When God created southeastern Utah, he probably didn't have Conestoga wagons in mind.
The same goes for positraction.
Allee Hamilton of Modesto, husband Alan and their eldest son, Troy, discovered this last month when they joined two dozen other family members to retrace the steps of ancestors who blazed a trail through southeastern Utah in 1879.
The difference? Their kinfolk covered some of the West's most rugged and treacherous terrain in covered wagons, afoot or on horseback.
The modern-day contingent used five four-wheel drive vehicles and a couple of motorcycles to cross some of the roughest country in the state.
This is the kind of thing people do to understand the hardships their forebears endured and to pass down the family heritage to the younger generations.
Of course, it always seems easier on paper, Alan Hamilton said. Completing the trek became a dangerous and daunting task.
"(The original pioneers) got into the middle of it and said, 'What have we gotten ourselves into?' " he said. "We said the same thing."
In 1879, Mormon church officials directed a man named Silas Smith to lead 15 wagons with more than 200 people to establish settlements in southeastern Utah. Among the group was Platte Lyman, Allee Hamilton's great-great-grandfather. They would leave the town of Escalante for a place about 120 miles to the southeast called Bluff, where a couple of families had settled.
Of the three possible routes — each requiring a Colorado River crossing — they could find easier traveling on established roads and trails to the north, which would cover about 450 miles. They could go south, a 250-mile trail over land that had too little water and feed and too many Indians. Or they could take the straightest route — 120 miles as the crow flies — over country much rougher than the two other routes. They chose the last one, clearly underestimating the landscape and what it would take to cross it.
They had to blast their way through some tight spots and build makeshift ramps and bridges to move the wagons, animals and people. At one point, Smith went back to Escalante to get more explosives and supplies, and Lyman took over as the trail master.
"What was supposed to be a six-week trip turned into six months," Alan said.
They endured miserable heat and brutal snowstorms.
Two babies didn't survive the trip. Nor did several animals.
"Had they known," Allee Hamilton said, "they wouldn't have made that choice."
Fast-forward 120 years, to the family's trip that began Sept. 26 and ended Oct. 1.
This one covered about 26 miles, from the Colorado River's Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to Bluff. Some of the men began near Bluff by driving the route west to the Colorado, stashing water and supplies along the way. Others met them at the Colorado by boat, and some took a five-mile day hike to get a closer look at the Hole In The Rock, a narrow slit in the landscape named by the original pioneers.
On a scorching-hot day, they went through their water too quickly and had to call for help on the walkie-talkies their ancestors had lacked.
"It was a bona fide emergency," Alan Hamilton said.
Three of them experienced heat exhaustion.
"They were still in trouble," Allee said. "It was as close as we were going to come to feeling what (the pioneers) felt. Their lives were in peril."
Eventually, the group began its trip from the river toward Bluff and the elements again took their toll.
"The Arizona-southern Utah sun," Alan Hamilton said, "I've never seen anything like it. It baked my face the first day."
In camp one night, a sandstorm blew at them and coated their food with dust so fine they didn't even notice it while eating. Winds they estimated at 50 mph made it an adventure just to set up their tents.
Their four-wheel drives struggled with the steep and rocky terrain. Twice, vehicles nearly tipped over and one saw a rear wheel come two feet off the ground as the front end plunged into a crack. One member of the party driving a rented Jeep thought he was a goner when it nearly rolled, Alan Hamilton said.
"The look on his face was pure fear," he said. "And he readily admitted it."
Many of the women walked rather than take their chances in the 4x4s, Allee Hamilton said.
"I'm not that adventuresome," she said.
And those darned creature comforts ... . On the final night of the trip, Alan Hamilton's air mattress went flat.
"I spent the whole night on a rock," he said. "When I woke up the next morning, I could hardly move."
Makes you wonder what the pioneers did when their air mattresses went flat. Oh, right ...
So would they re-enact their re-enactment if asked?
"Only if our (other three) children wanted to go," Alan Hamilton said.
"It was the experience of a lifetime," his wife said.
And one, like the journey their ancestors made 120 years ago, their descendants will be talking about for ages.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.