Take it or Leave it: The Way it is This Morning in Moab, Utah. August, 1936 … Jim Stiles


NOTE: Often, living in the year 2016, in these gruesome and depressing times, is more than I can endure. I long to be more than just ‘somewhere else.’  It’s not a matter of where as it is ‘when.’ To be away from all this. To be ‘unstuck in time’ like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim. And so, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve willed myself to travel at will, to a different world, without so much as moving an inch. So long…JS



August 1, 1936

js3-aug1936What a lovely morning it is, here in Moab, Utah. It’s just past seven and already I can see a few of my neighbors taking advantage of the cool air and tending to their gardens or, like me, simply enjoying a second cup of coffee. (Mrs. Stiles recently visited her family in California and brought back with her some delightful and exotic coffee blends.)

We’re all hoping that the worst of the summer heat has passed us. And when I say the worst, I mean the worst in history. I don’t want to even think about the months of June and July. As you all recall, it was absolutely brutal and as we all know now, it was the hottest June in our history. Do you remember that awful streak, in the second and  third weeks of June, when the thermometer passed 105 degrees every day? They are saying that the June 17 recorded temperature of 113 degrees is an all-time Moab record. I believe it.

Much of our little town looked empty in June and July, almost abandoned, in fact. Even Independence Day was quiet. It was too hot and too dry to even consider fireworks this year, which was a shame. My wife loves the annual light show. Maybe next year.moab1922-closeup3

To escape the heat, many Moabites packed up their campstuffs and headed up into the La Sals for weeks at a time. There were so many of us, especially up to Geyser Basin, that we almost looked like a brand new town. It sure was cooler than Moab.

But even though the days and nights were a delight up in the shadow of Mount Peale, there was no escaping the drought, even at 10,000 feet. The pastures looked burnt out and brown and the local ranchers were worried. Some wondered if it would ever rain again. But thankfully, the storms that roared through our country in mid-July brought us just the relief we needed. The pastures are greening up again and surprisingly, our local roads and bridges seem to have escaped any major damage. The new bridge being built over Courthouse Wash by the Bush & Baldwin contractors was almost completed when a torrent of water came down the wash, but it withstood the liquid onslaught admirably. It also gives us all confidence that the bridge builders know what they are doing.


* * *

Speaking of things heating up, the talk all summer has been about this new ‘Escalante National Monument” proposal that the federal government is talking about. In June, Tonya and I endured the heat and drove up to a big meeting in Price, Utah to hear more about the plan. Our Model A overheated three or four times along the way, but we brought enough water for the car and us. The meeting was organized by the National Park Service and the U.S. Grazing Service to give the local folks an opportunity to learn more.

The monument idea, I have to say, is massive. According to the speakers, more than 4.5 million acres ofescalanteNMmap federal land would be withdrawn for the monument, including parts of Grand, San Juan, Wayne, Garfield, Emery and Kane Counties. In addition to the citizens like us who went, there were many “advisory boards,” who represented  just about every town and community that will be affected.

Seems like the biggest worry is how the monument will affect grazing across the southern half of the state. But Mr. David Madsen, the wildlife division chief of the NPS said that grazing in Utah was approaching its limit and that, “millions of dollars of new revenue can now be secured through tourist travel.” And he said it could be done “without crippling any existing industry.” Then he said that, “the 125 million people of the United States want this land dedicated to recreation and the propagation of wildlife, versus grazing.”

And finally, Mr. Madsen noted that his boss, Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes, has a personal interest in this, “because of its superlative scenery and archeological relics.” We’ve heard that Mr. Ickes is called


Harold Ickes

‘The Old Curmudgeon’ back in Washington, but if he comes out here he better try being a bit more sociable, because a bunch of Utahns are pretty peeved with that man.

Our neighbor from La Sal, Charlie Redd, spoke for the grazers who said that if the monument bill was passed, it would mean “financial ruin to a majority of the people in five counties.”  He said that the people “who pioneered the roads and schools” in the area “should be given consideration when their basic industry is placed in jeopardy.” But Charlie made it clear he wasn’t against recreation. “WE want tourists!” Mr. Redd said, and he noted recent efforts by the Moab Lion’s Club and locals like Dr. Williams and Mr. Bish Taylor to improve the roads into the Arches. And finally he pleaded for “some kind of compromise that wouldn’t completely destroy the livestock industry” in southern Utah.

