southern edge of the Book Cliffs, had bisected Thompson. On its stretch between Green River and Cisco, the new route for I-70 lay several miles to the south. The widowed owner of the Crescent Junction service station had lobbied hard to have the new highway to pass adjacent to her business. In deference to her desires, the chief highway engineer at the time changed the final I-70 route to suit her needs. That Crescent Junction gas station still stands today, now known as Papa Joe’s Stop & Go.

For the first half of the 20th century a railroad was used to transfer coal from Sego Canyon, in the Book Cliffs to Thompson Springs, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)The realigning of I-70 that far north necessitated a major road-cut just west of Crescent Junction. Eastbound from Crescent Junction, highway engineers saw no way to include Thompson in their plans. As was the story with many towns built along earlier highways and rail lines, running the interstate through Thompson would have destroyed the place. Instead, they skirted Thompson, thus creating an eastbound route with an unexpected descending curve. The softhearted chief engineer had foregone a more logical and less difficult route in deference to the owner of one small business in Crescent Junction.

After the complete bypass of Thompson, only a single new service station was visible from the interstate highway. Although a highway interchange allowed By 2018, the closed Silver Grill at Thompson Springs displayed broken windows and other signs of vandalism - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)access to Thompson from both eastbound and westbound I-70, few travelers visited the town. For almost forty years, from around 1970 until the Moab tourism boom beginning in 2010, Thompson continued to wither and die.

In recent years, the Desert Moon Hotel and RV Park and the Ballard RV Park and Cabins have sprung back to life. The Ballard RV Park stands on a site that housed hundreds of trailer homes during the construction of the interstate highway. Recently refurbished, the Ballard now houses many seasonal workers recently “priced out” of Moab, thirty-eight miles away. As the new working class suburb for Moab, the Ballard rarely has a seasonal vacancy for overnight travelers.

The road north from Thompson Springs to Sego Canyon first crosses Old Highway 6 & 50, and then the Union Pacific Railroad before entering the canyon - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Despite the success of the Desert Moon and the Ballard, by 2015 no other publically identified businesses functioned in Thompson. The Thompson Motel, The old brick-front Silver Grill and the railroad depot had all shut down for good. One of the few functioning landmarks was the namesake Thompson Springs waterworks. There, local residents and trucks from the nearby Utah Department of Transportation yard could fill their water tanks. Other than the gas station and minimart located near I-70, there were few signs of economic vitality.

By 2018, after extensive damage by vandals, the Union Pacific Railroad had torn down its defunct passenger rail depot. One after another, as abandoned homes or businesses became a danger to the public, they disappeared, An old Lake Powell pontoon boat serves as a dwelling in Thompson Springs, Utah. Note the stovepipe and water slide - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)seemingly without a trace. Within the town, the last census indicates that thirty-nine hardy souls dwell in the alternating heat and cold of the desert. Other sources claim up to ninety-three people reside in Thompson.

Recently, a landlocked pontoon boat somehow made its way from Lake Powell to Thompson, where it sits up on blocks. With its waterslide still intact and a stovepipe running up the side of the cabin, I wondered if it was a remote retreat or someone’s permanent home. Could this be the beginning of a new housing boom in Thompson?

Despite sporadic signs of life, Thompson appears to be transitioning to ghost town status. In the past decade, many former landmarks have disappeared. Each time I visit Thompson, I try to take pictures of the remaining structures.
When local residents spot a visitor in Thompson Springs, Utah, they come running - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Upon my next visit, there will surely be fewer of them still standing.

This is Part 1 of the Thompson Springs Story. In Part Two, Bob Robertson, a native of the area born in 1937 reminisces about his childhood in Thompson and Grand County, Utah.

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By James McGillis at 02:47 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

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http://simicam.com
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http://twoguns.la
http://yumajim.com
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http://zinfused.com




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