Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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Uranium Boom Comes To Capitol Reef

While the Oyler Mine was obviously the most significant claim within the new national monument boundaries, there were seven other claims in the mining record books as of 1941. None of these, including the Oyler Mine, was even taken into consideration when Roger Toll made his initial monument investigation in 1932. In Preston Patraw's 1935 report, he noted briefly that "previous research [had] failed to reveal the presence of minerals of sufficient quantity for commercial exploitation." [26]

In 1941, the National Park Service asked the General Land Office to investigate the validity of the eight unpatented mining claims within the new national monument. Walter Koch, sent to investigate, reported that "the land was non-mineral in character and no minerals had been found within the claims in sufficient quantity to constitute a valid discovery." [27] General Land Office Commissioner Fred. W. Johnson concurred with Koch's conclusions and canceled every claim in the monument on Nov. 25, 1941. Notices were sent to all claimants informing them of this decision and specifically stating that all protests to this action must be received in writing within 30 days by the General Land Office in Salt Lake City. A final decision was delayed until October 1942 because several claimants could not be contacted by registered mail. On October 7, 1942, the General Land Office Commissioner, having followed the required procedures, declared all claims within Capitol Reef National Monument null and void. [28]

This decision to place all monument lands off-limits to mining was not questioned until the beginning of the uranium boom in 1948. Perceived threats to national security enabled the recently created Atomic Energy Commission to sponsor the "first federally-controlled, federally-promoted and federally-supported" mining boom in the nation's history. The unique geology, exposed rock, and enormous amount of unclaimed public domain made the Colorado Plateau an appealing target for modern day 49-ers. [29]

Activity within Capitol Reef National Monument began almost immediately. On June 15, 1949, Willard Christensen appealed the 1942 decision of the General Land Office canceling claim to the Oyler Mine site. Christensen argued that he and his partners had tried to appeal the judgment orally immediately after their claim was voided, but were never directed to the correct GLO authority. The problems with Christensen's complaints were, first, that he did not follow the GLO's clearly stated appeals procedure, and second, that he renewed his interest in the claim only after uranium price supports had been announced by the Atomic Energy Commission. In March 1950, officials in the Interior Department refused Christensen's request for a hearing. [30]

One month earlier, Emma Osborn of Torrey argued that she was legal claimant to the Oyler Mine because her late father had worked the mine back in 1905. Christensen and Osborn were just the first of more than two dozen hopefuls who attempted to file claim on the long-abandoned mine tunnels. From this point on, the conflicting claims to the Oyler Mine were played out in court, the federal bureaucracy, and the newspapers. The legal maneuvering effectively prevented the site from being mined by anyone. Ironically, mining was not permitted at the Oyler Mine and the 80 acres surrounding it, said to have the highest concentration of uranium in the area, during the entire boom period. Nevertheless, the publicity generated by the mine's controversy and supposed riches brought the monument's uranium potential to the attention of both prospectors and, more importantly, the Atomic Energy Commission. [31]

Mining Within The Monument: 1950-1954

At first, the uranium boom at Capitol Reef consisted of the work of a few scattered prospectors. In the first "Superintendent's Monthly Narrative Report" since the monument's official activation in May 1950, Acting Superintendent Charles Kelly observed, "Uranium prospectors continue to pass through. Some are courteous enough to ask about regulations, but most are belligerent when told they cannot mine in the monument." [32]

Throughout the rest of the year, particularly over the summer, Kelly busily fended off probing prospectors. For the most part, the search for uranium in the Waterpocket Fold country was a seasonal occupation: with the coming of winter, most prospectors were eager to leave behind the rugged dirt roads and extreme isolation of the area. [33]

Activity at Capitol Reef heated up once again the following spring. On May 9, 1951, Willard Christensen and his partners, H. O. Barney and J. R. Hoffman, began camping near the Oyler Mine. They told Kelly that they would begin mining as soon as their equipment arrived. In what was undoubtedly a heated discussion, Kelly told the claimants there would be no mining within the monument. The three, however, continued to camp on the site, exploring the area with their Geiger counters. Their presence in the area activated the rumor mill, attracting dozens of local prospectors to try to stake their own finds. Claims were filed at the mouth of Capitol Gorge and in the vicinity of Twin Rocks and Chimney Rock. "No damage has been done in those areas as yet," Kelly reported, adding wryly, "It appears that all known and reported deposits of uranium ore occur in the most scenic and most accessible parts of the monument." [34]

