Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Red Rock Lodge

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.

21 comments:

PeterDeMan said...

This past summer my goal was for us to head to Utah on the bike and see the entire state, plus head to Yellowstone. We had cut across Utah in the 90s on a bike trip and always wanted to go back. Unfortunately (and it still kinda bums me out), the altitude out there was more than my lungs could deal with and we would have had to carry lots of oxygen, not easy on a motorcycle with small trailer. It's one of those disappointments of life I just have to deal with

Gorilla Bananas said...

Well, that makes me see John Wayne in new light. Quite a wise old bird he was. What does Nancy think of the Butch Cassidy movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford?

The Mother said...

How fun! I love history. Personal history is even more fun.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Peter It's a beautiful place, but DAMN, it's hot in the summer.

Bananas We both enjoyed the film, though like many historical dramas, they took a few liberties with the truth. But the gang was very real, as I will reveal in future posts.

Dr. Mom Nancy has some fascinating history, and some interesting stories yet to tell.

DJan said...

As a fellow skydiver, you might be aware that every fall the Mother of All Boogies (MOAB) is held there, with planes flown in from Eloy.

GutsyWriter said...

Wow, Nancy has quite a lot of famous stuff going on. My husband is a huge fan of the Duke, especially as his name is Duke.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan No, I didn't know that, I always thought the big boogies were in the mid-west someplace, Illinois comes to mind. Really, Moab!? Hell it's up 4k in elevation. I've always jumped closer to sea level... longer ride.

Gutsy Well, he's a big name in Orange County, obviously. Particularly the airport. *grins*

Marylinn Kelly said...

Growing up, westerns were the first choice for family movie-going. What colorful memories of those who gave us those entertainments and that astonishing scenery (John Ford and THE SEARCHERS still a favorite). I think it would have been just plain cool to own a place that had its own postcards.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Marylinn I am so sad that westerns are not made any more. I totally loved them. I had a cowboy hat and a set of two pearl-handled six shooters (caps). We used to watch westerns at the Saturday matinee then play cowboys and indians the rest of the afternoon. My mother's lipstick often gracing my chest and face with war paint.

Nance said...

That was a marvelous story, especially the Los Alamos part.

Seems to me that plumbing would be a good line to be in right now, in this economy. Not so many new installations, maybe, which are easier, but plenty of repair work available. People gotta have plumbing. (Pardon me; I'm "collecting" examples of recession-resistant jobs.)

Rain said...

I love southern Utah and have spent a fair amount of time there through the years although not nearly as much as I'd like. Moab is fantastic as a base for petroglyphs, red rock country and many great hikes. Lovely story.

Anonymous said...

Yes, my parents went to a teacher conference when I was in the 4th grade and were told that I had a problem of "exaggerating" what with one great-grandfather being a sheriff killed in a jail break and another great-grandfather being a giant in the circus (7'11.75"), not to mention the "John Wayne" stories.
Nancy

Robert the Skeptic said...

Nance I agree, plumbers, electricians and that sort are pretty hard to contract out with China to do.

Rain There is a classic petroglyph of a Mastodon near Moab that someone damaged by shooting a gun at it. But Nancy's father took a black-and-whit picture of it before it was defaced. Nancy used to hike around those canyons with her dad when she was a little girl.

Anonymous (Nancy) I think you should co-author some of these blog entries. You have some interesting family history.

Rain said...

I like the ones that are out toward Hunter Canyon, the place called birthing rock as it shows a woman giving birth to something, possibly the earth, but it's supposed to be where the People would go to either encourage their pregnancies or when having a baby. There are other petroglyphs on that rock that look like space beings but also might be shaman. I had never seen the one of the mastodons and really have never seen one on a petroglyph but it sounds wonderful. Good she at least has a photo of it. I photograph birthing rock every time I go there.

Madame DeFarge said...

Fascinating story. You make me want to jump on a plane and go there right now. Mostly because it's freezing over here!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain> I haven't seen those particular petroglyphs but the one of the "spaceman" is most likely a "mud head", a Kachina from the ancient Anastasi.

Madame I recently saw the satellite photos of the UK, it looks like one solid glacier. Unfortunately, thought the precipitation is very low in Moab, it is frightfully cold there as well.

GutsyWriter said...

Please can you put an RSS feed on your blog so we can follow your posts. Google Feedburner. You'll get more followers. Thanks, Sonia.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Gutsy I "think" I figured it out!!?? Let me know if this isn't working.

Entre Nous said...

I love this post, a micro-backstory for Red Rock, which I loved hiking.

Village Markett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dianeh said...

Did you take the photo of the arches? Beautiful.