For thousands of years of human history, the Colorado River has been an essential resource in numerous ways. It’s long been an invaluable source of water amidst the arid canyon lands, a corridor for transportation and wayfinding, an oasis for plants and animals, and a source of water for raising crops. For settlers of the Moab Valley in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was also a source of ice in the winter that provided year-round refrigeration for perishable food items. Accounts from locals interviewed for the Museum’s Oral History Collection provide details of this practice.
In late winter, large sections of the Colorado River would freeze and Moab settlers would use saws and picks to cut and move ice blocks, roll them in hay or sawdust to insulate them, and bring them back to town with horse-drawn wagons or sleighs. Stored in well-insulated structures, ice could last many months to provide Moabites with refrigeration.
“I don’t know why it was but the river always froze over, and the minute we got refrigerators it quit and never has frozen over since,” remarked Lydia Taylor Skewes in an interview for the Moab Museum’s publication Canyon Legacy. “Things move in mysterious ways, I guess.” Skewes was born in Moab in 1885 and died in 1985 at 99 years of age, having seen Moab evolve through tremendous changes.
Ice was also important for communities further afield in Grand County. “I remember one time [on the Green River] they were cutting ice 27 inches thick,” recalled Henry Ballard Harris in an oral history interview conducted in 2000. Harris, who was born in 1916, spent his childhood growing up in and around Elgin, UT in the northwestern corner of Grand County.
Photos, oral histories, and archives provide a powerful supplement to the objects in the Museum’s Collection, providing rich detail about times in the region’s past, including the winter tradition of stocking up on ice from the river.
The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a member, visit www.moabmuseum.org.