Coal and the life it has provided for generations of Castle Country residents has pinned the black rock to local hearts forever. Coal, however, is not the only product to bring the life blood of population and industry to Carbon and Emery counties. Author, instructor and mining claim owner Craig Evan Royce's most recent book "Uranium Seekers, A photo-essay Tribute to Miners," is a chronicle of the stalwart and magical people who came west, with pick axes and mules, looking to pull a life from the land.
In Royce's own words, Uranium Seekers is a, "loosely edited collection of snippets from a much larger original text I had compiled back in the mid-1970s. I wanted to chronicle America's Uranium industry and pay tribute to the hands of the men and women who chased radioactive ore bodies below the earth's crust, often many miles from domestic water."
Sitting with Royce at Sheperd's Cafe in East Carbon, he continues, "remember uranium was developed to cure cancerous growths, that is what Madame Curie was working on."
According to the California native, a significant portion of the Uranium ore collected since the turn of the century has been mined right here in the San Rafael Swell at Temple Mountain. Royce, who to this day still owns mining claims in the Swell, took a jagged path before landing in Utah's Castle Country. In the early 1970s, the self-professed "art junky" owned a small museum and gallery in Laguna Beach, which specialized in Kentucky bred artists, when he was visited by Brenda Migliaccio-Kalatzes.
"She learned that I had a book coming out and told me she had quite an amazing story for me," said Royce, whose first work, "Country Miles are Longer than City Miles," was just being published. "She began relaying the story of her father Lawrence Migliaccio and his peers. The Pioneers of Temple Mountain. Needless to say, I was blown away."
The project took on a life of its own at this point as Migliaccio compensated Royce for expenses, and sent him to Utah in order to collect information about her father's history and the history of uranium mining in the Swell.
"We worked for years to document her father as well as many other miners of the time," said Royce. "Her father Lawrence became famous for several reasons including court battles concerning land boundaries as well as the environment."
As we speak of the legal issues that Craig insists often tell the story of mining more than anything else, it becomes clear just how vital this issue is to Royce's existence. Whether it be coal, uranium or any other prize, Royce's passion and by proxy the passion of this book, emanate from his knowledge of the land and the people who draw life from it. The book's center is staged on Royce's appreciation of people. Of miners, their dedication and struggle, their failure and success.
Uranium Seekers begins in Central City, Colo., where, according to the author, the earliest record of Uranium's existence in the United States dates to 1871 on Denver's "Front Range."
"Because of the ruggedness, age, isolation and intensity of this region, uranium and associated properties have always been available, primarily, to persons of tremendous vision and strength," states Royce in the book's first chapter.
To the author, his time in Utah was precious from the beginning. He describes the 1970's as the last period where America's true "west" was available to all who wished to become part of its storied independence.
"In 1976, with the passage of the Federal Land Policy Management Act, in which the government mandated bodies to identify all the land in the western United States with wilderness characteristics," he explained. "Where man's imprint is not noticeable. All the land had to be identified by 1979. So on my first trip here, this was still the wild west. At that time, a man could go out in the morning penniless and come home that night a multimillionaire."
According to Royce, the Uranium boom provided another "gold rush," only much smaller and ending much more quickly. To the author, this act, closed with finality the availability for the individual to really "strike it rich," on his own.
As Uranium Seekers moves from Colorado to Temple Mountain, the story of Lawrence Migliaccio begins. And as the book blossoms, the sheer amount of names and dates shows the depth of his research from the late 1970s.
Almost as important as the book's words are the images which were captured by world famous photographer and portrait specialist, Martin. Having known the Hollywood facet from his time in Laguna Beach, Royce was able to lure Martin to the desert.
"When Brenda told me about these histories, I immediately thought of Martin and how cool it would be to take him from the Sunset Strip to Temple Mountain," he said.
In addition to Martin, who is the book's principle photographer. Two images are also included by award winning sports photographer Al Szabol.
From Moab to Monticello and Cresent Junction, Uranium Seekers, tell a sweeping tale of mining history from a bit of a different angle. The focus on the Migliaccio is especially detailed and well crafted.
Royce's enchantment with the area only grew after his experiences in the late 1970s. He still owns the mineral rights to a claim in the San Rafael Swell, a right he has maintained since 1980. After leaving California for SEC Athletics and the University of Kentucky, Royce has followed a meandering path, which always seemed to point to Utah. Following his college graduation, he chased several occupations ranging from art curator to the life of a Peregrine Falcon restoration volunteer.
Today, the semi-retired Royce works part-time as a teacher for Pinnacle Canyon Academy in Price. He can be found at most every school basketball game providing his own unique form of excited motivation and congratulations for every nice play. The eclectic author stands out, whether at a game or jogging in his home town of East Carbon. The sincerity which lies within the author and shines through pages of Uranium Seekers begins with the book's dedication.
"To all miners from Crandall Canyon, Utah to Upper Big Branch, West Virginia and on to China. Miners who now lay, eternally entombed, where standing, within their portal. For miners are persons who make light where once there was only darkness...."
Uranium Seekers is available USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum as well as the Helper Mining and Railroad Museum and Amazon online.