Rumor that the monument was open to mining no doubt was based on the ongoing negotiations between the National Park Service and the Atomic Energy Commission to do just that. In the AEC's 1951 request to open the monument up to uranium mining, Commissioner Gordon Dean wrote Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman, "The grade of uranium-bearing material in the vicinity of the 'Oiler Tunnel' is such as to cause us to believe, in light of our experience with development of similar deposits elsewhere, that appropriate work in this area might disclose an important uranium deposit. In addition we believe thorough prospecting and exploration of the favorable formations in this area may disclose similar deposits." [35]

In February 1952, a special-use permit governing uranium mining within the monument was agreed upon. The AEC promised to obtain National Park Service permission before any ore was taken, and to build only the roads, trails, and buildings absolutely necessary for uranium extraction. Further, the AEC would pay 10 percent of any mining profit to the National Park Service. When the seven years of the permit were over, the AEC would remove the buildings and cover the mine shafts. [36]

In May 1952, Capitol Reef National Monument was officially opened to uranium prospectors. Ranger Rudy Lueck was dispatched from Zion National Park to help Kelly with the expected rush. This rush, however, never materialized. Mostly due to confusion over the conflicting claims to the Oyler Mine area, the process of recording claims within the monument was delayed until July. Only about a dozen people bothered to file claims on lands outside the restricted Oyler section. This lack of interest, coupled with the discouraging findings by some Atomic Energy Commission investigators from the area office in Grand Junction, led Superintendent Kelly to hope that uranium mining would incur little damage to the monument, after all. [37]

By February 1953, the initial permit confusion had been resolved, and 35 mining permits for claims within the national monument were issued by the Atomic Energy Commission. On Feb. 21, one day after the opening date, only 11 claimants had registered with the monument. Kelly reported that those who did come found little:

More than half the prospectors left within 24 hours. Five claims have been staked, but the locators are not very enthusiastic over their value. One group brought in a small plane and flew over the monument for two days with a Geiger counter but found nothing exciting. Other prospectors may show up late, when the weather becomes warmer, but present indications are that the 'rush' is over and that prospecting will present no future problem. The work done so far indicates that there are no great hidden deposits of uranium in this area. [38]

Kelly also noted that there had been no activity in the reserved area around the Oyler Mine and that all permit holders had been "courteous and cooperative."

Throughout the rest of 1953, prospectors continued to pass through the area. A few filed claims, including Lurton Knee on land near his Pleasant Creek Ranch, and a couple did a little digging. The Atomic Energy Commission sent C. E. Collins to investigate the area's potential and assign permits as needed. Although he found nothing worth mining, Collins nonetheless issued several permits. The resulting piecemeal digging was soon having a noticeably adverse effect on the landscape. [39]

In June 1953, Kelly complained to the Atomic Energy Commission office in Grand Junction about its indiscriminate issue of permits. Ray Lindbloom was sent to investigate, touring the monument with Kelly to see all the various shafts and tunnels. Kelly reported, "He finally agreed that under conditions existing here, no mining contracts should ever have been issued, and promised that no more [would] be issued without proof of commercial values....The AEC has been asked to cooperate more closely with this office in the future." [40] By 1954, the uranium boom on the Colorado Plateau was at its peak. Historian Ringholtz describes the impacts:

The AEC had turned the tap and engendered a flood. To spur exploration by individual prospectors and mining companies, the Commission averaged one-million feet of test drilling per year. They paid out over $3,725,000 in bonuses. They tamed the Plateau with 993 miles of access roads. The Grand Junction office received more than three thousand visitors and processed an excess of six thousand pieces of mail each month. AEC geologists assured the inquirers that thousands of square miles on the Colorado Plateau remained to be explored. [41]

