Utah Parks Company Memories: Brenda Barrett Orton

Brenda Barrett Orton (1944) worked at Cedar Breaks in 1962, The following is taken from an interview recorded in 2004. Brenda Barrett Orton Circa 1962

We lived in the cabins when we working at Cedar Breaks. They had metal roofs and I remember when it was raining there was nothing like it. The rain on those metal roofs just sounded absolutely like it was coming in the house. It was just beautiful. The first year I went up there, outside the back door of the lodge was this huge snow bank. We were there to help get the kitchen and snack bar ready for the opening of the lodge. We would have to go outside and I’m 5’ 10” and the snow bank was way over my head. I remember it was almost intimidating. From the very first we had kids working there from Salt Lake and all over Northern Utah. We even had a young man from Chicago.

That was so fun. He was interested in our culture and so forth. That’s how I heard the word “Cowabunga.” This man, he was well known for saying that. He had us all saying that by the time we left. There were really, really fun people.

The tourists always had one meal at Cedar Breaks, usually lunch or dinner. The dinners were well known. The only thing they had on the night menu was the chicken dinner. They had fried chicken, country gravy and mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, biscuits, and for dessert they had a strawberry sundae with little wafer cookies on them. They had the same menu seven nights a week and they were well known for that meal! We had people come up from Cedar City just for dinner.

Cedar Breaks Lodge. The dining room is on the right.

You know when you worked as a waitress for the Utah Parks Company there was a certain way you were supposed to hold your tray. It was up above your head and you had to learn to keep it balanced. That’s how they wanted you to carry every item out to the dining room, up over your head and you got so you could really carry your tray well. Once I had a full tray of desserts and I don’t know if this was on purpose, but this gentleman put his leg out in the aisle and I tripped over it. I went down on my knees and I slid the whole way down the rest of the aisle with this tray over my head, and I didn’t drop one dessert! I was very proud of myself.

Cedar Breaks Part IV

Throughout the years the Utah Parks Company operated the tourist concessions at Cedar Breaks, hundreds of young people called the Breaks their summer home. Following are some of their fondest memories: Snow removal at Cedar Breaks

“We lived in the cabins when we were working at Cedar Breaks. They had metal roofs and I remember when it was raining there was nothing like it. The rain in those metal roofs just sounded absolutely like it was coming in the house. It was just beautiful. - Brenda Barrett Orton



“Working at Cedar Breaks, of course, we lived there. We lived in small cabins that were to the left of the lodge. There were four girls that lived in each cabin, and we shared one bathroom. I remember when my father helped me take my stuff in the first day I arrived. I can remember thinking how tiny these little cabins were. I am sure that they weren't much larger than a 12 x 12 foot space, with a twin bed on each side and one chest of drawers and that was the sum total of our living space.”  - Murna Archibald

“Our experience began in a unique way. We had to dig ourselves into our cabins and the lodge. There had not been a winter like that in many years. In fact, when we left in September there was still snow on the north side of the lodge. When the tour busses came to the front of the lodge people could not see anything but snow. It looked like a maze leading to the lodge. Many of the tourists had never even seen snow.” - Garth Jones

Living at the Breaks


“There used to be a water tank that set to the left and up the hill from the Cedar Breaks lodge. It was a wonderful place to go when we were off work. We would all put on our swimsuits and in 70 degree weather we would climb to the top of the water tank and sunbathe. It gave us a glorious view, a glorious view of the meadows and you literally felt like you were on top of the world at 10,000 feet.” - Murna Archibald

Driver Ike Beem

“Driving the tourist bus down the canyon from Cedar Breaks you are really in that compound gear, your low gear. We were supposed to stop at the Rock Church in Cedar City.  I was still about four or five miles up the canyon and I was hitting my brake and no air. So, I started shifting and taking the emergency brake and pull it a little, ease off, pull it little. I was pulling on the emergency brake and slowing down. At Main Street, I went right by the church and sailed through the intersection and finally got stopped three blocks down. Then a passenger said, 'Ike, I thought we were supposed to stop at the church.' I said, 'Well, there's only one thing wrong. I haven't had any brakes since we left Cedar Breaks.’ I made a lot of tips that day.” - Ike Beem

Cedar Breaks Part III

Ready to go - circa 1952 In 1923, Union Pacific created the Utah Parks Company in an effort provide guest services that would entice passengers from the eastern United States to travel west by train and visit the scenic parks. The National Park Service encouraged this enterprise. Rail passengers would arrive in Cedar City where UPC buses would provide transportation and tours of the parks. The Grand Circle tour included stops at Zion Park, Bryce Canyon, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Cedar Breaks.

