The resort community of Mount Carmel Junction sits at the junction of U.S. Route 89 and State Route 9 in Southwestern Utah. Mount Carmel is one mile north of the junction. Mount Carmel is set in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.
John Wesley Powell visited the area as part of the Powell Survey of 1872. He was the first European-American to descend the East Fork of the Virgin River from the current location of Mount Carmel Junction to Shunesburg. A plaque can be found just east of the Zion National Park boundary in the East Fork, that reads:
"Major John Wesley Powell 1834-1902 explorer, scientist, Steven V. Jones 1840-1920 teacher, topographer, Joseph W. Young 1829-1873 Mormon pioneer leader, Descended Labyrinth Falls 1/2 mile below Monday, September 30, 1872 during first Parunuweap Canyon traverse. Powell named this canyon from the Paiute Indian word 'Parunuweap' which means roaring water canyon. Dedicated September 30, 1972."
The Historic Rock Church in Mount Carmel was used to school the children living in the Mount Carmel area. The log building was built in 1890 and used as a church and a school house. In 1919 it burned down. In 1923 it was rebuilt, this time with rock. After the small building was rebuilt, the rock structure was used almost entirely as a church. The children who once attended school in the log building rode to nearby Orderville in a covered wagon each day to attend school. The Historic Rock Church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1919, a Congressional bill designating Zion National Park was signed into law. In 1923 the task of finding a way to open Zion Canyon to the east side of the park began. Four different routes were considered including two options through Parunuweap and another through North Creek. The route chosen went up the side of Pine Creek canyon on switchbacks, through a tunnel and then along Clear Creek to the east boundary of the park, and hence to Highway 89 at Mt. Carmel Junction. Construction work on the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway began in 1927. The tunnel especially was considered quite an engineering feat for the time, requiring boring 5,613 feet through solid rock. July 4th, 1930, the tunnel and highway were dedicated, linking Zion Canyon to the land east of the park and making it easier to visit Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
A cattle rancher had filed grazing rights on the land, but Jack was patient and in 1931 he was able to homestead the land now known as Mount Carmel Junction. The land was unkind. It was covered with gullies, quicksand and many layers of sand. The area was also prone to violent flash floods. The task was difficult but Jack set to work building strategic dams to aid in landscaping the area. To support their endeavor and his family Jack had to work on the railroad, leaving his wife and four children often. Fern Morrison enjoyed baking and constructed a lean-to so she could sell pies to passers-by. In 1940, Jack and Fern built a restaurant. This was still a remote and wild area and it was hard to survive before the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway was completed. Jack and Fern lost two children in the flash floods of the East Fork of the Virgin River that runs through the junction. The East Fork is now known as Parunuweap or the Barracks and is popular hike that is similar to the Zion Narrows but in a remote and pristine area just outside of the park boundary. Jack died in 1961, from cancer after spending much of his life working in the coal mines. Fern, a strong willed and hard working woman continued to build. She lived to the age of 90, dying in 1998. What stands at the junction today was done in her lifetime and was rare for a woman to do at those times. Fern kept the original little home she gave birth to her children in and built around it. There are also two original Zion Canyon cabins that are a part of that home.
Dixon was born in Fresno, California into a family that had settled there after the civil war, aristocratic Virginia Confederates who found a new home in California. His mother, daughter of Navy officer from San Francisco loved to read the classics and was very educated herself and therefore encouraged the young boy in his writing and drawing. He later studied briefly with the great tonalist painter Arthur Mathews at the California School of Design where he became close friends with Xavier Martinez and others of the famous “Bohemian Club”.To support himself he accepted numerous illustration jobs. Great illustrators were plentiful around the turn of the century yet Dixon obtained work from the Overland Monthly and several San Francisco newspapers.
In 1900 Dixon visited Arizona and New Mexico. This was the start of his lifelong passion for roaming the West. The next year he accompanied artist Edward Borein on a horseback trip through several Western states. In California, he illustrated books and magazines with Western themes. Some of his most memorable work from these early years appeared in Clarence Mulford’s books about Hopalong Cassidy. For a time he lived in New York with his young wife and baby daughter Constance but came back to the west where he said he could create “honest art of the west” not the romanticized versions he was being paid to create. The marriage ended as well and he began a new life in San Francisco.
Dixon developed his own unique style during this early period, and Western themes became a trademark for him. In San Francisco, Dixon was considered a colorful character with a good sense of humor. He often dressed like a cowboy and seemed determined to impart a Western style, most often in the form of a black Stetson, boots and a bolo tie.
