Nancy’s lineage reads like pages from a Zane Gray Western Novel. Her mother grew up in Santa Fe on a ranch; the ranch is now a tourist attraction. Nancy's dad was likewise raised on a farm in Moab Utah. His grandfather, Nancy’s great grandfather, was the local sheriff during the era of the real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the “Hole-in-the-wall gang” with which great grandfather had a couple run-ins with. But I’ll save those stories for a future post.
Nancy’s grandfather, Howard Shields, was an enterprising man. Ranching was hard work for low pay. Noticing there were no plumbers in Santa Fe, Howard acquired the necessary skills and soon set up a plumbing shop. During WWII, the government set up some sort of odd research laboratory in nearby Los Alamos. There was a flurry of construction going on at this facility which nobody quite knew what it was for. In any event, they needed a good plumber and so Howard got the job.
Again, why the government would want to build some kind of base in the nowhere part of New Mexico desert was a mystery. Even more puzzling was that Howard noticed that most of the people there spoke a lot of different foreign languages. It wasn’t until sometime later after the war that Howard realized he had been the “official” plumber for the Manhattan Project.
Howard moved to Moab where his daughter Wanda met her then-to-be Nancy’s father, Melvin. Howard had done well in the plumbing business and so had purchased some land in Moab. He built a trailer park, Laundromat and a motel, the Red Rock Lodge.
Moab is situated in some of the most scenic region of the United States; most notably, Arches National Park is just outside of town. The Colorado River cuts through the red rock canyons there winding its way on to the Grand Canyon. To decorate the motel, Howard and a friend located a small natural sandstone arch somewhere out in the desert which they promptly dug up, loaded onto a trailer, and planted in the front of the motel. I guess nothing says Red Rock Lodge better than a red rock arch outside the motel office. You couldn’t pull off a stunt like that today, without running afoul of the law.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Arches, Canyon lands, Monument Valley and other beautifully scenic locations were the backdrop for cowboy and western movies. Directors such John Houston brought their casts and crew to these locations to shoot some of the classic westerns in cinema history. Needing a place to house the actors and crew, The Red Rock Lodge was a favorite of director John Houston and cowboy actors such as John Wayne, Jack Elam, and others.
When Nancy was a little girl the family would vacation with relatives in Moab every summer and would often help Howard with remodeling projects at the motel. One day Howard and Nancy’s father, Mel, were installing the latest new enhancement to motel technology – air conditioning. They knocked on the door of John Wayne’s room asking permission to install one of the new air conditioners. Wayne warned the pair that they should start instead with Mr. Houston’s room; the temperamental director apparently was even more so when he was too hot. Wayne figured it would be a hell of a lot easier on the cast and crew shooting in the desert on location if Houston got his air conditioning before the rest of them.
Howard and his wife Lena sold the plumbing business, Laundromat and finally the motel and retired in comfort to a house Howard built a near the motel. For years Howard and Lena Shields received cards and letters from some of the biggest stars in western films.
Both Howard and Lena died a few years ago but the Red Rock Lodge is still in Moab, catering now to an upscale clientele of mountain bikers who have descended on the red rock trails of Arches National Park.