While most of this activity was east, north, and west of the Waterpocket Fold country, there would be a certain amount of spillover. Soon, a new front was opened in the Circle Cliffs area to the south of the monument. Charles Kelly provided an excellent, albeit somewhat embellished, account of the uranium boom in the Circle Cliffs during 1954. He wrote, "Nearly every man woman and child in Wayne county has been out prospecting. The local banker locked up the bank, the barber shop and several stores closed up while the proprietors prospected. Since their congregations were out in the field on Sundays, some of the bishops closed up the ward houses to go prospecting." Further, Kelly claimed, the Hunt Oil Company was then in the process of locating a thousand claims on the basis of "one claim where two men worked 20 days, took out a pickup load of ore, hauled it to Salt Lake City and sold it for $11.00." [42]

This mostly speculative filing of uranium claims on virtually every square inch of the eastern escarpment of the Circle Cliffs would have repercussions for Capitol Reef's management after the monument's expansion in 1969. Another significant result of the Circle Cliffs boom was the blasting of the Burr Trail road up the steep, boulder-strewn slope between Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons. Once a cow-track, this AEC road would become a primary route for ore trucks hauling samples to the uranium processing plants in Moab and Marysville, Utah. The road through Long Canyon was also improved so that, for the first time, there was a vehicle route connecting Boulder, the Circle Cliffs, and the Waterpocket Fold. [43]

Closer to the monument, uranium strikes were reported in the Caineville Wash area, the Temple Mountain area, and north of Hanksville at the rich Delta Mine, claimed by Vern Pick. [44] Kelly also recorded that several core samples were taken from Sheets Gulch, south of the monument border. Construction on a small ore-processing plant was also begun at Notom, but it never became operational. [45]

Within the monument itself, mining activity picked up again in 1954. In February, a road was graded on a state-owned section up into the Chinle on the south side of Grand Wash (opposite the Oyler Mine). [46] By the end of the summer, however, it appeared that the boom was over for good. All new claims were reported to be abandoned, and the AEC refused to investigate any new finds because all previous showings had been so poor. Due to this lack of viable discoveries, Kelly appealed to his superiors and the AEC that the monument be closed to further mining. He wrote in October 1954, "The whole area has been carefully examined and most of it staked, but no commercial deposits have been found. It is therefore recommended that Capitol Reef National Monument be closed to further prospecting as of Feb. 20, 1955." [47]

In May 1955, unlimited prospecting permits within Capitol Reef National Monument were finally stopped. Existing valid permits were given one year renewals. All other prospecting within the monument was effectively over by May 1956. [48]

The End Of The Boom: 1955-1964

In June 1955, just as it seemed the mining threat within the monument was over, the BLM had validated claims by Willard Christensen and his partners to two mines immediately south of the Oyler Mine. It appears that the claimants had filed on these locations when they filed on the Oyler Mine, but somehow the Yellow Joe and Yellow Canary claims had been overlooked during the nullification process in 1941-42. Because of the oversight, the BLM had to validate them.

The National Park Service immediately attempted to purchase the claims through condemnation before the area was spoiled. Christensen and his partners, not to be foiled again, proceeded to build a road and blast large areas within the claims. Once the landscape had been scarred, the National Park Service abandoned its condemnation proceedings. [49]

From 1955 through the early 1960s, the partners, under the name La Fortuna Mining Company, periodically worked their Yellow Canary mine as the National Park Service continued to appeal the claim's validity. The majority of this work was done in 1955-56, during which some 277 tons of uranium ore were "unprofitably sold to the Atomic Energy Commission." [50] In 1964, the Secretary of the Interior finally declared the Yellow Joe and Yellow Canary claims permanently null and void. In 1967, the National Park Service finally took possession of the mine and began site restoration. [51]

Meanwhile, legal battles surrounding the Oyler Mine continued. In 1958, in a last attempt to gain access to the mine's supposed riches, Cora Oyler Smith (daughter of the Oylers for whom the mine is named) filed a petition with the BLM to claim the mine on the basis of a technicality. The initials of her mother's name had been typed incorrectly on the original nullification notice from the General Land Office; therefore, Smith argued, she had never been legally notified and her claim remained valid. This claim was soon dismissed along with all other claims to the area, and the Oyler Mine reverted to National Park Service care. [52]

