On Thursday night, April 22, 1897, the day after pulling off the most daring daylight robbery in Utah history, Butch Cassidy and his companions were resting easy on Robbers Roost. They had $7,000 in gold to spend but the only way to spend it on Robbers Roost was to gamble with each other. They needed to stay away from nearby towns until the posses gave up and went home.
A writer for the Sun Advocate newspaper wrote, "It is admitted that they are now as safe as though they had been swallowed up by the earth."
No one knew how many outlaws called Robbers Roost their home, but stories about their number grew every time they were told. If the truth had been known, the lawmen in that one posse probably outnumbered the outlaws on Robbers Roost two to one.
No one liked Robbers Roost. Water holes were few and far between. They were nearly impossible for anyone to find without guidance from someone who had already been shown where to look. The summer heat was deadly and the winters were extremely harsh. Getting onto the Roost from the north involved crossing 40 miles of open desert. Although anyone's disappearance was attributed to outlaws, it is more likely they died from exposure to the environment.
One writer claimed shady ladies from Green River heard about all the money taken to the Roost. They loaded a buckboard wagon and headed south. There was no doubt they could get some of that gold away from lonely outlaws hiding out in a place where there was nothing to do.
Our reference for the following information is The Outlaw Trail written by Charles Kelly in 1938. For sake of argument, we will assume the story he tells about the long ride to Brown's Hole from Robbers Roost came from sources still living after the events took place. With that assumption, the tale goes something like this:
By mid July, the outlaws had used up their patience. It was time to party. If they could make it to the Wyoming/Colorado border they would be safe among the Powder Springs Gang lead by old man Bender. Cassidy's Wild Bunch saddled up and headed north. They used the crossing at Green River and probably even rode through town in defiance of the lawmen there. After the crossing, they climbed into the Book Cliffs and used its rough terrain for cover as they rode to Thompson Canyon. They used an Indian trail to reach the top of the Book Cliffs. Once on top, they cut across lands now within the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. They passed through the town of Ouray, then through Vernal, and finally used the Grouse Canyon access into Brown's Hole. No doubt they stopped at Jarvie's Outpost at the edge of Brown's Hole to get the latest news. That trip took five days on horseback. One day later they were in Powder Springs.
For this part of our series, Lone Writer began in the quiet community of Green River. It had been established at a point where the Green River could most easily be crossed for hundreds of miles in either direction. When the Wild Bunch passed through, it had already boomed once with the arrival of the railroad and had declined when the railroad moved its operations to another city. Even with that decline, it thrived as a river-crossing town.
There were other boom years based on uranium mining and oil, but one boom few people are aware of came in the 1960s. Green River became the base for the White Sands Missile Range annex. More than 100 missiles were fired from this range during the development of long-range nuclear weapons. The old bunkers are especially attractive, but watch for rattlesnakes hiding in the shadows.
After getting the necessary gas and supplies, Lone Writer headed northeast and climbed onto a shelf road high into the Book Cliffs. That road offers scenic views of the desert to the south. It has cliffs towering high above it on the left and dropping hundreds of feet to the desert floor on the right. The shelf it travels is plenty wide with numerous campsites overlooking the desert.
Eventually, the route drops into Thompson Canyon at the confluence for Sego Canyon. Lone Writer stopped to study the rock art on both walls of the canyon. There was nothing of importance in Thompson Canyon when the Wild Bunch passed through, however, a man by the name of Harry Ballard had already discovered huge coal deposits in Sego Canyon and had purchased the land around that claim. He would do nothing with it until 1911 and was unsuccessful at that time to become profitable.
He finally sold the mine to investors. A company store, boarding house, and other necessary buildings were constructed. Rails were laid so trains could carry the coal to Thompson. Unfortunately, one very important factor had been overlooked. The water level in the wells was dropping quickly and the more workers that moved in only hastened that decline. The only way to keep the wells full was to haul it in from elsewhere.
Even so, the mine continued to be worked until 1947. There are numerous buildings still standing including the stone-walled store. The huge wooden boarding house looks like it was blown apart with dynamite with pieces of it scattered over a large area. The graveyard is being maintained to some extent.
According to The Outlaw Trail, the bandits followed the trail up Thompson Canyon to reach the top of the Book Cliffs. The graded road ends at the boundary for the Indian Reservation. Since crossing the Indian Reservation is not allowed, we decided to skirt the east side of it. The most fun way to do that is to climb back onto the shelf road in the Book Cliffs and follow it east until it drops into Sagers Canyon. From there, the route crosses the flats using roads through oil fields and nearly connects to Interstate 70 before turning back to the north and entering the Campbell Ranch at Diamond Canyon.
