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American Roads: Site Map > Auto Trails > Auto Trail Articles > Motor Age article January 25 1917

Easy Grades on Arrowhead Trail

Connects Lincoln and National Old Trails Routes

by Al. G. Waddell

― from Motor Age, January 25 1917.


On the dry lake bed 6 miles below Jean, Nevada.

On the dry lake bed 6 miles below Jean, Nev. For 12 miles the tourist on the Arrowhead trail can make a mile a minute over this stretch.


A common-sense road from the engineer's viewpoint because of low altitudes and easy grades, a road of unparalleled beauties from a scenic standpoint, a road every foot of which is teeming with memories and romance of an elder day—that is the Arrowhead trail from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. No one can truly say he knows the West until he has traveled it.
It is 913 miles from Los Angeles to Salt Lake by the route Cactus Kate II [the car] followed over the Arrowhead trail. If the Silver Lake cut-off from Barstow to Jean, Nev., is built, this distance will be shortened to approximately 850 miles. Nowhere did Kate find forbidding grades, and nowhere altitudes that would mean roads blocked with snow in the winter. Neither are there stretches of sand to be traversed, such as present serious problems on the Colorado desert routes, and the roadbuilder’s task on the Arrowhead trail is an easy one.

The sentinel in Little Zion canyon.

The sentinel in Little Zion canyon, a 3,000-ft. pinnacle of sandstone. Little Zion has recently been made a national park. It is located in Washington county, Utah.


The greatest barrier today in the improvement of the Arrowhead trail is political, rather than physical. Between Bunkerville, Nev., and St. George, Utah, the Arrowhead trail crosses diagonally the extreme northwest corner of Arizona. It is a portion of the state that is separated physically from the rest of Arizona by the Colorado river and a vast range of mountains and, as a matter of fact, should never have been made a part of Arizona at all. Mohave county naturally dislikes to spend road money in a portion of the county where not a tenth of 1 per cent of its population will benefit from it. The adjoining counties in Utah and Nevada would like to spend money on this stretch of road, but have no legal right to do so with county funds.
The men who are boosting the Arrowhead trail are in no wise discouraged by this phase of the project, however.
“We’re going to improve the road, and look for the state line afterwards,” is the way Ed Cox, Bunkerville, Nev., promises to solve the problem.

Route Is Inspected

A delegation of good roads men, starting from Las Vegas, Nev., has been over the road to Salt Lake City, picking up representatives all the way from the towns along the route, soliciting aid in all the Utah towns the Arrowhead trail passes through. They have laid before Governor Spry of Utah the case for the Arrowhead trail and shown him pictures obtained by the party that made the trip in Cactus Kate, asking that the state of Utah improve the road from St. George to the Utah line. Clark county, Nev., will take care of the improvement to be done from Bunkerville to the Nevada-Arizona line, and it is hoped to secure private donations enough to take care of the portion of the road that lies in Arizona. Then if San Bernardino county, California, fulfills her pledge to build a road through her borders to the Nevada line, the improved Arrowhead trail will be an actuality.

Map showing the Arrowhead trail.

Map showing the Arrowhead trail, which in early days was called the Mormon trail. This route connects Lincoln and National Old Trails routes.


Nowhere in the United States can be found a more loyal set of good roads workers than Cactus Kate found along the Arrowhead trail. From St. Thomas, Nev., to Juab, Utah, a distance of nearly 250 miles, the Arrowhead trail lies through communities remote from the railroad. Everywhere the people along the line are alive to the fact that next to a railroad transcontinental motor travel and good roads are the greatest benefit to a community. They have a wonderful country, lacking only transportation to develop it. Rich valleys, ample water supply, coal, iron, oil, gold, silver, copper, tungsten, magnesite, lead, zinc: these are a few of the resources of the country traversed by the Arrowhead trail.
Because the Silver Lake cut-off is not yet completed, Cactus Kate II followed the line of the National Old Trails route east from Barstow to Goffs, and thence north through Vontrigger, Lanfair, Barnwell, Leastalk and Jean to Las Vegas. This route takes the tourist through the fertile New York valley, where a great many homesteaders are reclaiming the desert land.

