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Spanish Explorer Markings
Never-Before Documented Spanish Markings

The back side of the Capitol Reef Wandering Boulder has never been documented and presented to the public--until now. Various Pioneer Graffiti are clearly legible, along with the year 1885. Just beneath these Pioneer markings, a cross is also visible. It is fainter than the Pioneer markings and is scraped or chipped in a fashion that differs from the other markings.

Mormon Pioneers, like Franklin Wheeler Young and his family, were not in the habit of displaying the sign of the cross, as Hispanic Catholics were and are to this day. In addition, the Spanish Cross on the boulder is fainter than the Pioneer Graffiti but more perceptible than the Fremont markings on the front sides of the boulder. Although dating the various markings on the boulder is a tricky business, it appears that the Fremont markings are the oldest, being the faintest. The Pioneer Graffiti made in 1885 are the most recent, being the most distinct. The Spanish Cross is somewhat older than the Pioneer Graffiti but more recent than the Fremont markings. Who then could have made this cross?

This is Spanish Cross on the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef.
Close-Up of Spainsh Cross on the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef. Source: Ronald Bodtcher

Spanish Explorers of Capitol Reef

The Waterpocket Fold Country was the last territory to be charted in the contiguous 48 states. In 1776, two Franciscan priests, Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante, left Santa Fe with the intention of finding a route to missions in Monterey, California. They made detailed recordings of their travels through Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

The Old Spanish Trail was not a concrete or asphalt highway like our roads today. It was an improvised roadway with many variations and no official path. For almost 100 years, explorers were constantly looking for shortcuts and easier routes (like the Fishlake Cutoff). With thousands of men using the trail over time, it is likely that some of them wandered from the main trail and into the Fremont River Valley. Any one of them could have pecked and scratched a cross into the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef.

This is the Spanish Cross with a cross.
Spanish Coin with a Cross. Source: Ronald Bodtcher

Fremont Expedition Number 5

In the winter of 1853, John Charles Fremont and a group of 21 men, including Anglos, Mexicans and Indians, passed through Utah and Colorado, attempting to find a central railroad route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition was difficult and the explorers were forced to eat their horses and a porcupine before navigating to the Mormon settlement of Parowan.

Fremont took care to document their journey, hiring a photographer, Solomon Nunes Carvalho, to accompany them. Carvalho made nearly 300 daguerreotypes, most of which were destroyed in a fire after the expedition. However, a steel engraving based on one of the images survived. Although not an actual photograph, and containing men and animals that were created by the engraver, the scenery depicted was a faithful representation. In 1995 the scenery and its location were identified by Kent Jackson (former Orchard Manager in Fruita) as a formation called "Mom, Pop and Henry," located in the Cathedral Valley area of Capitol Reef. A photograph of the formation also appears as "Mom and Pop in Cathedral Valley" directly following the table of contents in Anne Snow's "Rainbow Views: A History of Wayne County," published in 1953.

This is an engraving called Natural Obelisks.This is a photo of the obelisks Mom, Pop and Henry.
Reflected Duplication of "Natural Obelisks," a Steel Engraving From the Prospectus of the unpublished Volume 2 of John Charles Fremont's "Memoirs of My Life," Based on a Daguerreotype by SOLOMON NUNES CARVALHO, (men, animals, campfire and tipi removed), Side-by-Side with a Modern Photograph. Source: NPS

Previous to this identification, some experts believed that Fremont followed the Spanish Trail from Green River northward above the San Rafael Swell. Now, most experts concede that Fremont must have passed from Green River, through Goblin Valley and south of the Swell into Cathedral Valley. Is it possible that Fremont detoured from the established trail even further south to the Fremont River Valley and out to Rabbit Valley, the later home of Franklin Wheeler Young?

In fact, Geologist Herbert E. Gregory wrote in his 1939 report on the Capitol Reef Region the following: "On his fifth expedition to California, General John C. Fremont discovered the river dubbed 'Dirty Devil' by Powell (1869), now appropriately known as the Fremont. Early in February 1854, he traversed the canyons between the present Cainesville and Fruita, crossed the broad valley floors about Torrey and Teasdale, and continued southwestward across the High Plateaus to Parowan, thus marking out a new route through central Utah."

Some have suggested that the Fremont expedition route proceeded over Thousand Lake Mountain or between Geyser Peak and Hens Hole Peak and on to present-day Fremont, where they cached all of their equipment before continuing. Such a route is hardly likely, considering the weather and the condition of the men. The "Natural Obelisks" or "Mom and Pop" are situated at an elevation of 6,200 feet. A route from that point along present-day Cathedral Valley Road, to Farm Road 22 and Farm Road 206 (between Geyser and Hens Hole Peaks) reaches an elevation of 9,400 feet. That would suggest a march in deep snow, gaining 3,200 feet of elevation in less than 7 miles. Note that the group's final approach to the Little Salt Lake Valley and the Mormon settlement at Parowan several days later involved a hike with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet in 7 miles (along present-day Utah Highway 20). The Fremont Expedition photographer, Solomon Carvalho recorded in his journal his thoughts about the "tremendous mountain of snow" that blocked their path and made the route seem impossible. The "tremendous mountain" cast "an icy pall of death...and for the first time, my heart failed me." If a 1,000 foot ascent was almost impossible for the men, how could they have accomplished a 3,200 ascent of Thousand Lake Mountain? And why would they not cache their equipment before attempting the ascent? As a geologist and geographer, Gregory knew that the exhausted Fremont expedition would not likely pass over that route, but that their probable route was a detour South and then through the Fremont River Valley, which is about 500 feet lower in elevation than Cathedral Valley.

The photographer, Solomon Carvalho, recorded in his journal the following interesting passage: "At the close of a long day's journey we descended into a fertile, although unknown, narrow valley, covered with dense forests of trees; a clear stream of water glided over its rocky bed, in the centre, and immense high sandstone mountains enclosed us; we chose a camp near the entrance of the valley, having deviated from our course, which was over the table land 500 feet above us, to obtain wood and water." Could Carvalho have been describing the sandstone walls, trees and river that would later be known as the Junction or Fruita area in Capitol Reef?

This is a digital painting by Ronald Bodtcher of sandstone mountains and trees at Junction or Fruita.
Digital painting by Ronald Bodtcher which illustrates the "sandstone mountains" and trees in the Fremont River Valley at the Junction (Fruita). Source: Ronald Bodtcher

Carvalho reports that they found both wood and water, as the place "was in reality a primeval forest," a description similar to that offered by Franklin Wheeler Young, who called the Junction an "Eden." Water came to the Fremont Expedition there in the form of rain, which was unusual, because the lands on either end of the valley were covered with snow. In fact, it was the only rain that fell on the group during their entire journey that Winter.

Given the description of a fertile, narrow valley enclosed by sandstone cliffs, suitable to the growth of trees, lower in altitude and warmer than the surrounding terrain (hence the rain rather than snowfall), it is not unreasonable to assert that Fremont detoured even further south than previously thought. He and his men may have camped in the Fruita area, where one of them pecked a cross into the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef.

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