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Temple Trail - 4WD Adventures

Posted in Events on January 12, 2011
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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.

The Temple Trail crosses wide-open country with no services of any kind for miles in any direction. There are breaks in the trail and points where the original trail is off to one side or the other.

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.

The temple in St. George has a visitor center that could be used as a starting point. We actually started our trip at Fort Pearce located near the Arizona border south of St. George. The trail between the temple and Fort Pearce has been replaced by private property and modern developments. Remains of the historic trail can still be found on BLM lands in the Fort Pearce area.

Fort Pearce was built to defend the natural springs from hostile Indians. Its walls were 8 feet tall. There is no evidence that a roof ever existed.

Fort Pearce is located on the Utah side of the border. It was not there at the time the temple was being built in the 1870s. During the 1880s, the pioneers became involved in the Black Hawk War. The fort was built to prevent hostile Indians from using the spring in the wash below the fort. Parts of the walls of the fort are still standing but originally they were eight feet tall. It did not have a roof but there are numerous portholes to be used by riflemen. Although it had nothing to do with the building of the temple, it is positioned at the point where the Temple Trail crossed that part of the desert.

Other historic trails also merge near Fort Pearce. The Honeymoon Trail is one that we will cover in the next issue. The Dominquez-Escalante Route actually travels a similar path as the Temple Trail.

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There are ATV trails going in every direction from the fort. They cross the wash and travel down the wash on narrow paths through heavy brush. Driving on those trails in a 4x4 will result in paint damage. To avoid such damage, we used the graded road going east from the fort to access the Temple Trail at a point where it becomes wider.

Our traveling companion, Happy Jack, lead the way, following a track he previously plotted using DeLorme Topo software. He spent many months researching the Temple Trail on the Internet, studying old maps, and reading old books to determine the original route. Once we connected to the trail, we found historic markers confirming we were on the right path.

The trail runs along the bottom of Hurricane Cliffs for many miles before reaching a point where the pioneers had to ascend the cliffs to access Mt. Trumbull. The point where they made the climb is closed to motorized traffic. There were three of us in the group. Happy Jack and Muley took the trail to the bottom of the cliffs and Lone Writer took another route to the top of the cliffs. They could see each other from point to point.

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The group joined together in the forest near the base of the mountain and continued to Mt. Trumbull. A historic marker is located near the ranger headquarters at the point where the first sawmill was built. There is nothing left of the structures that once stood, but a marker describes the operation.

The mill could saw 20,000 feet of lumber daily and provided 1-million board feet to construct the temple. The lumber was hauled from the mill to St. George using ox teams pulling specially-constructed wagons.

Lone Writer, Happy Jack, and Muley ended their trip with a night in the forest at an existing camp site. They spent several hours huddled around a warm campfire under a star-filled night. Much of the discussion was focused on the Honeymoon Trail. Once the Temple was built, pioneers from far reaching settlements traveled that trail for a formal church wedding, but that's another story.

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The tires on Lone Writer's vehicle are provided by BFGoodrich. GPS mapping is provided by DeLorme. For more information visit

This route begins at Ft. Pearce southeast of St. George, Utah. The Temple Trail can be picked up at that point and followed toward Mt. Trumbull in Arizona.
Trip Meter Latitude position North Longitude position West Landmarks & other locations
0.0 37 0.4556 113 24.6066 Ft. Pearce, Utah. Begin the trail here.
0.4 37 0.8181 113 24.5258 Turn right. Left goes to St. George.
2.3 37 0.8164 113 22.5664 Turn right.
3.5 37 0.5495 113 21.9913 Straight. If you turn right at this fence line, it leads to a billboard for the Dominquez-Escalante Route. You can also connect to the Temple Trail just past the billboard but the trail is primarily used by ATVs. Continue straight for a more SUV-friendly route.
5.9 37 1.2633 113 19.4431 Right turn. The route crosses into Arizona.
8.5 36 59.2529 113 20.3464 Turn right on the major graded road. You will begin seeing Temple Trail markers along the roadside.
16.1 36 53.7663 113 21.7058 When you get to the remains of a wrecked truck, make a hard right onto a trail continuing south.
18.3 36 52.1900 113 22.4563 At the second BLM 1036 sign, make a switchback left.
21.1 36 50.8223 113 20.7669 This trail marker for the Temple Trail is after a corral and "S" curve in the road. Continue along the faint trail going south.
28.9 36 44.4149 113 18.5924 Left fork.
29.2 0.0 36 44.2856 113 18.3028 Left on County Road 30.
0.6 0.0 36 44.7482 113 17.9404 A Temple Trail historic marker is on the right side of the road. Following the trail south at this point is blocked by private property. The trail around the fence line is a scenic drive that climbs the Hurricane Cliffs and dead ends. After exploring it, Lone Writer returned to this sign, reset the trip meter, and went up the cliffs on County Road 30.
4.6 0.0 36 47.6503 113 16.2382 Turn right on BLM road 1001. Mt Trumbull is 29 miles per the sign. Reset to 0.
10.0 0.0 36 39.3578 113 13.3587 Temple Trail Tank is left on 1056. It consists of a corral and a pond. There was no water in it when we were there.
0.7 0.0 36 38.6818 113 13.2228 The Temple Trail came up the cliffs using the trail on the right. After exploring it, return to this point and continue south. A trail marker is at this point.
18.7 0.0 36 25.0377 113 15.7849 This is the Mt Trumbull Road. Turn left to reach the historic Sawmill Site.
6.8 36 23.5256 113 9.1786 This was the first sawmill site on Mt. Trumbull.

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