In February 1959, when the Atomic Energy Commission's special-use permits expired, the uranium boom at Capitol Reef National Monument finally ended. As stipulated by that permit, the AEC requested from the National Park Service a bill for the amount necessary to repair the residual mining scars left on the monument's landscape. The amount came to $13,500, but a ruling by the Comptroller General in June 1959 barred payments between federal agencies. The National Park Service, therefore, paid for the restoration, completing a minimum amount of work at abandoned sites in July. [53]

In the end, although there had been a great deal of excitement, a few holes dug, and several roads made, little ore was actually taken from Capitol Reef National Monument. In a 1969 interview, Charles Kelly recalled that the 10 percent royalty the National Park Service was to receive from all ore removed amounted to a total of $13.50. [54] As for the real wealth of the Oyler Mine, later measurements of radioactivity indicated that it contained only a small amount of ore worth mining. [55] It certainly would never have yielded as much as mines elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau.

Thus, the significance of the uranium boom at Capitol Reef was not the amount of ore extracted from the monument, but the fact that mining was allowed at all. In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, national security and mining boom hysteria combined to open up a national monument to mining where all claims had been previously nullified.

Uranium and Capitol Reef During the 1960s

Beginning in the mid-1960s, a second uranium boom hit the Colorado Plateau. The building of the first nuclear power plants once again brought adventurous prospectors into southern Utah looking for their fortune. By this time, of course, the more significant concentrations of uranium in the region had already been claimed and usually were owned by large corporations. Any new finds would most likely require a large investment of time and money before any profits would be made. [56] This situation did not, however, prevent numerous, largely speculative claims from being filed by companies and individual miners. With Capitol Reef closed to mining, most of the prospectors in the Waterpocket Fold country concentrated on the areas south of the monument. Most of the exploration centered in the Circle Cliffs and along the eastern side of the Fold. This renewed mining activity would prove troubling after 1969 when Capitol Reef National Monument was expanded to include almost the entire Waterpocket Fold. [57]

Within the old monument, the Yellow Canary claim was repossessed by the National Park Service in 1967. A Secretary of the Interior decision on May 4, 1964 declared the Yellow Canary claim invalid because "it is not shown as a present fact that the land is mineral in character and is valuable for its mineral content." [58] Not until April 1967 did Acting Superintendent Grant Clark finally receive long-awaited word that all previous and/or pending mining claims within the national monument had been declared null and void. [59] In September, the La Fortuna Mining Company was officially notified that the Yellow Canary claim had been nullified and that all buildings and equipment were to be removed within 90 days. On Nov. 20, the 90 days were up, and no one had come to claim either the small shack or related equipment. Rangers Bert Speed and Grant Clark took possession and inventoried the property. [60] The building was later removed, the mine shafts covered over, and the area restored as nearly as possible to its natural condition. [61] By the 1990s, the last scars of the uranium boom within the old monument boundaries were all but gone.

1969 Monument Expansion

On Jan. 20, 1969, Capitol Reef National Monument was expanded by presidential proclamation to more than 600 percent of its previous size. [62] This expansion not only brought most of the spectacularly scenic Waterpocket Fold into the national park system, but also reeled in a reported 11,000 mining claims, 26,000 acres of oil and gas leases, and 1,760 pending applications for coal prospecting. [63]

The presidential proclamation did not specifically address mining within the expanded monument, except to make the standard stipulation that the federal government recognized "valid, existing rights." [64] This meant that while there would be no future mining claims allowed, all valid, existing mining claims and leases could legally be worked. All current and future leases on state lands were also beyond the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. National Park Service management of these valid, existing claims, and state-owned sections within Capitol Reef was limited to controlling access to the claims that were reached by crossing monument lands. The National Park Service could only hope that most of these claims had not been actively worked so that they would soon be declared abandoned, null, and void. [65]

At first, little could be done about all these claims. The small staff assigned to the old monument lands was inadequate to monitor more than 250,000 acres of rugged, unfamiliar country. Ability to protect the new lands was also hampered by the outspoken negative reaction from the local communities and the belief that the boundaries would soon be adjusted. The fact that new boundary signs were not posted until a year later compounded confusion and difficulties of controlling mining on the new monument lands. [66]

Mining was not a primary issue during the 1970-71 debate over the boundaries and provisions of a Capitol Reef National Park. Since past mining had proven disappointing, and as future issues such as tar sands and coal were still in the speculative phase, the immediate concerns over grazing consumed the vast majority of National Park Service and congressional attention. [67] Periodic attempts to gain access to previous claims within the new monument and (after December 1971) Capitol Reef National Park, however, had a significant effect on park management concerns.

