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Solar panels and cliff dwellers | by oldmantravels
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Solar panels and cliff dwellers

You never know what you might find on a road trip, especially when you travel the roads less traveled:


I'm quite tolerant of others, as long as their views aren't forced on me. But I had no idea when Ed and I drove his Jeep along the Eightmile Road from La Sal Junction, Utah out to the Looking Glass Arch; Needles overlook; and Anticline overlook that we would be passing something called the Rockland Ranch.


The modern cliff dwelling are too brightly colored to miss and I certainly wish the group had chosen something that blended in with the rock they inhabit (as the ancient puebloans did) rather than paint them bright "see for a mile" colors BUT they are seeking freedom in their way so if bright colors are what they want on their homes I guess that is their business.


The founder of this community died recently of cancer. I read up quite a bit on the place upon returning home to Eastern Washington. Rather than me give filtered information, I choose to copy and paste, what I think is a balanced report from a Denver newspaper (where my uncle was a news anchorman on TV for decades).


If you are interested in the "story" as told by the Denver newspaper then here it is (note: It is not my intent for this to stir up a bunch of conversation on my flickr site about religion, communes, state of Utah land leases, or anything else). The Rockland Ranch is what it is so here is the story:



This article was originally published in The Denver Post on April 27, 2008.

There are times when travelers in this backside-of-nowhere expanse of desert in eastern Utah pull over on the sandy twist of road and train their binoculars on Bob Foster's rock.

What they see is like some sort of Flintstones mirage — a village built into a massive curve of jutting sandstone. And, as many folks have heard, there are some polygamists living here.

But it's nothing like "Big Love," the HBO series about the self-centered trials of a suburban polygamous family. It is also a far cry from Eldorado, Texas, where the recent raid of a polygamous sect's secretive compound is making daily headlines around the world.

Rockland Ranch, so identified by a decrepit sign at the entrance, there are no locked gates. No walls. No dormitory-style homes for gigantic plural families. No gleaming temple. No women in old-fashioned dresses. No prophet. No one who approves of child brides and forced marriages.

Instead, the lives of the 80 or so modern- day cliff dwellers who call Rockland home are relatively normal. They have to do with 4-H clubs, piano lessons, chiropractor visits and pizza recipes.

The residents' collective oddity is that they live in 10 houses built into caverns dynamited into a rock, 30 miles from the closest town and 8 miles from the nearest neighbors.

Bob Foster, 82, found this rock while traveling through Utah's backcountry 30 years ago. He leased it and the surrounding 80 acres from the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration for 50 years at a cost of $6,500 a year. And he has been blasting and carving it into his vision of a Christian community ever since.

"The Mesa Verde people would have done it just like this if they could have," Foster says as he sweeps a hand across the half-mile-long, 500-foot- high rock. It's been his home for more than a quarter century and is also home to one of his three wives, six of his 38 children and a lively troop of some of his 82 grandchildren.

"Plural," not polygamy

But, Bob Foster stresses, don't call this a polygamous community. He and his son Enoch Foster and several others are in plural marriages. Most residents are not, even though their surnames include Barlow, Morrison and Swapp — names that can be traced back to the early days of polygamy in the Mormon Church or to infamous polygamous sects that have sprung up since the church banned the practice 118 years ago. They represent different faiths — Mormons, Baptists, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and hybrids.

"It's simply a place where we strive to respect each other's differences,"

Catrina Foster gives a geography lesson to Tianna, 10, Cherish, 7, and Moroni, 8. She and "sister wife" Lillian daily trade child-care duties. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post) explained Enoch, who has taken over many of the duties of running the community from his dad.

That doesn't mean Bob Foster is slowing down. He marches to the voice of a God who he says gives him orders regularly.

He bounds up and down the rock like someone half his age, pointing out where God wants him to build this and that and railing about the bad goings-on in Salt Lake City — "Sin City," he calls it.

His hair has grown wispy white. His neck is scarred by recent cancer surgery. And his face is splotched with red patches by too many close dynamite blasts since he came out here in 1979.

