The Utah Parks Company

For nearly fifty years the Utah Parks Company brought tourists to the national parks of southwestern Utah and northern Arizona. Cedar City marketed itself as the “Gateway to the National Parks” and became the jumping off point for the tour groups.  The Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad operated as concessionaires in the parks, building, maintaining, and staffing lodges, inns, cabins and a large hotel in Cedar City. Visitors would travel by rail into Cedar City or Lund and board buses driven by men known as “gearjammers,” who would chauffeur them through the diverse and sometime stark landscape.

The UPC provided meals and entertainment for the guests, commonly referred to as “dudes.” Many of these individuals had never been to the western United States before and were pleasantly surprised with first class service in the middle of the wilderness.

The “Grand Circle” Tour took the “dudes” to Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Cedar Breaks, with a few stops along the way. Union Pacific extensively marketed the area throughout the UP system and created a tourist infrastructure that exists to this day.

Union Pacific invested in the success of the Cedar City community and marketed it as if it were one of their own holdings. The following is from a 1940 UPC promotional booklet: “Visitors always find pleasure when they can spare a few minutes to stroll about the streets of ‘Cedar’ as its inhabitants call it. It is worth seeing for its mixture of the old and the new. In the same block with a fine new bungalow, one may find a weather-beaten house which dates back to the times of the early Mormon settlers. Set in the midst of the red hills of Southern Utah, its streets look out upon lands that have fed Mormon flocks for more than three-quarters of a century.”

Union Pacific emphasized the fact that this area of the country was filled with “unparalleled scenic splendor” and that although they had a talented publicity department, they could not do justice to the environment. They insisted that individuals must experience the Parks for themselves, just as today. A 1950 Union Pacific ad finalizes the point. “No process yet devised by man can faithfully bring to you the beauty of these supreme achievements of Nature. You must see them for yourself! In that way, and in that way only, you will carry away the unforgettable images…”

For the last ten years, Frontier Homestead State Park along with Special Collections at the Sherratt Library at Southern Utah University have been collecting and recording the history of the Utah Parks Company and its employees. During this Centennial year of the National Park Service, we will share some of the many stories we have collected. We also encourage you to go out and create stories of your own.

Ryan Paul, Frontier Homestead State Park

For images and more articles like this one, visit the Frontier Homestead State Park’s blog: Homestead Telegraph.

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