San Juan saints match grandeur of rock formations

Nature is a patient and tenacious sculptor whose artistry is displayed in the brilliant red-rock spires, pinnacles and arches of southeastern Utah. Through eons, the relentless forces of wind, water and ground movement have carved out the spectacular formations of Arches and Canyonlands national parks and the beautiful bluffs of Grand and San Juan counties.

With comparable tenacity and constancy to purpose, Latter-day Saints in the area, past and present, have made their lives something of grandeur. Quietly and persistently, they live the gospel of Christ. The pending construction of a House of the Lord in their midst - the Monticello Utah Temple - signifies to them that the Lord is mindful of their faithfulness.Overlooking the tiny town of Bluff, Bill Boyle and Lyle Anderson showed visitors to a pioneer graveyard wherein are interred some of the original San Juan Mission settlers, the "Hole in the Rock" party. Both have ancestors who are buried there.

"It is one of the epic journeys in the settlement of the West," said Brother Boyle, a counselor in the Monticello 3rd Ward bishopric and owner and publisher of the San Juan Record.

Led by Silas S. Smith, cousin of the Prophet Joseph Smith, families from Parowan and Cedar City journeyed into Potato Valley, site of present-day Escalante.

From there, "they carved out of solid stone a road through the wilderness," Brother Boyle said.

The most challenging part of the journey was crossing the forbidding Colorado River Gorge. Seeking the shortest route, they found a slit in Glen Canyon, too narrow for wagons or teams. With primitive tools, they cut a rough path through the slit, and descended to the river 2,000 feet below the red cliffs.

Comb Ridge near Bluff is the only place on the Hole in the Rock Trail accessible today by four-wheel-drive vehicle. Unable to cross the swollen San Juan River, the pioneers were forced to make their way up the ridge's steep San Juan Hill.

"It was not as bad as some of the places had been, but it was the last obstacle and they were just completely worn out," said Brother Anderson, a high councilor in the Monticello stake and a state district court judge. "Lemuel H. Redd told his children afterward that it was the worst part of the whole trip, and whenever he'd talk about it, he'd cry."

The dedication of the San Juan Mission pioneers lives today among their descendants, who have long looked forward to the coming of a temple in the area.

"We've had this in the back of our minds all the way through," said Cleal Bradford, Blanding stake high councilor and a member of the Blanding 1st Ward. The local tradition is that Blanding founder Walter C. Lyman prophesied there would be a temple in the town one day. The fact that it was announced to be some 40 miles to the north in Monticello makes it no less a remarkable fulfillment to what residents have long anticipated. It is still in the boundaries of the original San Juan Mission.

The day before the Monticello Utah Temple groundbreaking Brother Bradford found notes he took at a meeting in the 1980s of a "temple committee" formed in the stake when Fred Halliday was stake president. Among the statements he recorded at that time: "The prophecy of the temple depends on the local priesthood applying their resources," meaning their efforts and energies in preparing the people for a temple.

"People have asked my wife Nancy and me why we continue to live in such a remote area when we have such a keen interest in attending the temple," he said. "And part of that is we have felt we needed to be here and prepare people in this area to be temple worthy. I've spent the bulk of my employable years working with the Ute and the Navajo, and to see how they've reacted to this announcement of a temple has been exciting."

Former stake Pres. Halliday is certain the presence of a temple will enhance the spirituality of the people. "When any ward or quorum or family really gets involved in temple work, everything else seems to fall into place," he said.

That was the case for him and his wife, Audrey. In 1947, when they were running livestock in Colorado, they made up their minds they would be in Blanding for Church every Sunday.

"When I got involved in the elders quorum, we decided we needed to be active in temple work, so we started going over to Manti on a regular basis. The Church leaders found out if they asked me to do something I would do it. I got involved in working with the Native American branches. Eventually, I decided it's the truth!

"They've got a place on the mountain by Monticello called the Horse Head. Monroe Redd kind of took it upon himself to point it out to the visitors who came through town, even though he hadn't been able to make it out himself. One day he did see it and said, `It really is there!' That's how it was with me in coming to a knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel."

Whether it concerns testimonies, temples or rock arches, people in the area have found that steadiness and persistence over time can bring to pass grand results.

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