San Rafael Swell

Four Swell Stories

Overview of the San Rafael Swell—The San Rafael Swell landscape reveals a geological history laid bare through millennia of upheaval and erosion. The geologic history of the San Rafael Swell area began 40 to 60 million years ago when a massive uplift formed a geologic antic line. This bulge in the earth’s crust eventually eroded to leave high mesas, deep canyons, domes, spectacular arches, and spires. The terrain varies from the sheer cliffs and dazzling canyons to more gently carved badlands broken by shallow washes. The fins and folds of the San Rafael Reef jut through the southeast side of the area with dramatic sheer-walled cliffs, pinnacles, the knobs of Goblin Valley, twisted canyons, and valleys of stunning colors. Few canyons can compare to the entrenched, narrow gorges of the Black Boxes of the San Rafael River which twists and turns through the San Rafael Swell. At the Head of Sinbad, water flows to the north, south, east, and west.

In Southeast Utah’s Emery County lies a vast geologic dome 80 miles long and 30 miles wide. An area thrust upwards by a geologic upheaval 40 to 60 million years ago and since eroded into fantastic multi-colored features, desert land of high geological interest. breathtaking scenery of national significance.

Elements of wind, water, and time have created a symphony for the eye.

Historical remains attest to the area’s ranching and mining heritage. Swasey’s cabin was part of the Swasey families’ Wild Horse ranch

At the Copper Globe Mine lie the remnants of an attempt to mine and smelt copper in the early 1900s, and at Temple Mountain are the abandoned workings of uranium exploration and mining

The San Rafael Swell also contains evidence of prehistoric peoples who occupied the area between 11000 B.C. and 1250 A.D. Fascinating examples of their rock art may be seen at the Rochester/Muddy Panel.

A significant site is the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, a National Natural Landmark, since 1966. Ranchers and sheepmen were the first to find the petrified bones of dinosaurs and carnivores that had been trapped in the mud of a freshwater lake nearly 150 million years ago.

Since 1928, excavations have uncovered more than 12,000 bones of at least 70 different animals as well as a dinosaur egg, complete with embryo.

The Swell provides excellent habitat for wildlife. More than 200 sure-footed Desert Bighorn Sheep live among the crags of this rugged landscape.

Also found in the area are Bald Eagles and Peregrin Falcons, both Federally listed Endangered Species and other birds of prey, including Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and Prairie Falcons

Free roaming wild horses and burros also inhabit the Swell. Descended from animals left by early travelers and from those let loose with the coming of the automobile and mechanized farming, these horses and burros are protected by federal law and managed by BLM.

The Copper Globe Mine Area—Accessed from Justensen Flats south of I-70, Copper Globe Mine is a popular historic mining site, with remnants from a circa 1900 copper mining operation.

Accessed from Justensen Flats south of I-70, Copper Globe Mine is a popular historic mining site, with remnants from a circa 1900 copper mining operation.

Mine adits, a historic wood pile which may have been collected for utilization as fuel in the smelting process, cabins, cowboy petroglyphs, and an old grave site can be seen in this area. 
There is no known record of actual copper production from the site. The Copper Globe Mine was never a successful operation. A smelter was built on site to melt down the ore that was brought out of the mine. 

Fire brick was used for the majority of the furnace, but they ran out and decided to chance using "green brick" made on the spot.

The fuel used is still on site at the mine.  A large pile of Pinion was cut and stacked to be ready for the process. When it was fired up the smelter not only melted the ore but the brick it was constructed of.

The old mine workings were developed into a tabular deposit in the Navajo Sandstone Formation. Exercise extreme caution when exploring this site, and do not enter the old mines. One very deep vertical shaft, currently fenced, is particularly dangerous and should not be approached.

The site includes such things as: horizontal and vertical mine shafts, numerous mine shacks and cabins complete with beds, fire places and one stocked with canned goods and camping supplies, the historic (and shrinking) . . .

 . . . woodpile which fueled the kiln, the powder magazine that tunnels into the solid rock hillside beneath the woodpile, a water cistern once was covered by a roof, and one old mine shaft complete with a wooden ladder leading down inside.
There is  a stone monument on Copper Globe Flat which reads: Henry H. Jensen of Mayfield, Utah was found dead Dec. 16, 1890. Blood and trails in the snow showed he had walked and crawled a mile after he was shot. He still held to his rifle herding sheep for the Witbecks. It is said the Robbers Roost gang warned all sheep to "Stay out of this herding mesa." He was carried out on a pack mule to the brink of Eagle Canyon to a buckboard 7 miles. He was found by Will and Otto Witbeck. Otto was killed in the Lopez Massacre west of Utah Lake, 1913. Historical records are strangely silent regarding this incident, but it would appear to be quite reasonable to assume that Henry Jensen died in a dispute over grazing rights. x

The Cold War—The history of the Cold War is written in the San Rafael Swell. Uranium and Radium exploration and mining at Temple Mountain started as early as 1898. Folklore says that Madam Curie visited there with Joe Swasey as her guide. Uranium exploration and mining intensified after World War II and the remnants of these mines are visible today, along with the rags to riches and back to rags chronicles of the men who staked the claims and dug the tunnels of hope and heartbreak.

In late 1947 military personal suddenly appeared in the Buckhorn Flat Area, provoking widespread speculation and rumors that were further fed by the atmosphere of Cold War secrecy. Eventually it was announced that explosives were to be detonated deep underground to test the structure of the rock.

The north side of Temple Mountain was mined for many years for uranium. When the ore was discovered in 1898 by Joe Swasey, others including Oscar Beebe, Ira Browning, and Seymour Olsen filed claims in 1904.

The discovery of rich deposits of ore in the Belgian Congo was the end of the demand for the ore from Emery County.

This old rusted truck is left from the uranium mining days. Many men explored for uranium in the Swell trying to make it rich, very few did. Mine adits left from the prospecting for commercial minerals are seen all through the San Rafael Swell. In most cases mining was a fruitless endeavor.

Uranium mine near Rod's Valley was mined in the mid 1950s. More than fifty thousand claims were filed in the County Recorder’s office between 1950 and 1956.

CCC-Civilian Conservation Corps—The Civilian Conservation Corp was active in the San Rafael Swell region building roads, the San Rafael bridge (on the National Register of Historic Places), stock watering ponds, and other range improvements that helped bring local ranchers through the Great Depression. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took over as president in March 1933 the country was in the midst of the worst depression ever experienced in the United States. Among the organizations established to help relieve the situation was the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was designed to simultaneously solve two of the major problems facing the country: provide financial relief and help implement conservation

The Swinging Bridge over the San Rafael River was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

This bridge was build by the CCC in the 1930s and it is still used today.

Many projects were taken on in the San Rafael Swell by the CCC ranging from roads to ponds to bridges and many others.

This culvert was constructed by the CCC in the 1930s and is still being used today.

Stock water pond below Chimney Rock. Without ponds built by the CCC, BLM and cattlemen to provide water, the grazing of livestock in the San Rafael Swell would be impossible. These valuable ponds also provide a precious extra sources of water for wildlife. Wild horses, burros, antelope, deer and desert big horn sheep can be seen along with a variety of waterfowl.