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The Naming of Castle Rock

On November 2, 1776, the expedition party of two Spanish Missionaries Padre Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Padre Fray Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante made camp at Wahweap Creek. Their campsite journal described a “multitudes of earthen embankments, small mesas, and peaks of red earth which look like the ruins of a fortress at first sight.”  Today, we know this formation as Castle Rock.

The party eventually forded the Colorado River upstream of this area near Gunsight Butte on their return trip to Santa Fe. This river crossing in use by Ute, Navajo and Hopi then became famously known as the "Crossing of the Fathers" following publication of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition journal. Many area landmarks were named for this expedition including Dominguez Butte, Padre Butte and Padre Bay on Lake Powell, near the original river crossing.

The opening of Lees Ferry in 1873 (some primitive skiffs used occasionally as early as 1870) near the Lonely Dell Ranch changed the way pioneers crossed the Colorado River and the route to the Crossing of the Fathers was largely abandoned.

This historic photo shows a typical river crossing via ferryboat at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, circa 1890s. NPS archives.

Crossing of the Fathers (now under Lake Powell). Photo by Tad Nichols

History of Gunsight Butte

The photogenic butte known as Gunsight Butte, located in Padre Bay, was originally called Steamboat Rock by a 1869 Utah Territorial Militia party, one of the first excursions to document the route to the Crossing of the Fathers. The diary from the militia described a place called Gun Sight, a narrow cleft in the sandstone cliffs. Sometime later in modern history the Gun Sight name was transferred to the nearby butte.

Excerpt from the 1869 Utah Territorial Militia Journal:

"We turned from top of hill to north east, following round base of rock cliffs on our left 3 miles to Gun Sight, to left of Steamboat Rock. This Gun Sight is a cleft in the solid rock mountain, wedged shaped, about a foot wide at the bottom, in narrowest place, and 200 feet through and a hundred feet high. Twenty men could guard this pass against an army. We passed through Gun Sight, down a steep rock, into an opening in rocks."

 

"Whichever way we look it is nothing but rock mountains in fantastic shapes. It is rocks around, rocks above, rocks beneath, rocks in chasms, rocks in towers, rocks in ridges, rocks everywhere. It is in fact all rock.”

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The view approaching Gun Sight Pass from the west (framing Cookie Jar Butte) as the 1869 Utah Territorial Militia would have seen it. Photo by Paul Ostapuk

Star Map
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Winter star chart of constellations viewed looking north (excerpt from Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars - Patrick Moore).