Influenced in part by the Panama Pacific International Exposition on 1915, Dixon began to search for a new expression, moving away from impressionism and into a simpler, more modern style. Meeting and marrying Dorothea Lange, a portrait photographer from the East also appears to have had a great influence on his art. The two married in 1920 and by 1925, the year their first son Daniel was born, Maynard’s style had changed dramatically to even more powerful compositions, with the emphasis on design, color and drawing to express himself. A true modernist emerged. The power of low horizons and marching cloud formations, simplified and distilled, became his own brand and at once were both bold and mysterious.
During the Great Depression, Dixon painted a series of social realism canvasses depicting the prevailing politics of maritime strikes, displaced workers, and those affected so deeply by the depression. Simultaneously, Lange captured on film the images of the migrant workers in the Salinas Valley and the city breadlines, images that eventually brought her great fame. In 1933 the Dixon’s spent the summer in Zion Park with sojourns to the small hamlet of Mt. Carmel, Utah. Dorothea was called back to San Francisco which was the beginning of the end of the marriage.
Dixon and Lange divorced in 1935. Two years later he married prominent San Francisco muralist Edith Hamlin. The couple left San Francisco two years later for Southern Utah, the source of some of Dixon’s greatest art. He had returned to inspiration of the land where the spirit moved him and gave him the peace he sought.
In 1939, the couple built a summer home in Mount Carmel, Utah, where Dixon found new friends and became reacquainted with the earth. He lived near the cottonwood trees along an old irrigation ditch and took short hikes to a plateau where he loved the quiet. Dixon spent winter months in Tucson, where the couple also had a home and studio.
Dixon continued to create masterpieces – simple but powerful compositions in which non-essential elements were distilled or eliminated. In November 1946 Maynard passed away at his winter home in Tucson. In the spring of 1947 his widow Edith brought his ashes to Mt. Carmel where she buried them on a high bluff above the art studio being built on the property. This had been at his request and she felt it a fitting tribute where friends could come to pay respects and view the land that he loved.
His legacy will live on through time through his colorful, dramatic canvases that continue to thrill the viewer. An honest vision of his life and experience in a vanishing era of the American west. Is it any wonder Maynard Dixon’s works continue to gain new admirers and inspire us as no other? Wherever the wide-open spaces of the West, its canyons, mesas, cottonwoods, clouds, sagebrush, and people, strike a chord in the heart, Maynard Dixon’s art will be honored.
Paul and Susan Bingham
Geology is diverse in the Mount Carmel area. The north-south trending Sevier fault lies 2 miles east of the highway. Sandstone cliffs lie to the south and the magnificent White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase can be seen to the east. About halfway between Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab are the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. North on U.S. Route 89 are hoodoo formations similar to those in Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks. The Carmel Formation, named after Mount Carmel, is abundant in this area. Wonderfully unique mountains are found at the junction where crinoid fossils are abundant. Crinoids have pentameral symmetry (Five-sided) and here, the stalks have broken down into tiny, individual star shaped fossils.
However, systematic work indicates that the crinoid is Isocrinus nicoleti and is the first non-endemic crinoid to be reported from North American Jurassic strata. Although articulated pinnules and arms have been found, I. nicoleti occurs predominantly as well-preserved, partially articulated columnals. The crinoids occur within a tidal complex consisting of ooid shoal, tidal channel, and lagoonal facies. The unique environmental and ecological conditions which existed in the southernmost end of the Jurassic North America seaway may have allowed for the development of this crinoid colony and subsequent deposition of the encrinite.” from the department of Geology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Utah has the densest population of slot canyons in the world, due to the easily eroded Navajo Sandstone that characterizes the Colorado Plateau. Mount Carmel Junction is home to upper and lower Red Cave (Upper and Lower Sand Wash - Slot Canyons). Other slot canyons in the area include Red Canyon (Peek-a-Boo), Red Hollow and Parunuweap Canyon.
Mount Carmel is a hiker's dream location. There is spectaular hiking in every direction: Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Mountain, Grand Staircase-Esclante and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Mount Carmel Junction is part of the geology of the Grand Staircase. The lowest step, the chocolate layer, is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The layers rise up along Highway 89, past the vermillion cliffs, to the white layer seen in the visible pearly mountain tops at Zion National Park and the White Cliffs of Mount Carmel Junction. This layer was deposited 150 million years ago. Finally, we get to the Skutumpah Terrace in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is the Grey layer of the Grand Staircase, which includes the area between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. This layer was deposited about 130 million years ago. This area includes Mt. Carmel Junction and is made up of the carmel and limestone formations. Beyond the Skutumpah Terrace is the top riser which is usually thought of as Bryce Canyon, but many geologists also include Cedar Breaks.