He had been divorced by his first wife by then, excommunicated by the Mormon church, stripped of his seminary teaching job and convicted


Shaniah Knecht, 9, and her sister Charity, 12, milk one of their family's cows at Rockland Ranch in Dry Valley, Utah. Their mother, Anna Knecht, is one of Bob Foster's daughters. Not all of those who live at, or regularly visit, the community are polygamist or Mormon. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

of bigamy. He was looking for a place to live out his beliefs and to offer shelter to other "seekers of the truth."

He took multiple wives, he said, after God yanked him out of his cabin near Mount St. Helens, Wash., transported him through fiery gates to the throne of heaven, and gave him a command that he should live "the Principle."

He tells that saga with much flipping through a thick, well-used volume for passages that support his beliefs — and regularly bring him to tears. The book includes the Book of Mormon, two other Mormon tomes and the Bible. Foster has lined the pages with multicolored markers and made tiny notations in the margins.

When it comes to plural marriage, Foster admits he is considered a radical.

He urged his wives to find careers when he turned 65 and thought he would not have much longer to live. Second wife Susan went to Durango to work in accounting. Fourth wife Carla went to medical school and is now a physician near Salt Lake City. Third wife Karen opted to stay at the rock, where she raises Yorkshire terriers, tends an organic garden and runs a trash transfer station several days a week in La Sal.

"You don't control peoples' lives," Foster emphasizes. "That is wicked. You set them free."

Susan and Carla spend time at Rockland. Each of them has a cavern blasted into the rock so that homes can be built for them if they should decide to live here full-time again. Most of Foster's children have lived off the rock for periods with their mothers. Some want nothing to do with Rockland. But some are on board with their father's vision.

The dream of a rock condo

Enoch, 29, came back a decade ago when he saw his dad's ideal community dying. Capitalizing on ideas he had developed as a child about better ways to inhabit a rock, Enoch began remodeling and building projects. Other siblings followed him back to the rock, bringing husbands and families.

Their numbers swelled two years ago when five families disillusioned with life at Colorado City moved to the rock.

Those families have helped Bob Foster carry out his dream of having a sort of rock condo — the Charity House — that includes a dozen apartments and now has a chapel, baptismal pool, restaurant and conversation pit under construction.

It is currently home to some of the Colorado City transplants and to Jerry Fulton, a 36-year-old truck driver who said he had lost his way in the world and knocked at Foster's door one day asking for help.

"One of the neatest things about Dad is his desire to take care of others," Enoch said as he recounted stories of the many people Bob Foster has taken in over the years.

Enoch, whose quiet, measured speech is in marked contrast to his dad's rapid-fire talk, is putting finishing touches on a 5,600-square-foot, two-story home that includes two downstairs apartments for other families and a spacious, light-filled upstairs unit for himself and his wives, Catrina and Lillian, and their growing family.

They have eight children and both wives are expecting. Their current cramped home in the rock is a jumble of kids ranging in age from 7 months to 10 years. The wives rotate child-care duties each day. One home-schools the older kids while the other does household chores and tends the youngest.

Doing "what Christ wants"

On one recent day, Catrina had a gaggle of children pressed around her as she pointed out the Panama Canal on a globe and asked geography questions that were eagerly answered. Meanwhile, Lillian lined up rows of sliced bread for grilled sandwiches.

After the kids had eaten, the sister wives, who fondly call each other "Trina" and "Lil" and dress in the same trendy low-slung jeans, walked to their new home with a plate of lunch for Enoch. He was spending a sunup-to- dark day working on the home's deck.

In the late afternoon, Catrina, Enoch's wife of 11 years, took over bread making and dinner preparations while Lillian, who joined the family three years ago, led a troop of kids to the barn to milk the cows and feed the chickens.

Lillian glowed as she sat on the bed of a pickup and took a break to talk about her life.

"If people out in the world think I'm crazy, that's OK," she said. "If they could only see the joy I have in serving my family. I am so happy in the life I lead. I'm with my loved ones — my children, my husband, my sister wife. I'm doing what Christ wants me to do."

Polygamy, she said, if done right, allows its practitioners to take the focus off themselves and become less selfish.

But it is not for most people.