Tempers were as hot as the June weather and who knows what will happen next. I talked to Charlie briefly after the meeting, and he said he fears the whole country he loves will someday vanish before his eyes. But then he added, ‘We can only hope for the best.”

It might take another four or five years to see how this monument story plays out.

* * *
While everybody’s having apoplexy over the Park Service and the Monument, here in Moab, efforts to open up the Arches have been ongoing but with mixed results. There was a report in June of plans to start building a new road and bringing new “development” at the Arches, via Frank Pinkley, the superintendent of the National Parks Southwest Monuments. They have about $300,000 earmarked for road construction and new employee housing, starting in 1938. It would also propose expanding the monument boundaries, though by how much, nobody is saying. The Lion’s Club received the letter from Pinkley and they’re hoping to convince him to start a year earlier.

Right now, it’s almost impossible to drive a car into the Arches, but last month a fellow from Arizona did just that. Harry Goulding, the owner/operator of a trading post and tourist lodge at Monument Valley (on the Utah/Arizona border) is reported to have driven the first automobile into the monument.  Goulding drove his Ford V8 touring car up the Willow Flats trail and into the Windows section of the monument, a distance of about nine miles. He equipped his vehicle with extra large tires that helped him traverse the deep sand in the washes. He said that the last four miles, from Willow Springs to the Windows, were especially treacherous.

Goulding completed several journeys to the Arches over a period of several days, including some prominent Moabites, Park Service officials, and photographer Harry Reed. All were convinced that with some improvement, many more tourists will want to visit the monument to see these amazing stone arches and spires.
* * *

Sometimes, living out here at the edge of the world, we can almost forget all that’s happening elsewhere in the country. I have to say that of all the new-fangled machines and appliances that have been invented recently, I have a personal appreciation for my new radio. (There has been some debate here lately as to how to express the word: radio. My wife insists it should be pronounced, ‘ray-dee-o.’ But some of my pals down at the Moab Garage call it, ‘radd-ee-o.’ Who’s right?)

But it has truly had the effect of bringing the nation and the world into our living rooms. A couple weeks ago, Tonya and I had a delightful evening listening to Mr. Roosevelt deliver his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadephia. We kept looking at each other in amazement; we were listening to the President of the United States giving a speech, at exactly the moment it was all happening, 2000 miles away. The President made a rousing address to the crowd. When the papers came out a few days later with the complete text, I scribbled these words down:

“We are poor indeed if this Nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude.

“In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity…It is a sobering thing, my friends, to be a servant of this great cause. We try in our daily work to remember that the cause belongs not to us, but to the people. The standard is not in the hands of you and me alone. It is carried by America. We seek daily to profit from experience, to learn to do better as our task proceeds.

FDR1936“Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

I really enjoyed Mr. Roosevelt’s speech and, especially the ‘Rendezvous with Destiny’ part. To be honest, I hope he is re-elected.

My wife is a Roosevelt fan as well, but it’s Mrs. R that truly excites Tonya. There has never been a First Lady like Eleanor Roosevelt and Mrs.Stiles even made the long hot drive to Salt Lake City last week to help draft pamphlets in support of the greater inclusion of women in political matters. And I think she’s read Mrs. Roosevelt’s book, “It’s Up to the Women” several times. When our neighbor heard Miss T was headed to Salt Lake again, he complained that I “needed to control my woman better.” I told him that was not a good idea as I’d like to live to a ripe old age. And I reminded him what the President himself said after reports that some of his supporters thought he should try to restrain his missus. Mr. Roosevelt laughed and said, “It’s a free country. She can say what she damn well pleases.”

* * *

When Mr. Roosevelt spoke of ‘the poor’ in our country, it reminded me that we had not visited our friend, Jack Holley, in a few weeks. So Tonya baked several loaves of bread and we gathered a basket of some fruits and vegetables from our garden, and some canned goods as well and paid ‘The Goat Man’ a visit. He was there to greet us, as he always is, and seemed grateful for the stock of foods we had brought for him. It’s hard to believe that Mr. Holley has been residing in his little stone cabin near the river for more than five years. Jack is an interesting character, like no one we have ever met. Many people call him a ‘hermit,’ but he seems to love the company of others. (Though we suspect he will always prefer the company of his beloved goats!)

Jack Holley.

