Human History in Dinosaur National Monument: The Chews

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Something always draws us to ghost towns and abandoned homesteads.

Maybe it’s the stories that linger in the hand hewn wood of the old homes. Perhaps it’s the sense of discovery in finding a piece of the past. It might be admiration for the sheer grit and determination it took to carve out a place for themselves in the wilderness. For whatever reason, historic places garner attention.

An old chuckwagon sits rusting in the yard. (photo: M. Kopp)
An old chuckwagon sits rusting in the yard. (photo: Brad Kopp)

We drove down into the heart of Dinosaur National Monument in the northeastern corner of Utah searching for petroglyphs carved into sandstone walls. We eventually found them, but along the way discovered this historical nugget.

Remains of the corral. (photo: M. Kopp)
Remains of the corral. (photo: Brad Kopp)

Jack Chew settled at Pool Creek with his wife Mary and six of their 12 children in 1910.  In 1911, they were living in a one-room cabin. Imagine preparing dinners for the lot – root vegetables pulled from the nearby garden or root cellar, chicken fresh from the coop, eight hungry bodies gathered around a wooden table…

Jack and Mary’s son Rial eventually became sole owner of the property. Were the other siblings bought out? Did they decide that ranch life was not for them?

Under Rial’s direction, the Pool Creek ranch grew to more than 2,250 acres. Rial raised cattle and sheep on nearby pastureland.  Summers were spent at Pool Creek. Winter’s were spent in Vernal. This is where the kids went to school. What was the drive (or wagon road in Jack and Mary’s time) like back then? How long did it take them to get from the ranch to Vernal?

In the 1940's, Rial built the ranch house for his family. (photo: M. Kopp)
In the 1940’s, Rial built the ranch house for his family. (photo: Brad Kopp)

In 1966, Rial Chew sold 1,900 acres of the ranch that were in Dinosaur National Monument to the National Park Service. Today, visitors drive through the Chew’s homestead on the way to Echo Park. Interpretive signs tell the history of the family and their farmstead.

Black-and-white photos on interpretive signs show Rial Chew and his family in 1955.
Black-and-white photos on interpretive signs show Rial Chew and his family in 1955.

Chew family descendants now run the ranch located directly across from the Green River Campground on the Cub Creek Road.

Chew family property today. (photo: M. Kopp)
Chew family property today. (photo: Brad Kopp)

If You Go: 
Pool Creek is located in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. To access, drive east on Highway 40 past the town of Dinosaur and take the exit north (left) past Canyon Visitor Centre. Follow the road up onto the plateau 25 miles (40 km) to the Echo Park Road.

Note: Echo Park Road descends a set of narrow switchbacks and can be impassable when wet.

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