Thursday, January 25, 2018

Big Rock Candy Mountain

"One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hiking
And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning
I'm headed for a land that's far away
Beside the crystal fountains
So come with me, we'll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains"

Big Rock Candy Mountain on US 89 is a colorful legacy of violent volcanoes named for a folk song about Hobo Heaven.

The yellow, orange, red, white and blue striped hillside north of Marysvale, Utah, had long been called "Yellow Mountain" and was considered a scenic heritage by US 89 travelers and local folks in both Sevier and Piute Counties.

Click link to hear original song:
"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
There's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

Not long after Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock debuted his signature song, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" in September 1928, a railroad worker on the D&RGW Marysvale spur passed on a clever comparison between the song and Yellow Mountain to Josiah F. Gibbs, an outspoken excommunicated Mormon who moved to Marysvale in 1896. 

Josiah F. Gibbs as he appeared shortly after
making and placing the sign that forever named
Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Gibbs made a "Big Rock Candy Mountain" sign and nailed it to a tree near the mountain. Gibbs would have been 83-years-old at the time and had established a well-deserved renegade reputation for his obsession with the Mountain Meadows Massacre. At the time, Gibbs octogenarian "humor" in comparing Yellow Mountain to a song about hobo heaven would have been the antithesis of the local work ethic.  A "Lemonade Spring" sign soon popped up near the small water source trickling from the base of the hillside.

"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers' trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh, I'm bound to go
Where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall
The wind don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

Even though Gibbs' hand made sign was first conceived as a joke, the name stuck like glue. The song's title struck a nerve with local folks as well as travelers passing the distinctive hillside in the heart of the rugged, scenic Sevier River Canyon.

"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around 'em
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"
Seegmiller ran for Utah governot
in 1932.  He lost and therefore
has some time on his hands.

After the song's debut, a few years passed before William Seegmiller obtained rights to begin selling water from the "Lemonade Spring" at Big Rock Candy Mountain. In 1936, he persuaded his son Pratt to help him set up a stand to sell the tea-colored water from the "Lemonade Spring." They soon had customers from all parts of the state. One man from Idaho reportedly would come down and buy ten gallons at a time. That summer, Pratt moved there with his new bride, Ethel Allen. She remembered that "there was nothing there but sagebrush at the time,' and the couple lived in a tent until they could complete their small cabin next to the little river.

"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
The jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again
As soon as you are in
There ain't no short-handled shovels
No axes, saws or picks
I'm bound to stay
Where you sleep all day
Where they hung the jerk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

As Pratt and Ethel were beginning to make their life together alongside US 89 and the Sevier River, Lady Luck smiled on their efforts. The song "Big Rock Candy Mountain" suddenly became popular in 1939 and charted #1 on Billboard magazine's country music hit list.

Coincidentally, in 1939 Pratt and Ethel built a two-pump gas station with a cafe that specialized in home-cooked meals. The Seegmillers remodeled their cabin into a rock and souvenir workshop which were sold from the cafe. They themselves found the rocks from which they made jewelry and other souvenirs. A large outdoor painting portraying a hobo in front of the mountain, rendered by Mount Pleasant artist Betty Brotherson, helped complete the complex.

When Burl Ives popularized a sanitized and sentimentalized version of the song "Big Rock Candy Mountain" in 1949.  It is the version of the song that everyone remembers today.   Click here to listen to the Ives version:

After Ives' version was released, visitation to the Pratt and Ehtel's Place really took off and the rest, as they say, is history.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Navajo Bridge

The most spectacular 660 feet stretch of early US 89 was the span of the Navajo Bridge across the Colorado River at Marble Canyon near Lees Ferry.

Of all the obstacles to overland transportation in the West, none was more formidable than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Explorers, pioneers, teamsters, engineers and others have sought a way to cross the yawning gorge ever since its tentative explorations by Spanish missionaries in the mid-18th century.

The motivation to improve the Lee's Ferry road in the 1920s came from the Utah State Road Commission [USRC].  After the formation of Bryce Canyon National Monument in 1923, USRC designated the road south from Bryce to Kanab as part of its Seven Percent System, making it available for federal funding. Utah's motivation was apparently to boost tourism in the region by linking the north rim of the Grand Canyon with Bryce and Zion National Park, through what was called the "Park-to-Park Highway".  The route on Arizona's side of the border was still only a rutted county road, but Utah's move prompted the Arizona Highway Department [AHD] for the first time to begin considering its improvement.

The overriding obstacle to development of the route was, as always, the Colorado River, which cut through the road like a giant slash in the desert fabric. Lees Ferry would always constitute the route's weak link, regardless of how well the rest of the road was built and maintained. For the route to attain true highway status, a permanent bridge was needed over the Grand Canyon.

After many years of engineering as well as political back-and-forth construction on Navajo Bridge finally began in June 1927.  The single greatest hurdle of the project - was the transportation of some 3.2 million pounds of materials, supplies and equipment over the 130 miles from the railhead at Flagstaff to the bridge site. With little improvement since the 1910s, the road north of Flagstaff was still no more than a trail in many places.  The most impressive dimension of the Grand Canyon Bridge was its distance above the river level: some 467 feet from deck to water, making it the highest bridge in the world at the time of completion.
An airplane flew under Navajo Bridge
during the 1929 dedication ceremonies.
After a genuine epic construction process, the bridge opened to traffic in January 1929 and was dedicated in front of thousands of celebratory onlookers in June 1929.  Arizona Governor John C. Phillips said,  "Today marked the dawn of the new epoch in the history of the Southwest," Phillips declared. "Man has achieved another triumph over grim nature. By his creative genius and daring, his engineering skill, he has bridged this barrier with ribs of steel and concrete and brought into closer
touch the people of two great states and has opened an avenue whereby the traffic of the west may view our scenic wonders and our people."