A Ghost City

North of Barnwell “Kate” passed through what Charles E. Van Loan has termed one of the ghost-cities of the West. A graveyard with headstones of weather-browned pine, a few stone cabins with ruined walls, a stamp-mill whose shattered windows, rusting stack and dry tailing pit proclaim its long abandonment, these mark all that is left today of the once-flourishing camp of Vanderbilt. For contrast to this desolation, the tourist today can find the camp of Goodsprings, 8 miles west of Jean, in the zinc and lead district, where hundreds of miners are at work, a wide-open camp, prosperous as any mining district of Nevada in recent years.
At Las Vegas the practical tourist with an eye to the opportunities of the country, will find his interest centered in the wonderful artesian wells that will in a few years transform the desert around Las Vegas into living green of alfalfa and orchard. The romance-seeker will go, however, to the Stewart ranch, where the great, unfailing spring of good water and the giant cottonwoods have beckoned the weary desert traveler for ages past. Indians, Jesuit fathers, Fremont, Mormons, all found haven there.

Rounding up cattle on one of the meadows of Little Zion canyon.

Rounding up cattle on one of the meadows of Little Zion canyon.

The remains of the old Mormon fort stand today under the cottonwoods. Close at hand lives Mrs. Helen J. Stewart, for 43 years a resident of Clark county, who has kept a record of the tragedy and romance of the early days that centered around these famous springs. She can give you Fremont's story of his experience at the spring, tell you the story of the party of ill-fated emigrants bound for California in 1849, who rested at the spring and who perished of thirst in Death Valley a week later, less than 100 miles beyond.
At these springs the Mormons smelted the lead from the ores they dug in what is the Goodsprings district of today, and Mrs. Stewart has one of the molds in which they cast the refined metal. A Spanish coin of King Charles the Second plowed up on the ranch bears witness to the Spanish dwellers that followed the Jesuit priests.
From Las Vegas, the Arrowhead trail follows a newly-constructed piece of road leading to St. Thomas. This road, some 50 miles in length, was built through the efforts of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and good roads boosters of St. Thomas. It leads past the wonderful red sandstone dyke of the Big Muddy valley, a formation more beautiful by far than the Garden of Gods. Men familiar with the dyke can show the tourist great petrified trees, some 80 ft. in length. They can show you the natural cisterns in the sandstone, where the stored rainwater enabled Indian Mouse, a renegade Piute, to make the dyke his hiding place for more than a year.

Mountain of Salt

At St. Thomas a side trip of 6 miles will take the tourist to the Salt mountain, an actual mountain of rock salt, some of it so crystal clear that through a 7-ft. ledge of salt one can see a passing figure.
East of St. Thomas, the Arrowhead trail climbs gravel bluffs and dips down under towering walls of conglomerate to the bridge over the Rio Virgin, built last year by Clark county at a cost of $14,000. This is one of the big links in the Arrowhead trail and is an excellent piece of work.
Beyond the bridge the road climbs again and for the rest of the 35 miles to Bunkerville a wonderful vista of desert is always presented to view. Nearing Bunkerville the view is particularly impressive. The Rio Virgin has cut its way deep through cliffs of pink sandstone. Under their walls lies the little Mormon settlement of Bunkerville, the vivid green of the alfalfa fields and the cottonwoods in the fertile bottom lands contrasting strangely with the weird pink cliffs looming above.

Andrew Correy, 70-year-old giant of Cedar City, Utah.

Andrew Correy, 70-year-old giant of Cedar City, Utah, who drove six-mule team over Arrowhead trail 50 years ago, and Louis Nikrent, driver of Cactus Kate, pose for the photographer.


In Bunkerville the tourist is well into the Mormon country, and wherever one goes in the United States he will not find a kindlier or more hospitable people. Cactus Kate, the famous stunt Packard owned by Earle C. Anthony of Los Angeles, with its crew, was made welcome with a barbecue and dance in the evening, and a more genuine welcome could not have been extended. It is a memory that will long remain with those who made the trip. As for the type of citizenship, just one fact needs to be cited. Bunkerville people some years since submitted to a tax of $9 per hundred on their property for several years in order that their children might have a school building of modern and substantial type. And Clark county could discharge her judges and jailers at once if all her communities were as law abiding as Bunkerville, for there has not been a criminal complaint in that community in the memory of men. Liquor is simply non-obtainable, and out of the entire male population there are not half a dozen that use tobacco in any form. Children are the only dissipation in Bunkerville, and such hosts of happy, healthy children it would be hard to find elsewhere in a town of its size.

