CHURCH ROCK, HIGHWAY 191 - EASTERN UTAH
Anyone who travels the section of Highway 191 between Monticello and Moab in eastern Utah can’t help but notice the solitary sandstone monument rising like a cathedral out of the dirt known as Church Rock. You also can’t help noticing the hole at the base of the rock.
There are various theories as to how that hole got there. Maybe it was carved out for a home, or blasted out by a rancher named Young to store salt licks, but the most enduring and engaging story involves Marie Ogden and her quest to build heaven on earth.
In 1933, Marie Ogden’s Utopian “Home of the Truth” and its community of nearly a hundred members moved onto a tract of land near the intersection of Highways 191 and 211. Ogden believed herself “divinely informed,” and communicated with God through a typewriter. It was one of these revelations that led the psychic to leave New Jersey and purchase 1,000 acres to farm in Utah’s barren high desert.
Another “automatic writing” prophesied a cataclysmic meltdown of the world, a transformation in southeastern Utah from arid desert to tropical paradise, and the “rebirth of society” from within the commune’s faithful.
True believers descended on the new utopia.
They also set out to hollow out, by hand, the entire center of the sandstone monument to build a church.
They got as far as a 16 by 24 foot opening chiseled into the rock.
"Home of the Truth" itself (about a mile from Church Rock) was isolated from the surrounding community, its residents keeping to themselves in a strict, simple lifestyle. Because Ogden’s beliefs were similar to those of the Mormons—the dominant religious group in the area—the Utah State Historical Society reported they got along with people in the area.
In 1934, Ogden bought the newspaper the San Juan Record, and as publisher/editor she added a column on metaphysics. She received ongoing communication from God. Convinced she could raise the dead and having published articles about successes featuring four guinea pigs and a child, she offered promises of an afterlife.
The crisis that led to the eventual downfall of the Home of Truth resulted from Ogden’s very unsuccessful efforts to bring Edith Peshak, dead from cancer, back to life with salt baths and milk enemas. The investigations by local authorities and the intense media attention that followed drove most of the members to abandon the group by the end of 1937.
In 1975, at the age of 91, Marie Ogden died in a nursing home in Blanding, Utah.
Guide note: Satellite Image of Church Rock.
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At-Large Guide to the West James Orndorf was born in Minnesota, but knew at a very young age that the future lay out west. He is currently photographing and illustrating outside of Durango, Colorado. You can see what he’s up to at inlandwest.tumblr.com and roughshelter.com.