"We're really, really strong on preaching to people not to have polygamy. We don't think most people should do it," she said. "You have to be called to it."

"It's a lot of work for a man," said Enoch, who stresses the gravity of polygamy when it's his turn to give the sermon to the rock inhabitants as they gather in a ring of folding chairs for Sunday afternoon services. "Plural marriage requires a great deal of giving."

That is obvious when a sawdust-dappled Enoch comes home exhausted by his long work day and is swarmed by children eager for their nighttime ritual — his reading a story, followed by a shrieking and giggle-filled family wrestling match.

His day finally ends when he and the rest of the family kneel around the sectional couch, bow their heads, and say their prayers.

"Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for a good day," one of the children prays.

Growing up at the rock

Enoch's sister Anna Knecht lives one door away with her husband and children. They are Mormon and don't believe in plural marriages for themselves.

But Anna says her life growing up at the rock with three mothers was good.

"We were raised in what we thought was a wonderful life," she said as she held her newest baby.

Another sister, Rachael Morrison, stays at the rock whenever she can take time off from her job as a mail carrier in Park City, Utah. She and her husband have a great story to tell friends in the trendy ski resort where she works.

"I usually tell people we have a ranch down in Moab," Rachael said. "Then when I know them better, I'll tell them it's a rock."

Her husband's parents built what is one of the most lavish homes in the rock, with castle turrets on the outside and all the latest in furniture and appliances inside. Park City friends have come with Rachael and her husband to stay there.

"They walk in here, and they are just blown away."

Her sister Melinda Morrison lives down the rock in a more modest home that used to include a sister wife. That wife recently moved to Park City after the two clashed.

"We had different ways of doing things," Melinda explains matter-of- factly.

The Tapestry Against Polygamy organization is not familiar with Rockland Ranch, but the co-founder of the nonprofit, which assists women who want to get out of polygamy, says what's happening here is wrong.

"It's sick and perverted any way you look at it," said Rowenna Erickson, who lived in a polygamous marriage for 34 years. She said polygamy is all about men's desires.

"They just bend the rules around what they want," she said.

Enoch agrees that some men do that, but not if they enter into plural marriages in the right spirit and with God's blessing. In his case, Catrina chose to bring a second wife into the marriage. She also chose the wife. He says he agreed after much prayer and soul searching.

"We have nothing to hide"

The focus on polygamy since agents raided the compound in Eldorado three weeks ago has incited some fear — and loathing — out here.

There was heated debate at the recent Rockland weekly meeting about a reporter visiting the ranch. The residents aren't just touchy about the polygamy issue. Some fear they will be portrayed as end-time weirdos.

Bob Foster said he prevailed when, "I reminded them we have nothing to hide."

Some here, including Foster, are convinced the end times are drawing nigh, though one wouldn't know it by all the forward-focused activity.

Hammering and sawing echo along the rock as new homes are added and older homes are remodeled with intricate tile work and walk-in closets. A Home Depot truck chugs in with loads of sheetrock and doors. A yellow bus putts down the road bearing half a dozen Rockland kids to public schools in Monticello.

Cellphones clipped on hips jangle electronic tunes as residents communicate about their plumbing, carpentering, tile-setting and mail delivery jobs in the outside world. Toddlers crowd together on couches to watch Baby Einstein videos. Sister wives plan shopping trips to Wal-Mart.

When some Moab and Monticello residents talk about Rockland, they don't mention the "p" word, but eyebrows raise and eyes roll. They have heard tales. They remember when the San Juan County sheriff drove out with an armed posse about 15 years ago looking for — but not finding — marijuana. They relate that Bob Foster ran a bed and breakfast in the rock in the late 1990s and that curious Europeans were his most steady customers.

"People know; it's just not an issue," said Steve Kennon, postmaster of the La Sal Post Office, where Bob Foster collects his mail.

Mostly, locals say they like and respect Rockland residents, whom they realized long ago are hard-working, friendly folks.

"They are awesome people," enthuses Wendy Hansen, owner of the Hole N" The Rock tourist stop on Highway 191 and one of the closest "neighbors" to Rockland. "They are on the uppity-up."