Gilbert Stanley Underwood

In the early years of the Utah Parks Company noted architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood was commissioned to design lodges and cabins at the four stops on the Grand Circle tour. Underwood’s design of the Cedar Breaks lodge was of a simple but useful log building that matched its setting on the rim of the “Breaks.”  There was a lobby, a large dining area and a kitchen.  In the entrance lobby was a massive stone fireplace, which proved to be the focal point with a 6x6 foot opening and large andirons to hold the burning logs.

Early photo of the Cedar Breaks Lodge.



While the warmth of the fire was a welcome relief from the cool night air, the dining room certainly became the most popular part of the building.  The spacious eating area had 120 seats that were often all filled, with as many as three seating’s a night.

 “The tourists always had one meal at Cedar Breaks, usually lunch or dinner. The dinners were well known, The only thing they had on the night menu was the chicken dinner. They had fried chicken, country gravy and mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, biscuits, and for dessert they had a a strawberry sundae with little wafer cookies on them. They had the same menu seven nights a week and they were well known for that meal! We had people come up from Cedar City just for dinner.”

- Brenda Barrett Orton

The standards for the food served and the service were the same as at other Utah Parks Company lodges.  The serving staff of waitresses and bus boys maintained a spirit of professionalism and made visitors feel at ease as they enjoyed the scenery and the food. Former manager Gayle Snyder remembers: “One waiter as he carried his relish tray tipped it back and the olives and pickles rolled right down the back of a lady's dress. She stood up and shook and the olives just came pouring out of her dress. But you know, the dudes didn't seem to get really mad. We really didn't have a lot of complaints about the things the kids did.”

Cedar Breaks Waiteresses

For nearly fifty years the Utah Parks Company transported and served the Dudes as guests were called at Zion, Bryce Canyon, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Cedar Breaks. In 1972 the Utah Parks Company ceased its operations and donated the lodges to the National Park Service. It was determined that the Cedar Breaks lodge was too costly to maintain and it was torn down in 1972.  The Cedar City community angrily protested the removal of the lodge, so much so that the Park Service halted plans to tear down other similar structures at Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Cedar Breaks Lodge - July 1949

Although the Utah Parks Company and the Cedar Breaks lodge are gone, their spirit still remains as tens of thousands of visitors pour into southwestern Utah each year to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, hike spectacular trails, and maybe remember the great chicken dinners once served in the lodge on the rim of the Breaks. Next week, living at Cedar Breaks.

Cedar Breaks Part II

The clash between the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service over Cedar Breaks was rooted in a rivalry born from differing ideas of land use and competition for resources. In 1917, Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, had called the southern Utah region an “all year round resort” and began working to develop the area as an integral part of the nation's new national park system. NPS officials visiting Cedar Breaks.

Mather had spent years cultivating the American business and tourist community and by the mid 1920's had built a powerful support network, especially with the railroad industry. Mather planned to link the development of National Parks to the accessibility of the railroads, and the sparsely populated Southern Utah region provided an excellent opportunity to establish these links.

By 1931, services or concessions at Zion Park, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon were actively part of the Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of Union Pacific that brought visitors by rail to Cedar City and then by bus to the parks.  Mather's successor Horace Albright felt the time was right to acquire Cedar Breaks as a protected area. Due to the stunning pink cliff formations and the large natural amphitheater, Albright argued that Cedar Breaks had enough scenic merit to be included in the National Park system and that the area would be so small that it would not affect the local livestock industry who used the meadows of Cedar Mountain for grazing. The Forest Service disagreed.

Charged with protecting the resources of the nation's forests, the Forest Service administered the land around Cedar Breaks for multiple uses and felt threatened by the request of the Park Service.  Afraid that grazing rights would be limited, the Utah Woolgrowers Association and Associated Civic Clubs of Southern Utah petitioned their elected representatives to oppose any legislation creating a national monument at Cedar Breaks.

