For decades, centuries, and millennia, the southeast quadrant of what’s now called the State of Utah was one of the most remote parts of North America. Access to its center, Glen Canyon, was extremely limited. Reaching Glen Canyon via the Colorado River required a dangerous ride through Cataract Canyon. Cross-country by land from the east meant hard, axle-busting travel over unimproved trails. It was a hundred miles of brutal canyon and mesa, just to reach the river. And that’s where the road stopped.
In the 1940s, Arth Chaffin built a homemade ferry at Hite Crossing and persuaded the Utah Department of Highways to take an interest in building a road from Blanding in the east, to Hanksville on the western edge of canyon country. Chaffin’s ferry was the linchpin. On September 17, 1946, East and West were joined at Hite. The remoteness of southeast Utah would never quite be the same.
But the road was still rough, and few had the courage or foolhardiness to accept the challenge of ‘Utah Highway 95.’ One who did was Charles Kreischer. A Michigan native, Kreischer nonetheless spent several summers with his wife, touring the more rugged parts of Utah, and taking remarkable Kodachrome images as he went.
Twenty-five years later, I met Charlie while he camped at Arches National Park. Even then I was interested in the history of Glen Canyon and what the country looked like before the masses of people arrived. A few weeks after Kreischer’s visit, a small package came in the mail. It was a selection of slides from his trips down Glen Canyon and around the canyon country. They are a treasure to me.
All these years later, Utah 95 is a modern paved highway, the Glen is gone–at least for the moment– and tourism is exploding across the Colorado Plateau. But I was able to find remnants of Charlie’s travels in Utah and examine the transformation. Sometimes even in 2016, things haven’t changed that much. Here’s an example…
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