Bob Foster even has fans in the Utah attorney general's office. That office, with an estimated 37,000 polygamists in and around its jurisdiction, has opted not to prosecute polygamy between consenting adults. Instead, the office goes after child abusers and molesters.

"The thing I like about Bob is that he says what he thinks," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the attorney general.

Bob Foster relishes that acceptance now that he has a new lease on life.

He says one of God's recent messages was that he has another 10 to 20 years to live so he can continue his work at the rock. His most grandiose plan for that time includes cutting a second-story block of dwellings into the rock so there will be more room for people escaping hard times out in the world.

They will be taken in as long as they aren't "puffed-headed" with pride, drunk or "swearing bad all the time."

"Come on out and see us," he continually tells those he meets on his shopping and banking rounds in Moab. "Come out to our rock. You'll be welcome."


The forecast for Tuesday 20March2012 was for sunshine. After two days of mixed weather, we voted to be at the previously visited Needles Overlook, early morning, to watch the morning sun light up the dramatic landscape there.


The lighting wasn't perfect but being the only one there was worth the price of admission. After photographing the scenic landscapes seen from Needles Overlook, we took the dirt road again, to the Wine Glass Arch; Dave Minor overlook; and the Anticline Overlook (where we hiked the rim for outstanding views down the Colorado River).


We also stopped to check out the Hatch Point campground (outstanding views from almost every site!),


We retraced our route back to Moab via the Eightmile dirt road to La Sal Junction.


The weather was as good as advertised so we made it a long day. We traveled through Arches NP again and took the wide open dirt exit to highway 191 by the unmarked dirt road, the Salt Valley road. Still with daylight left, we then drove up into the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, with stops for a cattle drive across the road; Mesa Arch and Grand View Point Overlook.


We had visited all of the sights in Canyonlands on last year's road trip but wanted to see them again and with different light. A good day!


Utah Road Trip March 2012

Oldmantravels & Old Wrangler


Last March, my friend Ed and I, with his new Jeep Wrangler, made a 4,000 looping road trip through the Four Corners area of the Southwest. We had a lot of fun on that trip so decided to do a different version in March of 2012.


We made plans that were highly flexible depending on the weather we would encounter and the condition of hiking trails and back country dirt "Jeep roads". We even had a "plan B" to head for Joshua Tree and Death Valley, if the Utah weather didn't turned out like we hoped. In the end, we were able to enjoy each and every day of our road trip in the state of Utah and utilizing Green River, Utah as our primary "base camp".


Weather wasn't always the best for photography but it was fun capturing the moment with photographs, both to share with others and of course to preserve the memory of the fun times had on a road trip. Below is a day by day general outline of where we traveled and what we did during this Utah Road Trip March 2012 (just in case you want to follow along):


DAY ONE [Wednesday - 14 March 2012]:

Ed left his house in Western Washington and picked me up in his Jeep Wrangler at my house in Eastern Washington. We then drove the interstate through rain and wind to Boise, Idaho.


DAY TWO [Thursday - 15 March 2012]:

We drove the most direct and quickest route from Boise, Idaho to Green River, Utah where we got rooms for three nights. We later added another three nights as the small quiet town of Green River turned out to be just right as a quiet base camp for our outdoor activities in the area.


DAY THREE [Friday - 16 March 2012]:

We headed out early down highway 24 through Hanksville, then over to Capitol Reef National Park. We forded a swollen Fremont River and took the scenic Cathedral Valley loop in clockwise direction, putting over 50 miles of fun miles on back country dirt roads, mostly within the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park.


We visited scenic overlooks like Jailhouse Rock and the various vista overlooks along the way. The stop at the Temple of the Sun and the Moon formations was well worth the time. We took a couple of short hikes to get better views of many of the areas along this scenic loop route.


Returning to highway 24 we drove west into the heart of Capitol Reef NP and made the short hike up to Hickman Bridge. Returning to the Jeep, we drove down to the visitors center and drove the "scenic road" which dead ends in Capitol Gorge. The late afternoon and then dusk light made for an excellent trip on this road.


