Water makes a town
A look at Western culture's development
September 22, 2007
Craig — In the first half of the 20th century, western Moffat County already was bustling with sheep ranchers and towns supporting the homesteaders and ranchers alike.
Some towns were no more than a wide spot in the road where drivers could take a break and ranchers could collect mail.
Elk Springs was a popular winter range for sheep ranchers, and sheering crews could work on a number of herds from one location.
An increasing demand for oil during World War II began a shift from agriculture to energy in Moffat County as early as 1943.
Between Maybell and the Utah state line were the towns of Elk Springs, Massadona, Blue Mountain, Skull Creek and Artesia.
Artesia, named after the springs supplying valuable water to the otherwise high desert terrain, would evolve into the community of Dinosaur after the National Monument was created. Prior to being named Artesia, the location was known as Baxter Springs after owners Art and Fanny Baxter.
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An artesian well also was dug about eight miles east of the Dinosaur springs, and that well made possible the town of Blue Mountain.
“The well is 432 feet deep and sits up from Highway 40,” Blue Mountain resident Leona Hemmerich said. “Artesia was first, but Blue Mountain followed, and now there are 10 houses on the well.”
The water came from a free flowing well that required no pump, and the water turned the dry and dusty ground into an oasis for travelers and oil-field workers.
Earl Gadd was convinced the spot was ideal for a community, and got to work on subdividing lots at the location.
The town of Blue Mountain was founded in the 1940s and maps show it contained more than 70 large lots and 46 smaller lots.
A published ad for the subdivision declared, “There’s water here, and plenty of it.”
Lots were sold in the Gadd subdivision, and people soon built houses and planted gardens.
Bill Mitchem, co-owner of the Bedrock Depot with Hemmerich in Dinosaur, recalls events contributing to the town’s growth.
“In 1946, they built the Blue Mountain Road,” he said. “It follows Stinking Water Creek and ties into Highway 64 just west of Rangely.”
Mitchem said the road was a “big deal” when it was built, because it cut several miles off the trip to Rangely when coming from Craig, and drivers would bypass the haul over Mellon Hill west of Rangely by following the creek drainage.
Signs advertising the Blue Mountain subdivision, asked interested people to contact W. E. Gadd in Skull Creek, and they referred to the town as, “The gateway to the Rangely oil fields.”
“There were more than a dozen houses,” Hemmerich said. “My house was a restaurant, and across the street was a gas station.”
The restaurant was a steakhouse that also contained a bar, and a motel was nearby, Hemmerich said.
Thirty years ago, burgers still were being served to hunters in the fall, and because the town held a post office, it appeared on maps across the country.
Although many roads with tree names were plotted and planned, only a few exist today in the Blue Mountain community.
Slabs of concrete around Blue Mountain tell of times past, when an earlier oil-boom brought people to the remote reaches of Moffat County.
“There are foundations everywhere,” Hemmerich said. “My horse corral has a foundation in it.”
Blue Mountain wasn’t the only development to benefit from the post-war oil boom in America.
Skull Creek had a service station and a small community before U.S. Highway 40 was built, bypassing the location.
Just west of Blue Mountain, a pull off spot known as Pop’s Place offered cabins as well as gas and oil at the “trucker’s home” on the north side of Highway 40.
A log structure is all that remains, along with a concrete stand for the gas pumps and rows of trees planted in straight lines.
Today, modern highway signs tell motorists passing through the names of the towns that once lined the highway.
A current energy boom also has created renewed interest in Dinosaur, with repairs underway on a formerly abandon motel on the west side of town, and subdivisions being plotted for approval by city officials.
Much of Blue Mountain is now part of the K ranch, Hemmerich said, but she need look no further than the corral to see history that was once part of the Gadd subdivision in Blue Mountain.
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or firstname.lastname@example.org