The Tappan Claims

South of Oak Creek, in the central Waterpocket Fold, are two large box canyons called North and South Coleman Canyons. The entrances to these canyons are extremely narrow, but they soon open up to expose many of the colorful sedimentary layers of the Waterpocket Fold country. Among those exposed layers is a small outcropping of the Shinarump/Moenkopi contact.

Geologist Fred Smith led a survey party to the area in the early 1950s as part of an investigation for the Atomic Energy Commission. While they mention the Shinarump outcroppings within both canyons, the geologists implied that the radioactivity readings were insignificant, and that no uranium was found. [68] These findings did little to discourage local uranium prospectors. Beginning sometime around 1954, Caineville native Evangeline Tappan and her husband, John, began filing over 90 claims in both North and South Coleman Canyons. A crude road was constructed to the entrance of the North Coleman Canyon and a 76-foot-long adit, or slanted mining shaft, was dug into its upper end. Several buildings used to house workers and equipment were also built inside the canyon. No records have been located documenting the amount of ore removed or whether any of it was ever sold. [69]

When the monument was expanded in 1969, these canyons were brought into the national park system. Then, after years of inactivity on the site, Mrs. Tappan wrote Capitol Reef in late 1971 asking if her claim was still valid. Acting Superintendent Bert Speed evidently could not answer her question. He told her, though, that if the claim were valid she could mine it and even build a road -- so long as the National Park Service was consulted prior to construction. [70]

Mrs. Tappan took this letter as permission not only to mine, but to build the road. In July 1972, when Speed went to investigate reports of a road being built into North Coleman Canyon, he encountered blasting in progress. He advised the workers that dynamiting required a permit, though he saw no reason to prohibit the use of a front-end loader to clear out the debris. Speed's rather tolerant response to this matter suggests that he assumed at least some of Tappan's claims to be valid. [71]

When news of the road-building reached the regional office, NPS staff there demanded an immediate investigation into the validity of the Tappan claims. [72] This is all rather confusing, since a validity examination had already been completed by National Park Service Mining Engineer Robert O'Brien back in March 1972. O'Brien had concluded that there was no valid discovery of minerals on any of the unpatented claims in North Coleman Canyon. [73] This report could have been used to halt road construction before blasting began, but for some reason it was not. At the end of July, however, the National Park Service obtained a restraining order to stop the blasting and road building. After several years of hearings, the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled on May 5, 1975 that no valuable mineral deposit had been found as of January 20, 1969 (the date the land was withdrawn into the National Park Service), thus making the claims null and void. [74]

This ruling only seemed to increase the determination of Mrs. Tappan. Being a prominent citizen of Wayne County as well as a local contributor to the Salt Lake City newspaper, The Deseret News, she knew how to appeal her case. She wrote to Utah Senators Jake Garn and Frank Moss. She also tried to persuade the National Park Service that all the time and effort she and her family had put into the Tappan claims over the years should be reimbursable. All these efforts produced a great amount of correspondence, but did not change the final decision nullifying the claims. To the end, Evangeline Tappan remained bitter toward the National Park Service for taking her claims. In a 1981 interview with former Chief of Interpretation George Davidson, she continued to argue that there was a good deal of money in the Coleman Canyons that was just being washed away. [75]

Rainy Day Mines

Located about four miles south of the Burr Trail, the Rainy Day mines have produced more uranium than all other areas within the present park boundaries combined. Geologist E. S. Davidson reported, "The Black Widow, Hotshot, Yellow Jacket, and Stud Horse prospects and the Rainy Day mine are the only workings in the Circle Cliffs district from which more than a few truckloads of ore had been shipped as of 1956; the Rainy Day mine had produced more than 75 percent of the total." [76]