DAY FOUR [Saturday - 17 March 2012]:

WE drove the "Eightmile Road" near La Sal Junction over to the Needles overlook and Anticline overlook road junction. Stopped at Looking Glass arch along the way (windy) and poked around a few of the "cowboy cave" structures, carved out of and/or built into the sandstone formations in the area.


We scratched our heads in bemusement when we spotted the Rockland Ranch, a man made "eye sore" on a large otherwise lovely sandstone formation known as Hatch Rock. The "cave houses" are painted mostly bright loud colors with an obvious attempt to "stand out" rather than "blend in".


I haven't read the whole story yet but seems the government granted a 50 year lease to some "alternative life" folks, and so Hatch Rock is "their" home for now. The lease is for $6,500 a year and the "homes" have been blasted into the side of Hatch Rock. The founder, Bob Foster (with three or four wives and 38 children passed away in 2008 at age 82, of cancer).


The drive out to Anticline overlook was a pretty drive as we checked out the Hatch Point campground along the way and enjoyed the views offered by the loop around the rock formation at the Dave Minor overlook.


From the Anticline overlook you can see forever, including a Jeep trail following the near bench far below. I would find out later that that winding dirt road can be taken all the way from Moab to the Needles portion of Canyonlands National Park (and all day endeavor).


The Colorado River is seen from this viewpoint as are the large potash ponds and the waterways that drain from them to the Colorado River below. In all it seems a bit too much "man made" intrusion on the landscape to completely enjoy the fabulous view.


After Anticline we returned to the Needles Overlook which we both agreed would be a wonderful place to catch a sunrise (so we agreed to return to it if we caught some good weather later on).


After the Needles Overlook we returned to the highway and made out way into the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park (highway 211). We made the mandatory stop at Newspaper Rock then drove out to the visitors center and talked with the rangers there (two nice knowledgeable and helpful, lady rangers).


We took the Jeep to the end of the "good" dirt road past the camping areas, but didn't even think of trying the challenging Elephant Hill section of Jeep road. We saw lots of mule deer, rock climbers , and spectacular rock forms on our way back to highway 191.


DAY FIVE [Sunday - 18 March 2012]:

Sunday and Monday were forecast to be the "rough weather days" in the area and throughout much of the west, so we set our sights on places to visit that we would enjoy no matter the weather (and keep mostly on paved roads should it rain too much).


So we braved wind and rain to visit Sego Canyon then took the quiet yet scenic highway 128 from Cisco down to Moab. We stopped at the Fisher Towers trailhead along the way where it was raining pretty good by then. The only sheltered place for photo ops of the mist shrouded towers was the portico of the trailhead outhouse (looked silly but worked well - HA).


Returning to Green River, Utah we were pleased to find the John Wesley Powell "River Runners" museum open. A short film feature we watched there was exceptionally well done (A Seattle film company produced it).


I have read many of the books about the early river runners and it was a great place to look at the old boats and photographs and get a sense of the risky and exciting life many of those folks lived (Read the books: The Doing of the Thing; Sunk Without a Sound; and the story of Bert Loper if you want a good sampler).


DAY SIX [Monday - 19 March 2012]:

We first drove the back roads of Green River, Utah photographing everything from the state park; the town tavern (in Utah no less); old bank; wooden church; and the town fire station. The fire station had an old beat up ambulance (Pontiac) that would bring a smile to anyone's face, except by somebody who actually needed an ambulance in Green River. Oh yes: Veracruzana for good Mexican food in town.


With weather looking very "iffy" we drove out the Potash Road near Moab to take the Bowtie and Corona Arch hike. We started in partly cloudy weather, got snowed on near the arches, hid in a tall shallow alcove where a water fall formed and fell at our feet, then cleared to a bright blue sky day.


No doubt the magic moment and most memorable experience of our road trip for me. We met some interesting folks (and dogs) on that hike as well. Pure fun and outstanding scenery for a short hike so close to Moab.


After the Bowtie/Corona Arch hike we headed up into Arches to photograph the Windows Section of the park, where we spent a lot of time at the North & South Windows and the Double Arch. Next we took a short hike up to the "Upper Delicate Arch overlook". We hiked to the arch itself last year but decided to try photographing it from across a canyon on this road trip.


