Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Beware of falling primates

I followed some online boondocking tips to a potential camping spot near Virgin, UT, not far from Zion National Park. It was raining heavily just to the north as I made my way down a dirt road with water-filled ruts and potholes. (It might have been a pothole farm.) But I made it this spot right on the rim of the Virgin River.

It was a great place, but what if the storm dumped more rain there? Would I be able to get back out? Better safe than sorry. So I splashed my way back to the highway and found a paved road heading toward the rim. There was a pullout with a nice dry gravel surface. It wasn't right on the rim, but it was just a short walk away. The storm cleared in a couple of hours and it looked like this.

That's Hurricane Mesa in the background. But most people call it Flying Monkey Mesa. Why? Well, back in the early days of jet-powered flight, the Air Force needed to test ejector seats. So they built a test facility atop Hurricane Mesa. It was far from prying/spying eyes, it was flat on top, and there was a 1,500 foot drop from the edge. Ejector seats were mounted to rocket propelled sleds and shot along a track. The seats were fired and the test dummies would float to the base of the mesa on parachutes. Once they had successful ejector seats, they needed to know what effects there might be on pilots. Rather than risk perfectly good humans, they substituted perfectly good chimpanzees. Hence, flying monkeys.

The track and the remains of the facility are still there, but sealed off from the curious public

While that explains the origin of Flying Monkey Mesa, it still leaves the mystery of why a mesa and town in the arid Southwest were named after a tropical storm. And, by the way, locals pronounce Hurricane as Hurrcun.

The Virgin River


  1. I enjoyed your post.My husband was born and raised in Hurricane,and some of his family still lives there.You are right-it is Hurricun to the locals.

  2. AMS Glossary of Meteorology
    It should be noted that the Carib god 'Hurican' was derived from the Mayan god 'Hurakan', one of their creator gods, who blew his breath across the Chaotic water and brought forth dry land and later destroyed the men of wood with a great storm and flood .

  3. Huracan is also a spanish word ...

  4. No idea if it the least bit related, but there is a type of old oil lamp called a hurricane lantern (I believe because of its full shade keeping any wind off the flame.

    I lived the cold half of each year in Mesquite, NV, so I've enjoyed 91 and all the roads around and through Zion (though I have to say the Park itself is not among my top 5 or 10). Do you know about Kolob Terrace Road? It is scenic and traverses an otherwise unseen corner of Zion. It ends at a small reservoir that never seemed too interesting. I was not RVing at the time, but I don't remember any places where it was legal to boondock on that road. Still, if you have time and the inclination to wander.... LOL

    1. Bob, Judy and I camped on Kolob Terrace Road. The a land owner lets people camp by the stream for a few bucks. I went all the way up to Kolob Reservoir back when the parks were shut down. All the aspen were yellow. There's a campground there plus wherever you can find a spot around the reservoir. I'm going to be checking out some of the area northwest of St. George.