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0. Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Utah In 1918. The Monumental Highway

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Mexican Hat, the Goosenecks of the San Juan, Monument Valley....the adventure of following a little known 1918 road log along the Monumental Highway. Anyone interested? Has anyone been there recently?


I bought a ragged copy of the 1918 Utah Good Roads Automobilist magazine a few days ago and to my great delight found that it contains an auto pathfinder’s log and photos between Bluff and Cedar City, Utah. It took him through the awesome Monument Valley long before John Wayne made it famous. The magazine named the “road” the “Monumental Highway.”



I don’t think the name stuck, at least I haven’t noted it on later maps. But that doesn’t distract from my new found interest on the route. Forty five years ago I took much of the route myself, and still have slides somewhere of Monument Valley. But to pick up the weathered pages of that old magazine and follow the pathfinder’s adventures was a special experience. I think I may have found my spring road trip!


This is rugged country which includes the Goosenecks of the San Juan River and a lot of rocky open country, cut into deep canyons and washes by mother nature. As late as 1945 the Utah volume of the American Guide series states that the 27 miles of road between Bluff and Mexican Hat crossed a dozen unbridged washes.


Last night I started following the route using Google Earth, with the thought that if part of it is still navigable, I might make a visit to the area when weather permits. I only studied the section between Bluff and Mexican Hat, and some of the route into Monument Valley.




The 1918 section of the map isn’t in great detail. The log is fascinating, if for no other reason than it gives a glimpse into desert travel in 1918. BTW, Mexican Hat in 1918 was upstream about a mile from where it is now, and the current (modern) site of Mexican Hat was called Goodridge. That is relevant because the 1918 map shows a suspension bridge at Goodridge, which is modern Mexican Hat. The suspension bridge is no more, but the San Juan is still bridged at Mexican Hat (the old Goodridge).


You can guestimate much of the 1918 route by looking at the area in Google Earth. An old road bed is evident, but it probably only approximates the 1918 route. I turned to the General Land Office plats of the original surveys of the area, done between about 1899 and 1931. They are on the web for many areas or the country, and are a great resource when you want to get down to original road tracks and trails. I haven’t found historic topos, but perhaps they exist on line as well.


Can anyone give me some thoughts or suggestions on this topic?







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I will be very interested in what you find -- I'm always up for a good roadsleuthing story -- but unfortunately I have nothing to offer. jim




Can you spot the rock cabin at 12.3 miles? I can't. But rock cabins usually leave a mark. It may have been obliterated by road construction, but I would just about make the trip to rediscover it!


Keep the Show on the Road!







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Can you spot the rock cabin at 12.3 miles? I can't. But rock cabins usually leave a mark. It may have been obliterated by road construction, but I would just about make the trip to rediscover it!


No luck! But I'm not as adept at this kind of mapsleuthing -- I'm more used to midwestern farmland. I am astonished by all the road traces visible on this UT/AZ map area, though. US 163 appears to have quite a colorful old-alignment history.




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Thanks for sharing, Keep! I will spend more time following the entire trip when I get the time, but I did try to find the rock cabin. There are a few spots in what I think is the area that look as if they may have contained something, but like Mobilene, I am more used to my area of the country (like finding old bridges/roads/structures in the woods or covered in kudzu). I will spend more time looking tomorrow.



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If the photo of the Gateway to Monument Valley looks familiar to viewers - it should. It appeared in many of the John Wayne movies shot in this area!!!! And probably a few more.


Great report - havn't had time to really read thru it yet - working on it.


I love these old guide books - I just bought a1926 Automobile Blue book, Vol. 2, covering middle Atlantic from Pa/NJ south to FL and west from KY to Eastern LA. Over the past few years searching for these guide books I've found this area to be the hardest to find - yet, in the past year or so I've found several, both AAA and Automoblile Blue Book. Now I'm working on the western U S - I have a 1941 AAA tour book, Western Edition, but looking for earlier ones.


Everybody have safe travels. Y'all take care now, hear.



Alex Burr

Memphis, TN


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Jim, Tracy, and Alex, and all interested,


First I really appreciate the help! This is a little like a treasure hunt! An old map, rock cabins, and soon to come, a lost village.


Before I go further, I want to note that all I have posted thus far is the first short section of the 1918 trip and log. It might turn out that this road log is really interesting. I have not found much in the way of road descriptions for the southern Utah area, even as late as 1927.


You guys are good at this, and it takes a bit of "educated intuition" to figure these things out, so I appreciate your help. And for all practical purposes I am about as far away from Bluff, Mexican Hat and Monument Valley as you guys, so it is just as much out of my experience base.


Finding the old magazine was quite by accident. A fellow I was corresponding with in Utah was interested in a famous Utah pathfinder (Bill Rishel) who played a big part in the Lincoln Highway saga through that state. So I bought a few old magazines and books that I thought might relate, and here was this great description of the "Monumental Highway." I dare say that the American Road gang is probably the only group that knows about the “Monumental Highway.”


There are at a couple of "mysteries" so far......the rock cabin and the remnants of Mexican Hat...a “lost village.” I think I have identified the original site of Mexican Hat, but I see (in Google Earth) nothing on the site.


Regarding the rock cabin, the old map suggests a long run up Comb Wash, but the obvious old road traces in Google Earth don’t go that far up the wash before leaving it. But did you note Road Canyon? Is it possible that the road (trail) went out of Combs Wash up Road Canyon, rather than the current route? That would place the rock cabin up Road Canyon.


Then we have the matter of Mexican Hat. A modern account I found says the old Mexican Hat settlement was about a mile north of its current location. The old plat maps show a PO at Goodridge (now Mexican Hat) in 1911, and a site called Raplees (37.1764, 109.8460) on the river just Northeast of the geographic formation called Mexican Hat (37.1737, 109.8486).. The 1918 magazine account relates Mexican Hat and Raplee’s cabins, so I’m satisfied that old Mexican Hat was at the site along the river marked on Plat maps as Raplees. But there is nothing suggesting a settlement there now other than some old roads.....maybe the river washed it away.




1911 General Land Office Plat Map


Perhaps nature has reclaimed these places, but maybe your keen eyes will spot them.


And, isn’t it amazing that they even took cars through that country! Did anyone look closely at the photo where the “road” goes down to the old suspension bridge? Wow! The old suspension bridge certainly must have been described elsewhere, and there must be more photos. If I take a trip there I think I will stay at the San Juan Inn which sits beside the old bridge site. Alex, does your 1941 guide say anything about Mexican Hat?


This area is not exactly unknown today. But I was surprised that the 1927 Rishel’s Routes published by the AAA of Utah goes no farther south than Blanding, and leaves out any mention of this area. The same is true of early 1920’s Automobile Blue Books. It is obviously well documented today, so it may turn out that someone has researched the 1918 roads already.


Anyway, any research or insights will be appreciated!


Keep the Show on the Road!





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