The Wasatch Behind
Remembering Fort Moki
The most impressive Indian ruin in all of Glen Canyon sat on a sandstone promontory across the river from Hite. It was a two or three storied building built by the Anasazi people 800-years ago. The ruin was about 22 feet square and stood 12 feet high in the 1950s. It was 100 feet above the river with a commanding view of the valley. John Wesley Powell, Cass Hite and others, called the place "Fort Moki."
Some of us remember Fort Moki. She was probably the most visited prehistoric site in Glen Canyon before Lake Powell. There were dozens of names carved in the sandstone there. Men from the Powell expeditions, early prospectors, pioneers, cowboys and river runners all left their mark.
But then, in 1963 the U.S. Department of Reclamation closed the gates on the Glen Canyon damn (pun intended) and the old Moki fort was gone, along with everything else in the canyon. When the lake crested in 1988, the ruin was 100 feet below the surface.
This year the water level of Lake Powell is so low the old Moki fort is being resurrected. Because I've written a few things about Fort Moki these past dozen years or so, I've had two different groups contact me this spring asking for information. A group of professional river runners and a nice young lady from the National Registry of Historic Places want to see the old fort when she rises into the sunshine again. I've been happy to give directions and offer advice about how to get there. For you see, this will be the second time the old fort has been resurrected.
Jeannie and I were there the first time.
For forty years, from 1965 to 2005, the old fort was underwater. In the late fall of 2004, acting on a hunch, we went to Farley Canyon and hiked out on a rim where we could look out over the lake. Sure enough, with binoculars we could see the first signs of crumpled walls rising up out of the water.
We hiked in overland on January 30, 2005 and it was an adventure. The full story was printed in Blue Mountain Shadows Magazine, Spring Edition, 2006. To make a long story short, we got stranded overnight in the ledges. The night was bitterly cold and we survived by kicking up and burning half-an-acre of Park Service sagebrush (sorry about that guys). Being hardy souls, we didn't call for a rescue helicopter and we got out okay the next morning.
We were the first people to see the old fort after her 40-year sleep in cold water. There was not a track in the mud anywhere around the ruin. To our surprise, the rock walls and piles of rubble were washed clean by the receding water. We had expected to find only mounds of mud. Dried lake silt was about five inches deep along the sandstone approaches to the building. Beneath that, the old pioneer inscriptions were still as bold and bright as ever. Forty years underwater hadn't hurt them at all.
We took some pictures and I remembered some good times by touching those old walls. The walls were only four feet high when she came out of the water. The upper walls had collapsed into the interior of the building from the weight of the water. It was great to be there on that clear winter's day. The sun was bright and silver clouds were reflected on the water. We were the only people there. We never saw a single boat on the lake the whole time. The world was clean and quiet.
What does this have to do with anything important? Absolutely nothing. It's just a reminder that we should never despair. Nothing is ever truly lost. Things change. We change. And the world goes on its way.
Sometimes I wish I had never made the trek back to see the ruins of the ruin in the lake. That's not how I want to remember her. Wearing the rose-colored glasses of my youth, she's still a magic castle on a hill. If you go to Lake Powell this summer, stop and see Fort Moki. Tell her that kid from Wellington says hello.
She'll know who you're talking about.