Jack Holley. Photo from the Utah State Historical Society.

We asked how he had fared in the recent hot weather, but Jack explained that inside his dugout cabin, it was considerably cooler than the blistering heat just outside the door. And of course he noted that he spent much of his time in the shade of those magnificent cottonwoods by the river. And he is so right. In this dry air, if you can find a good breeze, especially by the water, even 100 degrees can be not just tolerable, but downright pleasant.

We also brought Mr. Holley a stack of newspapers, mostly the ‘Deseret News’ and a few ‘Denver Posts.’ But when Tonya returned from visiting her family in California, she returned with a couple copies of ‘The San Francisco Chronicle.’ Jack was delighted. We asked if he had heard about Mr. Roosevelt’s “Rendezvous with Destiny” speech and were surprised to hear him recite many passages from memory.

And just like the debate over the pronunciation of ‘radio,’ we had a disagreement over how to pronounce the president’s last name. Tonya and I say, ‘Row-ze-velt’ but Jack insists it’s, ‘Roo-ze-velt.’ Either way, we all agreed we hope he wins in November.

* * *1653735_10202460216699994_718659462_n

As summer winds down, we are hopeful of cooler days and nights, but while things have calmed down since July, it is still quite warm and we have been seeking relief from the heat. Yesterday Tonya saw an ad for ‘Boat Trips on the Colorado River.’

What a novel idea, we thought. It sounded like it might be fun and a different way to pass a hot afternoon. Mr. Leslie Foy is offering the trips and is also reportedly building a “dude ranch” about six miles downriver from Moab. They say the accommodations are quite nice and the cost of a river trip “very moderate.” So we may indeed find ourselves getting wet soon on our lovely Colorado River.

Also it won’t be long until we can purchase a few of those delicious cool melons that Ollie Reardon grows in his backyard across town. I once heard from our neighbor Toots McDougald that when she was a little girl, she and her friends would steal melons from Ollie, until the day he caught them. But Ollie was such a softie; he made a deal with Toots and her friends–he’d plant a garden of melons, just for them, if they’d leave the rest of his garden alone. The girls thought that was a pretty good deal.

Yep. On this lovely cool early morning, the sun is just now coming over the rim’ With the promise of another good day blessed by the serenity of our little desert oasis, and the unity and affection of our family and friends, I’m grateful to say….

Moab, Utah is a pretty nice place to live. We hope it stays like this forever.


Until the next time…

Your faithful Moab Reporter,

Jim Stiles




Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.


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8 comments for “Take it or Leave it: The Way it is This Morning in Moab, Utah. August, 1936 … Jim Stiles

  1. David Yarbrough
    August 2, 2016 at 11:14 am

    One of your best Jim. I was there with you. I have a small Roosevelt pin around here somewhere. A great read!

    August 3, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Time to time we need a good reminder of where we have been and where we are currently going. Nice hat!

  3. Evan Cantor
    August 3, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Good one, Jim. At the risk of waxing cliche, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

  4. Lynn
    August 3, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    What a delightful story and concept Stiles! Hope to see more. It leaves me pondering however. Whatever happened to the concept of the Escalante monument? Did it die after actual factual information and discussions revealed it may indeed have unintended consequences. Perhaps the locals and the governors office didn’t want it so the Feds backed off? What a shame they didn’t have the well oiled, industrialist backed money and propaganda machine of the Grand Canyon Trust, SUWA, and the Sierra Club have in place today. That way they could have forced it onto local and state populations……

    I’m also delighted to know local people have been involved in selling tourism in this part of the world for over 80 years. I was under the impression it was the environmental organizations and their leaders who came up with that idea….

  5. Anne Urbanek
    August 5, 2016 at 8:32 am

    I enjoyed your story of August 1936. I was living in Chicago at that time, but I was only 8 months old.

  6. Alan Cornette
    September 13, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Another great gem, Jim. I certainly remember the 1930s, as a child of the dust bowl days. Can’t believe it’s been that long ago – seems like yesterday. Looking forward to visiting, either here with Jeff or in the flat lands.

  7. Warren Musselman
    March 18, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Thanks much for this piece Jim. If only Ickes had succeeded we wouldn’t be having so many of the arguments over public lands that have been happening over the last 70 years. Always love your pieces.

  8. Bill Davis
    July 5, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    “Keep it like it was.”

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