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.

No one would have been more surprised than Burl Ives when he discovered that the song he had made famous belonged to a real place. He made a pilgrimage to Big Rock Candy Mountain in the 1940's, met the proprietors, and left them with an autographed photograph of himself that hung in the cafe for many years. "Haywire Mac" McClintock also visited, perhaps more than once. An accomplished artist as well as a composer, he left a self-portrait that also found a place on the restaurant wall.

Kenda Stapel reports that Ben and LaRue Seegmiller Deringer owned the Big Rock Candy most of the 1950 and 1960s. LaRue was Pratt Seegmillers sister Ben was from Wisconsin. 

The Big Rock Candy Mountain property changed hands several times through the decades. John Gledhill had owned the Big Rock Candy Mountain resort for two decades when the bank foreclosed on him in the 1990's. He had defaulted on a $100,000 loan and owed $13,000 more in back taxes. The property consisted of a motel plus rental cabins across the street near the Sevier River, a restaurant, and a gift and rock shop. It was put on the market in a bankruptcy sale in the summer of 1994. The complex reportedly was valued just under one-half-million dollars. In a "Salt Lake Tribune" interview, Gledhill said, "I surely did build up an affection for it...But sometimes things happen that don't work out."
In 1995, a Provo-based company, Zion Management and Development Corporation, which operatets hotels and motetls in Utah Valley, Salt Lake City and St. George, purchased the resort. Corporation president and managing partner Glen Overton said they did it "for the sheer love of restoring it and getting it back on its feet." Overton had grown up in nearby Fillmore, and Big Rock Candy Mountain had been a part of his life during those years. Restoring the resort cost the partnership another million dollars. The facility reopened for business on Memorial Day 1997.

The remodeled facilities include a small restaurant and a candy store stocked with "rock candy" and other confections. The motel rooms have names like Peppermint, Chocolate Fudge, and Cotton Candy. The cabins across the river have names tied either to the song 'Big Rock Candy Mountain" or to the area's history, including Bluebird, D&RGW, Kimberly, Butch Cassidy, Sundancer, and Hole in the Wall. Visitors can rent all terrain vehicles (ATVs) to explore the surrounding mountains or take a rafting trip on the Sevier River. The new owners also have plans for a petting zoo for children.

The scenic landmark has been immortalized in prose as well as in song. Utah-raised writer Wallace Stegner said that Big Rock Candy Mountain "was the one theme I was born to write about" In his 1943 novel, "Big Rock Candy Mountain," considered to be a modern classic, he described the mountain as "not a real place," but rather "a fantastical utopia." There "life was effortless and rich and unrestricted and full of adventure and action, where something cold be had for nothing." According to Stegner, the novel's protagionist, Bo Mason, "had a notion where home would turn out to be, for himself and for his father, over the next range, on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that place of impossible loveliness that had pulled the whole nation westward, the place where the fat land sweated up wealth and the heavens dropped lemonade." Not long before his death, Stegner visited the theme again in a 1991 collection of essays which he entitled "Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs."

Another Utah writer, Levi S. Peterson, played on the image in his 1995 novel "Aspen Marooney," set partly in Richfield. Peterson writes that Marooney "was still a kid at 17 when she fell in love with Durfey Haslam. Durfey knew the trail to Lemonade Springs. He knew the customs and the accoutrements, the promises and pleasures, of Big Rock Candy Mountain....In the trace of his footsteps, she hunted for hobo heaven." The Big Rock Candy Mountain remains--a real place that inspires songs and works of fiction where children and adults alike can get lost in their imaginations of a candyland with a lemonade spring. Pages 307-309

By Year 2017, the Big Rock Candy Mountain development included a boxcar and caboose village, a large RV park, cabins, a motel, restaurant, bunk houses, a zip line and many more resort-style features. Guests are encouraged to go whitewater rafting, explore the Paiute ATV Trail and ride bicycles on the Candy Mountain Express Trail that follows the old rail line along the river.

Here is the website for the current owners of Big Rock Candy Mountain:

After nearly 80 years of continuous operation, Big Rock Candy Mountain is poised for a prosperous future capitalizing on colorful volcanic rocks named after a song about hobo heaven.

(Editor's Note: Information for this story came from many sources too numerous to list.  The primary source is: "The History of Piute County" by Linda King Newell Copyright 1999 by Piute County Commission All rights reserved. ISBN 0-913738-39-5. "The History of Piute County is part of The Utah Centennial County History Series as funded by the Utah State Legislature under the administration of the Utah State Historical Society in cooperation with Utah's twenty-nine county governments.)

Below is a short description of the geology of Big Rock Candy Mountain from

"Big Rock Candy Mountain consists of altered volcanic rock in various shades of yellow, orange, red, and white. Approximately 22 to 35 million years ago, a cluster of stratovolcanoes (volcanoes similar to Mount St. Helens) erupted, depositing large volumes of lava and ash. Known as the Bullion Canyon Volcanics, these volcanic rocks are more than 3,000 feet thick. Approximately 21 million years ago, at least six magma bodies intruded the overlying Bullion Canyon Volcanics. Through a complex chemical process involving hydrogen sulde, steam, ground water, and oxygen, the original volcanic rock was partially altered or totally replaced. The vivid colors that one sees at Big Rock Candy Mountain are the direct result of this mineralization.
The yellow, orange, and red colors are from the presence of iron minerals, such as jarosite, hematite, and pyrite. The white color is due to the presence of alunite and kaolinite, minerals rich in potassium. Over the past 15 million years, erosion has removed the distinct shapes of the former volcanoes, and within the past several million years has exposed the altered volcanic rocks in Marysvale Canyon along the Sevier River."

No comments:

Post a Comment