The San Juan Mission
Lake Pagahrit was formed when, over a period of many years, floods and erosion formed a sandy dam across Lake Canyon. Subsequent rains and natural springs filled the canyon behind the dam and the lake was formed. The pioneers used the dam as a bridge to cross the canyon and set up camps on both sides.
In March 1880, Lake Pagahrit was a welcomed oasis in the desert for 200 pioneers. They had not seen a body of water that size since leaving the Colorado River more than a month earlier. When they arrived at the lake, all 83 wagons came to a halt. The pioneers were blessed with a few warm days, providing pleasant temperatures for bathing, washing, and relaxing. Many of them were physically ill from the horrible conditions they had endured. Time for healing was badly needed.
The dam was washed away during a flood in the early 20th century. Since the dam and the lake no longer exist, the quickest way to cross the canyon is on foot. For those of us who have lived beyond their years when a strenuous hike like this would have been possible, the long drive to the other side is the preferred way. Even when you get to the other side, a hike is still required to reach the rim of the canyon.
We took the new access road on its roundabout course headed toward the airport near Halls Crossing. Along the way we turned onto a faint two-track path through thick brush and deep sand. Many years ago, that path was the main road leading to the ferry crossing for the Colorado River. At the point where the path connects to the pioneer road, like a flagpole, a BLM sign stood alone in the desert marking the remains of a wagon. The sign has since fallen down and the only thing left of the wagon is part of its wheel anchored to a concrete pad. Inconsiderate travelers have long since carried away the rest of the wagon.
While some pioneers stayed at the lake repairing their equipment and resting others formed a work crew and headed for Clay Hills Pass. A road had to be built down the east side of the pass as it makes a quick descent of about 1,000 feet. Due to the clay surface, road building was easier than the other sections where they had to blast their way through solid rock. On the other hand, their teams of animals were weak and exhausted. The long grades at Clay Hills Pass added to the deterioration of their health.
Our group crossed over the Pass on a paved road that was cracked, broken, and buckled in huge waves of concrete. We had to travel slowly but the crossing was not difficult. We turned off the pavement at the Cow Tank road and began a very scenic trail through a forest of cedar trees. The trail crossed numerous gulches with sharp rocks that tested the tough sidewalls of the BFG All-Terrain tires on our vehicles.
Small piles of trees were stacked on both sides of the trail. They looked as if they might have been there since 1880 but more likely found their final resting place as a result of the road being reopened after many years of neglect. During the 1950s, Uranium miners opened roads all across Utah in an effort to find new pockets of the valuable ore.
The pioneers traveled in groups spread out over many miles. Each group was limited by the condition of their teams. All teams were exhausted from the many months of dragging the wagons across hostile terrain, but some were in worse condition than others. In an effort to keep the wagons rolling, exhausted animals were replaced by ones that still had some strength. Teams consisted of a mixture including cattle, horses, and mules. Stronger teams led the way while weaker teams lagged behind.