There are lots of private property signs along the road passing the mouth of that canyon. They can be confusing, but if you follow the directions in the navigation sidebar, you will be on the county road that is open for public access. There will be several gates to open and close depending on the rancher's current operations.
After Diamond Canyon, the route hugs the Book Cliffs rising and falling with the terrain until it connects to Middle Canyon Road. For anyone using I-70, this road is accessed at the exit for Harley Dome.
The Middle Canyon Road is the only motorized access to the top of the Book Cliffs between Green River and Harley Dome. It is a major graded dirt road and is used frequently by heavy trucks servicing oil fields. It is winding, narrow in places, and has a steep grade at times but does not take long before it reaches the crest. It then connects to the Book Cliffs Ridge Road, where scenic views are plentiful. The ridge road works its way across the top of the Book Cliffs, meandering in and out of heavily forested areas with lots of great camping spots.
Lone Writer found a camp near the edge of the cliff where his Verizon Broadband card could connect to the Internet. The sun was setting and the April night would be chilly. Within a few minutes, the campfire was going, dinner was cooking, and Outlook Express was downloading email. Life was good!
This route begins at the river crossing on the East side of Green River, Utah. At the edge of town, turn left on Old 6 & 50 Frontage Road.
Trip Meter / Latitude (N) / Longitude (W) / Comments
N38 59.3862 / W110 7.7346 / Turn left on Old 6 and 50. Note the street sign. Reset to zero.
11.0 / N38 55.3584 / W109 56.4737 / Left onto graded road and continue across tracks.
14.3 / N38 57.7070 / W109 54.4561 / Right fork.
19.5 / N39 0.9188 / W109 50.7186 / After the gate, take the right fork.
23.3 / N39 0.2848 / W109 48.2966 / Left turn.
10.7 / N39 1.5340 / W109 42.8700 / This is Thompson Canyon Road. There are multiple intersections and lots to explore. Campsites, grave yard, rock art, outhouse.
10.9 / N39 1.4279 / W109 42.6414 / This is the Sego graveyard.
11.0 / N39 1.4449 / W109 42.5777 / Turn right on the road going across the wash. If you go straight, you visit the ghost town of Sego. Visit everything in the area, then come back to this point and reset your trip meter.
9.7 / N38 59.9739 / W109 36.1074 / Left.
10.0 / N39 0.1102 / W109 35.8865 / Right fork.
13.3 / N38 59.3588 / W109 32.6518 / Left turn.
18.2 / N39 2.6696 / W109 32.6084 / Right after cattle guard.
23.4 / N39 0.3043 / W109 27.8071 / Left downhill.
25.3 / N39 0.4730 / W109 25.7022 / Right fork.
27.7 / N39 0.9356 / W109 23.4410 / Turn right.
29.8 / N38 59.9763 / W109 22.2889 / Left turn.
31.4 / N39 0.5524 / W109 21.0365 / Left turn after cattle guard, then turn right at the first intersection.
32.3 / N39 0.5940 / W109 20.1487 / Left turn.
35.1 / N39 2.9050 / W109 18.9985 / Curve to the right.
35.9 / N39 2.9050 / W109 18.5712 / Turn left. Reset trip meter.
0.5 / N39 3.6001 / W109 19.1587 / Turn right.
2.2 / N39 4.4310 / W109 17.6971 / Left on main graded road.
11.6 / N39 8.8998 / W109 25.2053 / Right under Campbell entrance.
11.7 / N39 8.9854 / W109 25.2715 / Right continues trail. Reset meter. This is the intersection for Diamond Canyon.
0.5 / N39 9.3749 / W109 19.1587 / Right turn. Through gate.
9.4 / N39 12.3537 / W109 17.8978 / Right turn into canyon.
11.2 / N39 11.4893 / W109 16.3443 / Left turn.
16.7 / N39 15.0681 / W109 14.0575 / Turn left to continue. Right goes to Harley Dome and I-70. The closest place for fuel and supplies is Fruita, Colorado, which is about 30 miles.
4.3 / N39 16.5691 / W109 17.1836 / Continue straight following Hay Canyon.
4.8 / N39 16.8694 / W109 17.4569 / Left fork following Hay Canyon.
6.7 / N39 17.2186 / W109 19.3117 / Left fork.
13.5 / N39 20.8439 / W109 24.2703 / Right fork.
18.7 / N39 24.9662 / W109 23.9384 / Turn right on Divide Ridge Road toward Seep Ridge. This is the top of the Book Cliffs.