The Hole N” the Rock began in the early 1940s when Albert Christensen and his brothers, Clarence and Leo, all miners by trade, decided to build a restaurant in the rock. The property had been in their family since 1920, when it was homesteaded by their father, Niels Christensen.
Before completing the excavation for the restaurant, Albert met Gladys, who was to become his wife, and plans evolved to include a house in the rock for the newlyweds.
The Hole N” the Rock diner opened in 1945, but the house wasn’t completed until 1952. It took a dozen years, but with sweat, determination, dynamite and a donkey named Harry, Albert excavated more than 50,000 cubic feet of sandstone to create a living space of 5,000 square feet. The house has 14 spacious rooms spread around robust stone pillars. The stone fireplace is the size of a Volkswagen, and the chimney extends 65 feet up through solid sandstone.
The house also has carpeted floors, electricity, and a deep bathtub carved into the rock. Albert also carved out many little niches for shelves, where his wife displayed her collectibles and dolls. Living in the rock was very comfortable as the air was arid and dry, and the temperature stayed constantly cool. The rooms needed little heat and no air-conditioning.
The diner was a popular restaurant and watering hole for uranium miners but Albert’s deteriorating health forced it to close in 1955. Albert died in 1957. Afterward, Gladys ran a gift shop at the location. She passed away in 1974 and was laid to rest next to her husband in an alcove of chiseled rock on the property.
The Hole N” the Rock remained in the Christensen family until 2000, when it was purchased by Erik and Wyndee Hansen. In the spirit of the Christensens, the Hansens have maintained the home with its original, if somewhat odd, furnishings. And they offer a fascinating tour of the home that offers insights into the lives of the Christensens along with historical information about the Moab area.
Throughout the house, you can view Albert’s paintings, the original tools used for drilling and blasting, and Gladys’ lapidary collection. In honor of Harry the donkey’s years of hard labor, Albert tried his hand at taxidermy, stuffing the hearty animal and giving him a place of honor in a nice spot by the window.
In addition to the original gift shop, the Hansens have added a Trading Post, a General Store and “The Largest Petting Zoo in Southeastern Utah.” The Trading Post offers authentic Native American arts and crafts, including a variety of jewelry, pottery and statuary. Across the parking lot in the General Store, you will find snacks and supplies for the road nestled in with an impressive collection of memorabilia, featuring John Wayne, Elvis and Betty Boop, to name a few.
I suggest at this point grabbing a hand-dipped ice cream cone at the General Store before you head out to enjoy a stroll through the petting zoo and grounds. Children and adults alike will enjoy feeding the animals, which include wallabies, ostriches, emus, and miniature animals, including a donkey (in memory of Harry), a horse, potbelly pigs and more.
If all that is just too much activity, you can find a saddle or a bench in the shade and just watch the world go by for a while. Everything the Hansens have constructed has been designed in the spirit of the Old West, down to the ore cars, old gas pumps, and the tall Cigar Store Indian greeting you in front of the Trading Post. And, a visit to “the Rock” isn’t complete without checking out the two-story outhouse. They have revitalized the grounds, adding statuary, cactus gardens, benches and a variety of antiques that make this a relaxing and fun stop for anyone traveling through. Plenty of RV parking is also available.
Even as the original Hole N” the Rock Diner was an oasis for uranium miners in the 1950s, this spot remains an oasis for the modern day traveler. Plan on spending a little time, stretching your legs and soaking up its charm where the Old West lives on.
The Hole N” the Rock is open daily year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, contact the Hole N” the Rock at (435) 686-2250 or visit online at www.theholeintherock.com.
Kathy Stanger is a freelance writer who lives in Park City, Utah.