The Impossible Made Possible- Thanks Desert Moon!

Arches National Park is located 20 miles south of Thompson Springs just north of Moab

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A few days ago we were again looking for interesting places to visit that had campsite availability. That’s how we wound up in places such as Yampa State Park CO, Fruita CO, and Gunnison CO. All those places were unplanned yet were great places to visit. Now we are stymied. With campgrounds anywhere near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, places we’d like to visit, where to now?

Downtown Thompson Springs………..

Jil says “What about Thompson Springs?” Where? “Thompson Springs Utah!” I looked at Thomson Springs on the map and there’s nothing there. Jil-“There’s two RV parks and one has new owners and it seems like it would be OK. And it’s not far from Arches NP”. Ya gotta be kiddin’ me! But no, she’s right. I look up the place she recommends, Desert Moon Hotel and Campground. It’s a small hotel with 10 campsites. The new owners have only owned the joint for 6 weeks and are in the process of renovating the hotel. They have a website and we sign up for two nights.

This was someone’s home quite some time ago

We drove 200 miles to Thompson Springs (39 souls) from Gunnison. The community is a mere shadow of its former self and darned near a ghost town. We drive past several old wooden buildings that are in various states of decay.

The campground at the Desert Moon Hotel has full hookups and a few trees for shade but no other amenities. We don’t need any utilities other than electricity so that’s fine. Fine Utah dusty dirt goes unfettered and tracks into the RV, but it’s not bad. We’re glad its not raining because that stuff would create a muddy mess. A bonus is the property is pretty large so we can walk the dogs through sage and dry grass, and around old cabins (which are being restored) and a couple of abandoned trucks to their hearts content.

Our campsite at the Desert Moon Hotel and RV Park

The owners of the establishment are a young couple intent on renovating the old hotel and its grounds. In only six weeks they have upgraded the water and electrical systems of the hotel and renovated the upstairs guest rooms. They haven’t done it alone as friends have come and gone given them a helping hand. As I write there are a total of 12 people involved in the property’s renovation fully 1/3rd of the entire population of Thompson Springs. They are great young folks who in some ways remind us of 1970’s hippies. We wish them nothing less than good health and prosperity as they live their dream. Desert Moon Hotel and RV Campground definitely isn’t for everyone but we found it to be OK and it is close enough Arches National Park and the city of Moab that we are able to visit those places.

Here’s the history of this near Ghost Town of Thompson Springs per Wikipedia: Thompson Springs (39 souls) was named for E.W. Thompson, who lived near the springs and operated a sawmill to the north near the Book Cliffs. The town began life in the late nineteenth century as a station stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW), which had been completed through the area in 1883. A post office at the site was established in 1890, under the name “Thompson’s”. The town was a community center for the small number of farmers and ranchers living in the inhospitable region, and it was also a prominent shipping point for cattle that were run in the Book Cliffs area. Stockmen from both San Juan and Grand counties used Thompson.

Thompson gained importance in the early twentieth century due to the development of coal mines in Sego Canyon, north of town. Commercial mining in Sego Canyon began in 1911, and that year the Ballard and Thompson Railroad was constructed to connect the mines with the railhead at Thompson. The railroad branch line and mines continued operating until about 1950.

Completion of Interstate 70 came in 1990. The highway located two miles south of Thompson Springs drew traffic away from the city as the former Old Cisco Highway (US 6 and US-50) was no longer used. The coup de grace was dealt in 1997 when the passenger train stop moved about 25 miles to the west, now located in Green River.

We took a short drive up Sego Canyon as we’d heard that there were some ancient petroglyphs on the canyon walls. Yep, there sure were but we didn’t find ‘um all. The Barrier Canyon Petroglyphs (6000- 100 B.C.), the Fremont Culture (600-1200 A.D.), and the Ute Indian (1300-1880 A.D.) cultures are all represented here as rock art. I’m sharing photos from

Barrier Canyon Petroglyph
Fremont Indian Petroglyph
Ute Indian Petroglyph

We’d spoken to the young fella who is parked next to us. He and his wife, two kids and three dogs are RV’ing in a nice motorhome. We drum up a conversation and find that the family is from Florida, are home schooling their kids since their home schools are providing classes via internet and hadn’t reopened, and have traveled all the while. I mention that we are going to Arches this morning and he says you’d better get there early as a line forms with little to no access to the park by nine or ten o’clock in the morning. Holy Cripes, we’d better get going!

We are heading for Arches by 0830 hours, reach the park by 0900 and find we are number three in line moving through the entrance station. We use our “Old Geezers” National Park Pass saving another entrance fee of $30. What a great deal our pass is! We choose to bypass the visitors center in favor of visiting all the sights the park has to offer.