The Rainy Day Mines are a series of approximately 25 claims first filed in 1954 by Leo D. Jackson, Blaine Albrecht, and Rutherford Tanner. The last time that the mines were used extensively was probably sometime in the mid- to late 1960s, since that is the latest date found on magazines located in associated buildings. [77] By the time the area was incorporated into Capitol Reef National Park in 1971, there were 12 adits up to 1,800 feet long, two wooden buildings, a large trash dump, a holding pond, and numerous improvements, all served by four miles of dirt road from the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks. Reportedly, over 8,000 tons of ore had been removed from the area. [78] Significantly larger than any mining operation on the old monument lands, this mine would require a good deal of attention in the years ahead.

In the fall of 1972, Leo Jackson leased assessment work to Virgil Adams in return for profits once the mine became active again. Adams used a grader to improve the access road but decided to delay actual drilling since there was no market at the time. Apparently, the assessment work was only being done to keep title to the claims until increasing uranium prices made the Rainy Day profitable. Even so, Leo Jackson seemed resigned to the mine's apparent lack of potential. National Park Service Mining Engineer Harold Ellingson recalled that Jackson's parting comment to him after a September 1972 interview was that "all he wanted was some money for his claims in order to keep his wife from leaving him." [79] By this time, however, the slow pace of nuclear fueled power plants and the ready supply of uranium from elsewhere had made it economically unfeasible to mine the meager sources in the Waterpocket Fold country. Jackson and the others would never get the chance either to extract ore from the mines or sell them. The next uranium boom never came.

By 1976, the National Park Service had asked Bureau of Land Management officials to declare the Rainy Day claims null and void. [80] Then, at the end of 1978, someone performed unspecified assessment work on the mines without a plan of operations, which was by then required. Superintendent Derek Hambly notified Jackson and the other owners to stop all work until such a plan had been approved. [81] On March 24, 1981, the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled that 31 claims associated with the Rainy Day Mines were invalid due to lack of discovery of any significant ores. This decision, however, did validate two claims: Rainy Day Group 1, claims 2 and 3. [82] These two claims were the only mines to be validated out of the over 11,000 claims within Capitol Reef National Park when it was created.

In September 1981 Leo Jackson notified Hambly, as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, that he intended to hold onto these claims but had no plans to begin mining. By 1984, however, Jackson and the other owners of the Rainy Day evidently had given up hope of ever mining the area again, as they did not file required notices of intention in either 1984 or 1985. In obvious relief, the National Park Service moved quickly to terminate these last remaining claims within the park. There is no record of attempts to halt these proceedings. By the end of 1986, the Rainy Day claims were declared null and void. [83]

The Rainy Day Mines were the most productive mines now within Capitol Reef National Monument. They also left the biggest scars. In 1993, the buildings were torn down, debris was placed in the mine tunnels, and the adits were blocked as part of a Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining program to reclaim old mines. An initial $31,600 was allocated for this purpose, with additional money requested to naturalize and revegetate the access road as well. [84]

The Tappan and Rainy Day claims are two of 17 significant mine sites that were incorporated into Capitol Reef National Park. Several of these other sites are documented in the Historic and Active Superintendent's Files at Capitol Reef headquarters in Fruita. Examination of these files and the history of the uranium boom verifies that no one made it rich from this modern search for El Dorado, at least in the Waterpocket Fold country. Nevertheless, despite overwhelming scientific evidence and previous limited success, the search continues to the present day. It is difficult for some to realize that Capitol Reef's riches lie not in mere minerals, but in the sweeping grandeur of its geology, the color and texture of its strata. It is this wealth of scenery that now brings millions of visitors -- and their pocketbooks -- to the region.