Alfalfa field in the shadow of the Virgin, Little Zion Canyon, Utah.

Alfalfa field in the shadow of the Virgin, Little Zion Canyon, Utah. The Temple of the Virgin in the background has never had human foot on its summit. The Piutes believed this point the abiding place of the Great Spirit.


One Crossing Not Bridged

Between Bunkerville and St. George one crossing of the Rio Virgin was unbridged. Clark county expected to call for a bond issue this fall to furnish this bridge. However, the tourist can be hauled across the river by a team for an average charge of $2. Save for 2 or 3 months in the early spring, when the Virgin is in flood, there is nothing hazardous about the crossing at all. In this same section, though, the tourist at present on the Arrowhead trail will encounter the hardest going. There are some sharp pitches with poor traction, short stretches of sand and some rocky road through the low pass that this part of the trail leads through before coming to the vast stretch of bench land near the Rio Virgin. It is on this portion of road, however, that the efforts of the good roads boosters are to be concentrated for the next few months. Cactus Kate went through without a particle of trouble, and C. D. Warner, Indian agent at the Shivwits reservation through which the road passes after the Utah line is reached, states that thirty-five cars had passed through in the first half of the year. A good driver with a good car need have nothing to fear there today, but it is not a road for an inexperienced tourist.

Giant cottonwoods shelter the old Mormon fort at Las Vegas, Nev.

Giant cottonwoods shelter the old Mormon fort at Las Vegas, Nev.


First Mormon Temple

St. George, Utah, is a town where the tourist will find much of beauty and interest, not the least of which is in the beautiful Mormon temple, built in the seventies at a cost of a quarter of a million, the first Mormon temple to be dedicated in the state of Utah. This, too, remember, was accomplished by a pioneer community over 300 miles from a railroad at that time. St. George today is 110 miles from its easiest railroad communication but owns its own water and electric power plant and is a beautiful and thriving city. It has a population of approximately 2000, and there are more than 900 children in its school.
From St. George the tourist can make two wonderful side trips, one to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and one to Little Zion canyon on the headwaters of the Rio Virgin. Both are trips that are worth crossing a continent for, and both, in the years to come, will draw thousands of tourists over this trail.
Out of St. George the road follows one of the trunk lines of the Utah state highway system. Convict labor has been employed on this road to a great extent in recent years, and it is today a good dirt road. There is absolutely nothing for the motor tourist to fear from St. George to Salt Lake City.
At Cedar City the Cactus Kate party stopped with Andrew Correy, one of the Mormon pioneers of that section. “How did you like the road?” he inquired of Louis Nikrent, former racing driver, who is now chief of the technical department of the California Packard dealer. “I used to think it was a great road when 1 freighted over it 50 years ago from San Pedro to Salt Lake. It gave us an all-the-year route to tidewater from Salt Lake and was our shortest road as well to the ocean.”

Village Follows Village

From Cedar City all the way to Salt Lake, the tourist passes through village after village. Arching cottonwoods, houses of pink brick and running streams of irrigation water along the streets are the inevitable features of all these communities, all sheltering a prosperous and contented people. Paragon, Beaver, Kanosh, Fillmore, Nephi, Provo, this was the route “Kate” followed to Salt Lake from Cedar City.
There can be no doubt the Arrowhead trail of a year from today will be a road that any tourist can attempt without misgiving. And for the motorist with a good car, it can be traveled today, with the assurance that the tourist will be rewarded by the most beautiful and interesting motor journey to be made in the Southwest over the scenic Arrowhead trail.

Peculiar sandstone erosions in Big Muddy Valley, Nevada.

Peculiar sandstone erosions in Big Muddy Valley, Nev.



Copyright © S. Varner 2006