Building The First Temple In Utah
When Brigham Young brought the first of his followers to the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, that part of the country was not even a part of the United States. Mexico claimed all that land and was in a continuing dispute with the USA over ownership. Neither country gave any thought to the Indians who lived there. Mexico's claim was that it took that territory from Spain. The American claim was to make the USA contiguous from sea to sea.
Brigham Young saw that area as a place where his church could practice without interference from outside sources. He felt they could be friends with the Indians and hoped to convert them. Thousands of Mormon settlers had already moved in and cities were under construction when the Mexican Cession of 1848 put that territory within the boundaries of the United States.
Brigham Young wasted no time in establishing the provisional state of Deseret. Within its boundaries was land that eventually became most of Nevada and Arizona, as well as parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In other words, it included most everything that had been acquired from Mexico. Deseret remained a provisional state for about two years but was never recognized by the USA. Keep in mind that during those years, the only people calling those lands their home were Mormons and Indians.
It was not in Brigham Young's nature to spend time waiting on the government to approve his proposal. He sent his followers to all corners of the provisional state to establish a Mormon presence by building settlements and cities throughout those lands. Even though Deseret was not approved, his followers were unofficially claiming those lands by simply being the only settlers living there. They had some success building friendly relationships with tribal leaders but were still in conflict with renegade groups.
With members of the Mormon Church so widely scattered in remote areas, maintaining communications was a monumental task. Salt Lake City headquarters was in the far Northeast corner of the provisional state and travel across it took weeks in a wagon. In an effort to improve accessibility to the church, St. George, Utah, was established as a primary religious center. Its geographical location was in the very center of Deseret. In 1871, Brigham Young announced that a temple would be built in St. George. It took six years to complete the project.
Building such a temple in St. George was no easy task. There were two major problems. The first was building a foundation for such an enormous structure. That problem was solved by crushing lava rock and pounding it into the shape of a base for the building.
The other problem was acquiring lumber. There were no forests near St. George with suitable timber for construction of a temple that large. The nearest forest with suitable timber was on Mt. Trumbull 80 miles south of the city in lands that now make up the Arizona Strip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Sawmill equipment was hauled to Mt. Trumbull and structures were built to support operations. The lumber was hand hewn, loaded on wagons, and hauled from the mountains to St. George. The route they used is now known as the Temple Trail.
Most of that route can still be driven in a high clearance vehicle. It crosses the Arizona Strip through a part of the desert that continues to be unsettled. There are sections where the trail crosses private property but during our scouting trip, we did not see another person or even a stray cow. In addition to the roads in the photos, there are also sections of graded dirt and gravel.