The Bird Flagstone Mine

Actually, it was the color and texture of the rock just west of the visitor center that brought about one of the most controversial but short-lived mining conflicts within Capitol Reef. In 1964, Clair Bird obtained a commercial operations lease on State Section 16, Township 29 South Range 6 East, and a mineral lease on the northeast corner of the same section. [85]

The focus of Bird's mineral lease was not uranium, but rather, the deep red ripple rock occurring in large, horizontal layers in the Moenkopi Formation. Remnants of ancient stream beds and mud flats, this ripple rock resembles textured flagstone used in construction. The ripple rock within Capitol Reef had been quarried on a limited scale by Fruita and other local community residents since the area's settlement back in the 1880s. In the 1930s, rockhound Arthur "Doc" Inglesby, the first non-Mormon settler, built his house and fence using some of this flagstone and ripple rock. (His fence rock was apparently later re-used for many of the directional signs within the headquarters area of the park.) Ripple rock was also the main construction material for the CCC road, trail, and building projects in the monument, including the old ranger station and the visitor center, begun in 1964. So, Clair Bird was not the first to mine construction rock within the monument, just the first to do so commercially. [86]

Clair Bird had been continually at odds with Capitol Reef management since the early 1960s. Descended from Fruita pioneer Jorgen Jorgensen, Bird had inherited the Capitol Reef Lodge operation from his father, Archie, and ran it with his mother, Emma. One sore point with park staff was that Clair Bird rarely followed concession policy. He would serve meals and drinks only to guests staying in his lodge, and closed his lodge at some of the busier times of the year. [87]

At first, it appeared that Bird would not be using his state mineral lease. Instead, he used his state section lease to build a Conoco service station and curio shop next to the highway, less than 1/4 mile directly uphill from the visitor center. [88] While this gas station, in plain sight of headquarters, was obviously troubling to park managers, it wasn't a major problem. The situation changed dramatically in October 1970, when bulldozers began cutting an access road from the highway to a mining site west of Bird's service station. According to the terms of Bird's 1964 state mineral lease, mining was to commence within the first year of the lease and be "pursued diligently" after that time, if the lease was to remain valid. Although Bird did not initiate work until six years later, he continued to pay $80 annually to the state, which therefore never began termination proceedings on the claim. [89]

Bird declared that he was planning to use his bulldozers to excavate the rock on both sides of the highway below the scenic Castle formation, and market the material to building companies throughout the West. [90] Once the bulldozers arrived, the National Park Service sought to purchase or exchange other federal land for the mining locale. A state/federal land swap fell through after Bird indicated that he would settle for no less than a prime location on the newly completed Interstate 70 north of the park, or compensation in excess of $100,000. Bird evidently was pressing his advantage to leverage himself a profitable deal. [91]

In early April 1971, National Park Service attempts to acquire Section 16 intensified when Bird began excavating about 20 tons of ripple rock. [92] With the support of the Green Hornet Mining Company of Bloomfield, Col. and supposed markets in Utah, California, and Oklahoma, Bird's flagstone mining operation had a lot of earnings potential. [93] At the request of the National Park Service, Utah Governor Calvin Rampton declared a 30-day moratorium on the mining operation. During this period, the state was able to transfer the property to National Park Service management -- with the stipulation that Bird's valid lease be carried over. "Within hours thereafter," Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nathanial Reed reported, "the National Park Service acting on behalf of the Department of the Interior canceled the lease. The basis of the lease termination was that Bird was doing irreparable damage to an aesthetic, readily visible portion of the monument and his lease was terminated automatically when he failed to begin mining in 1965." [94]

Clair Bird would not concede defeat. The battle raged, with the National Park Service determined to halt the mining and Bird refusing to compromise. A blow-by-blow account was reported in the local and regional newspapers. Since this mining conflict was taking place at the very time the final legislation for Capitol Reef National Park was being debated in Congress, several of the newspaper articles emphasized the local support for Bird. This support, though, was not particularly strong. On one hand, some local citizens were glad to see a local entrepreneur giving the National Park Service fits. On the other hand, others voiced concern about the damage his actions inflicted on the scenery, and the impact of negative publicity on tourism. [95]

Despite Bird's previous actions, the National Park Service apparently believed that he would agree to the lease termination, and was thus unprepared for his next move. Declaring that the National Park Service termination notice was invalid because it failed to allow the 30-day notice stipulated in his lease, Bird announced that he would immediately resume mining. On Sunday, July 11, nine days after the National Park Service acquired the land and served the termination notice, Bird resumed mining flagstone. Caught off guard, the National Park Service was not able to stop the mining for two days, until federal marshals served Bird with a temporary restraining order. [96]