The Park Service argued that by adding Cedar Breaks to the national park system, Cedar City businesses would gain a huge economic benefit. However, due to a lack of support for the proposal in the local community, the idea for the addition of Cedar Breaks was put on hold.

Cedar Breaks visitors

Visitation at Cedar Breaks continued to increase and the Park Service decided to try and acquire the area again. Albright argued that the visiting public already thought the Park Service administered the site because of its inclusion in the Zion – Bryce Canyon scenic loop. He wrote to Chief Forester Robert Stuart; “If the Cedar Breaks area is most valuable to the pubic because of timber or grazing resources, administration would naturally come under the Forest Service. However, this area is scenic rather than industrially useful . . . and the public should be afforded a unified educational service such as the Park Service is equipped to supply.” Stuart agreed and against the advice of his field staff he withdrew his objections.

Early entrance to Cedar Breaks.

UPC bus during the dedication of Cedar Breaks

On August 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Cedar Breaks National Monument and charged the National Park Service with its administration. More about the Utah Parks Company and Cedar Breaks next week.

Cedar Breaks- Part I

The first anglo settlers of the Cedar Breaks region used the fertile meadows for grazing their sheep and cattle and the large stands of evergreens for lumbering. Many of these families came from the British Isles and the area soon became known as Little Ireland.  These families worked and lived together cooperatively establishing a thriving dairy operation.  Each housewife took one day to take the morning and evening milk and make one batch of cheese.  During the course of the summer, the women could produce 2000 pounds of cheese, which would be transported to San Francisco for sale. Taking a chance at the Breaks

As the knowledge of the spectacular scenery of southern Utah began to spread early in the 20th century, tourist camps were developed in the Zion and Bryce Canyon regions of the state. Although the beauty of Cedar Breaks was widely known, access proved to be very difficult. The terrain of Cedar Mountain was a challenge for the horses and wagons, but nearly impossible for the automobile. The first car reached the area via the wagon road up Parowan Canyon in 1919.

Cedar City residents Gronway Parry and Frank Seaman lobbied the Utah Department of Transportation to construct a road connecting Cedar City to the major north/south Highway 89 via Cedar Canyon. The state refused and in 1922 Parry and Seaman decided to take matters in their own hands.

Early Cedar Breaks Road

Taking their wives, and Gronway's car, Parry and Seaman began to blaze a trail through Cedar Canyon and over the mountain. Clearing away rocks, trees, and brush they slowly carved a road that would become State Highway 14. Once convinced that a road could actually be constructed, the State of Utah got involved and completed the project, and in 1923 cut a dirt road from the Midway point into Cedar Breaks.

Many families from Parowan summered in Little Ireland and in 1921 Charles Adams built a crudely constructed boarding house to provide workers with shelter and food. He placed his married daughter Minnie Adams Burton in charge and the structure became known as “Minnie's Mansion.” The “Mansion” had a large dance floor and a kitchen and dining room in the rear. “Minnie's Mansion” soon became the summer social center for the citizens of Parowan.  Some came by wagon or on horseback to enjoy a Saturday night dance with a local band providing the entertainment.  Rodeos and summer holidays were also popular in the cool mountain surroundings, sometimes with fireworks set off over the Breaks.

As the residents of Iron County began to promote their local tourist spots, the Federal government developed an interest in the area. Tensions between the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service had been growing throughout the 1920's and centered upon differing ideas of land use and management.

Early motor tours to Cedar Breaks.

The Forest Service adopted a multiple use approach that managed the land for its resources – wood, water, and grass as well as wildlife habitat and recreation. The Park Service viewed itself as the nation's foremost custodian of American heritage – mandated by Congress to preserve, protect, and provide visitor services.  Both of these agencies, with overlapping missions and constituencies competed for land and resources and Cedar Breaks was caught in the middle. The story continues next week.

National Geographic comes to Cedar City

Angels Landing “Utah blazes with color.” This sentence opens the May 1936 article in National Geographic “Utah, Carved by Winds and Waters.”In early 1936, writer Leo A. Borah visited southern Utah and toured with local tourism booster Randall L. Jones. Thanks to local Cedar City resident Scott Truman, who recently donated this issue to the museum, we now have access to this forgotten piece of writing.  Borah notes many unique features of our community, especially the golf course:

“Cedar City, gateway to the southern Utah parks, has a golf course which symbolizes the Utah pioneer spirit. Several miles from town it lies, in an arid valley crowded by craggy hills. Its ‘greens’ are a mixture of sand, sawdust, and oil; its teeing places bristle doormats set in wooden frames; its fairways barren stretches from which sagebrush has been laboriously dug.

