Landscape photography is a great way to learn things about places you wouldn’t otherwise learn. Often, when I photograph a place and then return home, I’ll see something in a photo that makes me curious and encourages me to do some homework.
When I was a kid, I wandered all over Southern Utah (as I still do whenever I have the chance). On one of those wanderings many years ago I saw Church Rock on the highway between Moab and Monticello for the first time.
The rock is picturesque on it’s own but I noticed from the first time I saw it that someone had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to begin cutting an entryway into the stone. If you look at the base of the rock in the picture you’ll see the small black rectangle at the base.
I was always curious about that hole. I couldn’t imagine that the rock itself would hold a significant amount of any valuable mineral that could interest a miner. Perhaps someone was creating a home for themselves (like the Hole in the Rock home nearby). In any event, prior to the internet, it remained a mystery.
When I took this picture of Church Rock a few years ago I remembered the mystery of the doorway. I realized that with the internet I might be able to find some answers. I did some searching on line and found out that the site was once the home of a strange cult called the “Home of Truth”.
The cult was founded by Marie Ogden, a charismatic spiritualist. Ogden lead her followers from Newark, New Jersey to this empty part of the Utah desert to found a Utopian spiritualist community. The community had as many as 100 members at its peak who gave all their assets to the community and were expected to work (mostly by farming) to support it.
The cult eventually fell apart when an attempt by Ogden to raise a member from the dead failed. The event cast doubts on the spiritual power of the leader and also lead to problems with the local authorities. After that, the remains of the cult fell on hard times.
The story is that the cult had intended Church Rock to eventually become their Cathedral. Only the 16 by 24 foot opening was ever completed. If it had come to be, the supposed Cathedral would have been impressive.
Unfortunately, the story that the rock was to be used by the cult is apocryphal. The opening was created by a local rancher to store salt and feed for his cattle.
However, reading about the cult lead me in a new direction. The cult actually built three settlements in the area which they named the Inner, Outer and Middle Portals. The Inner Portal was where Marie Ogden, her daughter and her closest followers lived. According to Ogden, the Inner Portal was the exact center of the Earth’s Axis and only those who lived there would survive the coming calamities of the Last Days.
The Outer Portal was made up of a communal house and dormitory while the Middle Portal, the largest, had numerous buildings, dormitories, storage units and would have been the home to the cult’s chapel, had it ever been completed.
Today, it turns out that the Outer Portal is completely gone. The Inner Portal, over looking the valley from a few miles away was occupied as late as the 1970s. Although most of the buildings of the Inner Portal still exist, the site is fenced and marked “No Tresspassing”.
The Middle Portal is in the valley just to the west of Highway 191 and to the south of Highway 211. Highway 211 is the route to the entrance of Canyonlands Needles district.
In any event, the Middle Portal was accessible. So, on our last trip to Canyonlands this spring we drove out to the site and explored the ruins of the Middle Portal.
In upcoming posts I’ll show some of the photos I took exploring the Middle Portal. Stay tuned.
BTW: should you want to order a print of Church Rock, you will find it in my on-line store here.