By Lynn Blamires Content Writer for My Local Utah
Number 1 in the series: Stories and Discoveries in the Backcountry
The road to the Hole-in-the-Rock starts five miles east of Escalante. It travels southeast toward a historical pioneer site known as the Hole-in-the-Rock. Travel 25.5 miles on that road and make a right turn. Drive a short distance to three caves carved out of the mountain and you will see what was the home of two modern cliff dwellers.
Looking for Uranium
This story starts back in the late 1940’s when Utah’s uranium mining boom began. Two German brothers – Bill and Cliff Lichtenhahn left Colorado in the early 1950’s in hopes of finding uranium.
Bill, at 68, was Cliff’s older brother by ten years. They found a sandstone hill on a ledge above a canyon 34 miles from Escalante. Thinking it a likely spot for uranium, they started digging.
Seeking Shelter from the Storm
As the story goes, when they had a sizable hole dug into the rock, it started to rain. They had no shelter except a leaky tent, so they dug faster and further until they gained shelter for themselves from the storm.
They Found Treasure, but Not Uranium
They did not find uranium, but what they did find and what they did with it made them a legend in the Escalante Desert. They found petrified wood in abundance on the desert floor.
Setting up House in Three Caves
In ten years, they blasted three caves out of the rock wall. Using a power-driven half-ton wheelbarrow, they hauled the rock out of the caves until they had three sizable caverns. Each had a ceiling 12 feet high and a room roughly 30 feet deep and 20 feet wide with cement floors. They used one to live in and converted the other two into workshops. Heavy wooden doors enclosed the caves as protection against the elements.
Making a Living on Their Treasure
With cutting tools, they turned the petrified wood, jasper, and other semi-precious stones they found in the desert into beautiful tabletops, checker boards, and other articles to brighten a home or office.
The Ingenious Rock Polisher
To polish the stones, they created an ingenious rock polisher out of the rear end of an old truck. Fastening it to a rock with the drive line vertical to the ground, they took an industrial wooden spool and lined the inside with large pieces of tire tread. Once the cavity of the spool was lined, they attached it to a wheel on the setup.
Bringing their truck close, they would jack it up, take off a rear wheel and replace it with a tireless rim. Using a strap around the rim and around a wheel on the differential of the old rear-end, they would start the truck, put it in gear and let it idle. The strap would turn the differential and the spool, filled with rocks, became a huge rock tumbler that polished rocks for their creations.
Life as Cavemen
Their workshops were well equipped with a power drill press, lathes, and saws. They used gas and propane for fuel, and they put a wood stove in their living quarters with a 30 foot pipe that extended through a hole they carved in the top of the hill.
These cavemen made the trip to Escalante once a week for supplies and like good boys – they visited their mother in Kit Carson, Colorado for a few months each winter. They are gone now, but the caves remain with some of their equipment as evidence of their lives as cavemen.