Randall Jones and I went out to the course with a club member, who explained with a chuckle as we jounced over the rough trail from the highway to the links that the jolts were ‘warming-up’ exercises for the game. In front of the ‘shake’ clubhouse beside a clump of scraggly juniper trees an iron mine owner and a West Point cadet were toiling in the hot sun to set an additional doormat for teeing.

The sand, sawdust, and oil putting "green"

The course lacks nothing in ‘rough.’ As if the hazards of cliffs, gullies, sagebrush, and thickets were not sufficient, there is an occasional rattlesnake for the player to kill with his club, or an inquisitive deer to chase out of the way with his shots.  That wild valley looks as little like a possible place for a golf course as the trackless desert the pioneers settled looked like farmland.”

Following is a sampling of the many photos from the article:

The rock church


The aspens of Cedar Mountain








Zion singaway

A 1936 Cedar Breaks view

The Buildings of the Utah Parks Company

Union Pacific spared little expense in the creation of their lodges for the Utah Parks Company. Noted architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood was hired to design all the UPC buildings, including the guest cabins. The Lodge at Zion

The lodges were not designed to house visitors, but served as the central location for visitor services. Guests would dine, arrange for horse trips, shop, and attend the employee shows in these grand buildings. Oftentimes, the upper floor of the lodge served as the girl’s dormitory.

Both the original lodges at Zion and the North Rim were destroyed by fire and rebuilt during the course of their UPC lives. The National Park Service tore down the Cedar Breaks lodge and the ground it rested on has been returned to nature.

The Cedar Breaks Lodge

The Bryce Canyon Lodge

The Bryce lodge, with a few structural changes, has remained true to its original design.

The Inn at the North Rim

The UPC also operated smaller inns at each park. These buildings served the needs of those individuals who were camping or did not care to pay the higher lodge price. These buildings usually contained a cafeteria and a small curio/convenience shop.

The Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim.

In Cedar City, the UPC maintained the exquisitely designed El Escalante Hotel. Begun by Cedar City residents, the El Escalante served as the center of the community for many years. Motion picture and radio stars, politicians, and civic leaders roamed the halls and enjoyed the exceptional dining and service the hotel staff provided. The Cedar City Depot opened in 1923 and became the hub of the UPC transportation service. Other UPC buildings such as the bus garage, mechanic shop and commissary have found other uses as private businesses. The Chauffeurs' lodge, a practical building for the bus drivers to stay while they were waiting for their next tour, and the Union Pacific freight building have both been destroyed. The El Escalante was demolished in 1971.

The Chauffeurs Lodge

The El Escalante Hotel

The Snow Tank

Going for a ride. Brought to the area by Gronway Parry in the late 1940’s, the snow tank proved a popular and valuable resource for local farmers and outdoor enthusiasts. One of only two known to exist, and towing its companion sled, the snow tank hauled skiers, horses, and during the brutal blizzard of 1948-49 carried hay to starving cattle in the Cedar Valley. Additionally, Gronway and his snow tank carried Utah Parks Company workers up to the Cedar Breaks lodge to provide winter maintenance.

The snow tank at the Cedar Breaks Lodge.

Powered by a large diesel engine, the snow tank proved well suited for the Iron County winters and became a familiar sight on Cedar Mountain. The snow tank steered by a series of levers that tightened and loosened metal cables attached to the wood sledge. When the driver tightened the left cable it swung the sledge to the left and the tank to the right. The driver completed the opposite motion to turn the other way. This action serves exactly the same action as a rudder on a ship. Without the sledge, the tank could only move in a straight line.

Gronway Parry looks over his snow tank.

In 1969, the snow tank, along with many other artifacts became the core of our museum collection. Today, visitors to Frontier Homestead State Park can still see the snow tank and through scenes from the Parry Family home movies, watch it in action.

The snow tank at Frontier Homestead.