From that point, the mining was halted while the conflict shifted to federal court. Bird won the first round in 1973, when U.S. District Court Judge Willis W. Ritter ruled that the U.S. government owed Bird and Green Hornet Mining $250,000 for wrongfully terminating their mining lease. [97] This judgment was reversed in 1974 by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. While the appellate court ruled that the district court had no jurisdiction to award federal money to Bird, it could not judge the validity of the mining lease because that issue was not part of the appeal. This left the issue unresolved. [98]

Throughout the rest of 1974, both sides attempted to gain the upper hand. The National Park Service put a halt to any immediate attempt to mine the flagstone by requiring Bird to submit a detailed operations plan for the superintendent's approval and to put up a substantial reclamation bond. Clair Bird responded by offering to sell out for $300,000. This could have been the end of the entire episode, except that Capitol Reef had already overspent its land acquisition money authorized by Congress. The National Park Service then asked The Nature Conservancy to help purchase the land. The Nature Conservancy initially approved of the plan but requested that the National Park Foundation also endorse the project. When the foundation refused, the plan fell apart. Once again, the issue was at a stalemate. [99]

Then, in July 1975, Bird quarried two shipments of ripple rock without first submitting the required plan of operations. This brought an immediate reminder from Regional Director Lynn Thompson that Bird must submit not only a mining plan, but also a substantially larger bond than the $5,000 offered to Superintendent Wallace. [100] This proved to be the last attempt by Bird to mine ripple rock. A combination of the rigid National Park Service regulations and the lack of customers for his flagstone put Bird out of the building stone business. Nevertheless, he still held the lease and still posed a potential threat. [101]

In a syndicated article that appeared throughout the country, Bird stated that he was no longer willing to sell. Rather, he declared defiantly, "I may just stay here and mine for 100 years. I'm a bachelor and have no one depending on me, so I don't need their money. And I'd just as soon fight them." [102]

Bird used the article as leverage to re-enter negotiations. In December, 1975 and again in August 1976, Clair Bird notified National Park Service officials of his intent to sell or exchange all his lands within the monument, but the status of the mining lease remained uncertain. There is no record of the National Park Service response. [103]

With his efforts to quarry ripple rock stymied, Bird decided to add a few outbuildings to his lodge operation during the summer of 1977. At this point, the National Park Service had enough. In November, Director William Whalen wrote Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington State, requesting his Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee to approve a declaration of taking so that all of Bird's interests at Capitol Reef could be acquired. Director Whalen argued, "Since there is no possibility of a negotiated settlement with Mr. Bird, it is imperative that his holdings be acquired by filing a declaration of taking to preclude further mining operations and to prevent additional development on the land." [104]

As part of the proceedings to buy out Clair Bird, his mining lease was analyzed in May 1978. The examination showed clearly that if Bird had ever had a market for his ripple rock, it had long since vanished. This lack of a market, the failure to follow the requirements of his lease, and the fact that an insignificant amount had either been taken from the site or royalties paid to the federal government, proved to the appraiser that the mining lease on section 16 "had a NIL VALUE as of January 13, 1978." This date was the official date of closing for all of Bird's properties within the park and he was notified to vacate his Capitol Reef properties by June 15, 1978. [105]

The park service tore down Capitol Reef Lodge and the Conoco gas station about a year later, and naturalized the Bird ripple rock quarry as best it could. In 1994, visual evidence of Bird's business ventures at Capitol Reef is hardly visible.

The quarrying of ripple rock at Capitol Reef was not very profitable. For one thing, Capitol Reef's isolation meant high shipping costs to get the raw materials to the buyers, who evidently lost interest and withdrew from the deal. After that, Clair Bird seemed determined to continue his quarry operations more to defy the National Park Service than to make an actual profit. Possibly, Bird's goal from the beginning was to win compensation from the National Park Service in exchange for his mining lease. In any case, Bird cost the National Park Service a great deal of time and money in trying to stop him, virtually daring the agency to condemn his holdings within the park. This exasperating case is a strong argument for the National Park Service to acquire all state sections within the park as soon as possible.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002