I’ll tell you folks, I envisioned many, many natural arches and not much else. The arches are really an outstanding natural feature but the buttresses, mesas, and rock formations that dominate the park are nothing to sneeze at. I’m more enamored by the rock formations than the arches. Don’t know why, just me I suppose.

We did a pretty good job of avoiding crowds until we reach the end of the road- Devil’s Playground. One has to loop through the huge parking lot in order to return. Drivers are trying to find parking spots with utter disregard to folks behind them. People are parking in the middle of the road in hopes someone will walk to their car, get in and pull out. That doesn’t happen so these rude drivers just sit blocking traffic rather than loop on through the parking lot again. I found a spot wide enough to get around one driver who was content on sitting right in the middle of a two lane wide traffic area totally disregarding the folks behind. Sheesh!

Arches is beautiful for sure. October is the end of the high visitation season for Arches. However, I’d say less than half of the people who visit today would normally be here if it weren’t for COVID and related lock downs. As we drive out of Arches National Park autos and RV’s are backed up two deep and several hundred yards long at the entrance station with all their occupants hoping that they will be able to view the beautiful natural wonders of this most beautiful park.

Jil wants to go see Moab, especially it’s RV parks. Moab is where we wanted to stay in order to visit Arches as it’s only 5 miles from the entrance. I’m pretty happy that we couldn’t find a camp spot in town as it’s very busy, the main road is being reconstructed- and we don’t like busy. The few campgrounds we did see seemed to pack RV’s in like sardines- again not our style. We found a nice city park and walked the dogs, then got the heck outa there. During normal times prior to the COVID pandemic I’m pretty sure we would be happy staying in Moab, but not now……….

Delicate Arch using partial zoom lens. The arch is center left.
Delicate Arch zoomed in 24 times. I didn’t even see the people until I downloaded this image.

Heres’s a little history of the city of Moab (5800 souls) courtesy of Wikipedia: Moab is a city on the southern edge of Grand County known for its dramatic scenery.  It is the county seat and largest city in Grand County.[7] Moab attracts many tourists annually, mostly visitors to the nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The town is a popular base for mountain biders who ride the extensive network of trails including the Slickrock Trail, and for off-roaders who come for the annual Moab Jeep Safari.

During the period between 1829 and the early 1850s, the area around what is now Moab served as the Colorado River crossing along the Old Spanish Trail. Latter Day Saint settlers attempted to establish a trading fort at the river crossing called the Elk Mountain Mission in April 1855 to trade with travelers attempting to cross the river. Forty men were called on this mission. There were repeated Indian attacks. After the last attack in which one man was killed, the fort was abandoned. A new group of settlers from Rich County, led by Randolph Hockaday Stewart, established a permanent settlement in 1878 under the direction of Brigham Young. Moab was incorporated as a town on December 20, 1902.

Moab’s economy was originally based on agriculture, but gradually shifted to mining. Uranium and  vanadium were discovered in the area in the 1910s and 1920s. Potash and manganese came next, and then oil and gas were discovered. In the 1950s Moab became the so-called “Uranium Capital of the World” after a geologist found a rich deposit of uranium ore south of the city. This discovery coincided with the advent of the era of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in the United States, and Moab’s boom years began.

During WWII a Japanese American internment camp, the Moab Isolation Center was set up at the then recently closed Dalton Wells CCC Camp in 1943. It seems that the War Relocation Authority deemed certain Japanese Americans troublemakers so they were segregated out of the general populations of other interment camps such as Manzanar in California and sent to the Moab Isolation Center. None of the internees were ever convicted of any crime other than being accused of being “incorrigible instigators of upheaval”. The camp only operated for four months. In April of 1943 all 49 of the captives were sent to another more secure camp in Arizona.

The city population grew nearly 500% over the next few years, bringing the population to near 6,000 people. With the Cold War winding down, Moab’s uranium boom was over, and the city’s population drastically declined. By the early 1980s a number of homes stood empty, and nearly all of the uranium mines had closed.

In 1949, Western movie director John Ford was persuaded to use the area for the movie Wagon Master. Ford had been using Monument Valley around Mexican Hat UT. A local Moab rancher (George White) found Ford and persuaded him to come take a look at Moab. There have been numerous movies filmed in the area since then, using Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park as backdrops.

Since the 1970s, tourism has played an increasing role in the local economy. Partly due to the John Ford movies, partly due to magazine articles, the area has become a favorite of photographers, rafters, hikers, rock climbers, and most recently mountain bikers.. Moab is also an increasingly popular destination for four wheelers.  Moab’s population swells temporarily in the spring and summer months with the arrival of numerous people employed seasonally in the outdoor recreation and tourism industries.

That pretty much sums up our visit to tiny Thompson Springs, Arches National Park and Moab. We’ll be traveling tomorrow. I’ll catch you all up on our upcoming adventures when we settle in. Adios!

2 thoughts on “The Impossible Made Possible- Thanks Desert Moon!”

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