DAY SEVEN [Tuesday - 20 March 2012]:

The weather forecast looked good, so we headed to the Needles Overlook once more, arriving soon after the sun came up there. There was nobody else there and the landscape was impressive but not the light we hoped for from a photography point of view. We repeated our drive to Anticline and Eightmile Road, taking photographs that we had missed on our earlier drive out there.


Next we headed back into Arches National Park and drove out near the Devil's Garden trailhead where we took off on the Salt Valley dirt road that passes by Tower Arch. It was a fun road to drive and when we eventually reached highway 191, we decided to head up into the Island of the Sky section of Canyonlands for a short visit at Mesa Arch and Grandview point, where we had stopped last March.


DAY EIGHT [Wednesday - 21 March 2012]:

The snow and sun hike to Bowtie and Corona Arches was my favorite hike of this trip, especially with the short lived but spectacular waterfall which formed and fell at our feet. This day would provide the most scenic drive however.


Most of the route I had been on before and enjoyed many times but the section down the east flank of the Henry mountains (to downtown Tickaboo), then north to the switchback section of the Burr Trail, was the favorite section of road we drove for both Ed and for me.


The Henry Mountains were covered from top to toes in a fresh bright white snow and the moisture that had fallen on the sage, rabbit brush, and Mormon tea plant plains were washed clean with fresh bright colors (and fragrance).


We rounded the southern end of the Henry's and cut back north past the Surprise Canyon trailhead before regaining familiar ground on the "wiggle" road up through the Water pocket Fold.


A short stop to photograph Peekaboo Arch and we drove on to Boulder via Long Canyon. At Boulder I asked around and found out where a Flickr contact could be found so we stopped, shook hands, and said "hi" to Darren.


The weather turned perfect on our way to Escalante, Utah so we turned off for a visit to Devil's Garden. The last time I had visited it with my wife the sky had been flat gray and I looked forward to photographing the unusual rock formation and elegant Metate Arch with a dark blue late afternoon sky. Again, we had the entire area to ourselves.


On into Escalante and with hope that Robert at the Circle "D" would have rooms for us (which he did), so we stayed in Escalante and topped a great traveling day off with a huge western dinner at the "Cowboy Blues".


DAY NINE [Thursday - 22 March 2012]:

We drove Escalante to Zion National Park, arriving via the always interesting highway 9. The road up the Virgin River was not yet closed to cars (in favor of the shuttles that start operating soon), so we drove up to the end of the road there, enjoying the view along the way.


Then we returned down canyon and tried our luck with the Kolob Terrace Road. We hoped to make it to the Lava Point overlook, but the road was closed about four mile before reaching that location due to all the snow still covering the road. Still it was a fun drive. We then made our way to Cedar City, Utah where we got rooms for the night.


DAY TEN [Friday - 23 March 2012]:

Heading for home. We decided to break the trip home into two sections with the first being Cedar City, Utah to Twin Falls, Idaho. We chose the road less traveled (Cedar City to Panaca to Ely to Wells to Twin Falls), mostly on highway 93 as our route.


We enjoyed stopping to photograph some friendly but huge draft horses (I think they were Shires or perhaps Clydesdales) along the way. A highlight of this drive was a side trip into Pioche, Nevada (pronounced pee - oach). I had never taken the time to visit this old mining town with a rich (figuratively and literally) history - including what they boast as their Million Dollar Court House.


We found a bakery/cafe that had outstanding bakery products so we stocked up on high calorie "road trip food" (at the canary colored Silver Cafe). We laughed at some of the "Western humor signs we saw around town". I also like the one I saw in a Hanksville, Utah eatery on this trip:


No Trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot a second time".


Twin Falls, Idaho would be our last overnight stop on this road trip.


DAY ELEVEN [Saturday - 24 March 2012]:

Last road trip day: Twin Falls, Idaho to my house in Eastern Washington. But first a quick stop in Boise to see the Falcon exhibit portion of the Birds of Prey site there (and check on the condors, eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls); then a fitting fattening farewell to a road trip with a BIG country style meal at Boise's Cracker Barrel restaurant.




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Taken on March 20, 2012