As the only crossing of the Colorado River for some 600 miles, the bridge has had a profound impact on the commerce and transportation of a rugged and remote part of the West. The Navajo Bridge did mark an important milestone of engineering design, logistical planning and construction supervision. It was the first steel deck arch built in Arizona and a nationally prominent example of this uncommon
structural type. What makes this bridge technologically noteworthy is its immense scale, its inspired logistical planning and its breathtaking span over one of the most spectacular bridge sites in America.

This handsomely proportioned structure ranks among the country's most dramatic bridges. Flying high over the Grand Canyon, the Navajo Bridge is Arizona's most aesthetically and functionally successful example of civil engineering.

Most of the above narrative was taken from this source document:

For a great story about the 1929 context and dedication of the original Navajo Bridge see:

Here's a superb article about the dedication of the second Navajo Bridge:

Below is a 32 second video of some Navajo Bridge scenes.  For many additional scenes of construction of the original Navajo Bridge visit the Library of Congress collection here:

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kinsley Ranch Resort

One word said it all: Kinsleys--the biggest, most interesting and downright irresistible roadside attraction on US 89 from Mexico to Canada. Over 30 years, Otho Kinsley created a mini-western-theme-park at Arivaca Junction.  Kinsley had a restaurant, bar, dance hall, rodeo arena, service station, air strip, swimming pool, lake, cotton farm and even a jail guarded by African lions.  Tucsonians, tourists and local folks flocked to Kinsleys for food, fun and festivities.
When he wasn't playing with his lions or managing his personal empire, Otho Kinsley was a widely known water witch and well driller.  If his well drilling business was slow, Kinsley prowled ranches far and wide looking for every outlaw horse he could find.  If they don't buck, bite, kick, and sail over 10-foot fences, they're weren't worth a plug nickel in Kinsley's book. Rodeo promoters in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona knew Kinsley's wild horses and meaner-than-mean bulls could put on a show.
Unlike tourist attractions along Route 66 and other major American highways, Kinsleys Ranch Resort didn't need advertising or billboards placed miles in advance.  Kinsleys sold itself by word of mouth and whenever word got around about a rodeo people poured in from all over, as the 1957 Arizona Highway aerial photo above shows. Kinsleys began in 1930 and sold in 1961.
Of Kinsley Ranch Resort's many features, the lake was probably the most surprising.  Big enough for power boats, the lake proved very popular for canoeing and even feeding the local geese.  A large well pumped groundwater into a swimming pool, which overflowed into the lake which in turn overflowed to irrigate the Kinsley Ranch Resort cotton fields.
The above 12/30/2017 photo shows Kinsley Ranch Resort lake dry and filled with weeds.
Looking southwest across the former Kinsley Ranch Resort lake toward Kinsley's long famous Cow Palace Restaurant, it's hard to imagine the lake's motor boat hey day.
Now a local legend, the Cow Palace Restaurant is all that's left of the once sprawling Kinsley Ranch Resort.  After a multi-year, merry-go-round of owners, Cow Palace is once again popular today and  appears to be stable and well managed. For many fine photos of Cow Palace taken 12/30/2017, see:
Here's another view of the now dry Kinsley Ranch Resort lake looking toward the defunct Longhorn Grill.  The two pipes at right carried the lake's overflow into the furrows of the Kinsley ranch Resort cotton farm. For additional photos of the area see:
Perhaps someone thought a location across the road from the popular Cow Palace would be a good place to build another large restaurant.  As of 12/30/2017, the Longhorn Grill was closed and for sale.
For more photos of the Longhorn Grill exterior, see:
The Google Map screen clip above shows the "lay of the land" today.  May #1 is Old US 89; #2 is the Kinsley Ranch Rodeo arena; #3 is Arivaca Road; #4 is Cow Palace; #5 is the lake (now dry); #6 is Longhorn Grill and #7 is Exit 48 of I-19.  The dance hall was located just south of the rodeo arena (#2).  Kinsleys Ranch Resort did not offer formal overnight accommodations.
Above is the wider aerial view (looking south) that appeared in the March 1957 issue of Arizona Highways magazine.  Kinsleys was located on the very far south edge of Pima County.  In fact, the Santa Cruz/Pima County line is marked by the fence that lies just to the very south edge of the lake in this photo.

Credits & Sources:

All modern "now" photos were recorded on December 30, 2017 by US 89 Team Charter Member John D. Grahame.  Grahame also recorded the photo of Otho Kinsley and the lion as it appears hanging on a wall inside the Cow Palace restaurant. To view all of Grahame's photos visit:

The aerial photo is credited to "Western Ways" and is from the March 1957 issue of Arizona Highways magazine.

The Kinsley Ranch Rodeo arena photo at the top of this article is located here:  Photographer and date are unknown.

The photo of the old cars and power boat at Kinsley Ranch Resort lake is from the Tucson Citizen/Arizona Daily Star.  Photographer and date are not listed.  Source:

Information for the narratives below each photo came from a variety of sources, primarily including:


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