Wyndee Hansen was behind the counter making change and selling ice cream cones at Hole N’ ‘The Rock, a one of a kind tourist attraction and petting zoo in the north end of San Juan County. She agreed to an interview and filled us in on the one of a kind home and attraction. She and husband Erik purchased the property in 2000.
Neils Christensen homesteaded the area around Kane Creek in the 1920’s (Cane Creek back then) and prior to that, the shady cliffs and constant water source made it a popular spot to camp for those traveling what would become highway 191, the main north south artery between the railhead at Thompson Springs and all points south.
Shelter for a growing family was the inspiration for the Hole N’ ‘The Rock. The Christensens numbered nine total and lived a pretty spartan lifestyle. There was a small cabin used mostly for cooking, and canvas provided a lot of the cover from the elements. Neils, who went by the alias of Dick Hooten, put the boys to work. His five sons hollowed out an alcove which became the boys sleeping quarters.
Two of those boys, Albert and Leo did most of the work creating what the attraction is today.
In the mid 1940’s Albert and Leo built the diner that would become the basis for the Hole N’ ‘The Rock. More expansion took place around the time Charlie Steen hit the uranium motherload at the Mi Vida Mine in Lisbon Valley. According to Wyndee It was the closest place to any of the hot prospecting areas a meal or a beer could be purchased.
“A lot of those guys were down on their last luck, they were just coming down here to stake a claim, they were starving, they were broke and Albert would put them to work. He’d give ‘em a hot meal and a couple beers and they’d go in the back and start chiseling.” Says Wyndee.
Eventually the chiseling resulted in a 14 room house with plastered walls in some areas carpeting and all the comforts of home. But Alberts creativity knew no bounds. He sculpted the likeness of Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the cliff face above the diner. Also adorning one of the alcoves carved into the rock is Albert’s Sermon on the Mount.
Albert passed away in 1957 leaving his widow Glady’s with the property. She commissioned an artist to paint the letters on the rock wall above her home, complete with double apostrophes.
She ran the diner but downturns in mining and trucking took its toll on paying customers in the early '70s. So to attract tourists, Gladys opened the home up to tours. She also opened a rock and gift shop that she ran until she passed away in 1974. She and Albert are buried side by side in a little cove on the property.
Hole N’ ‘The Rock was in the hands of Glady’s son Hubert Davis when Wyndee and Eric bought it in 2000. There wasn’t the collection there is now according to Wyndee. “We added everything you see but the hole in the rock...There was nothing here but the hole in the rock. People would come in and take the 12 minute guided tour, walk back by the gravesite, use the bathroom...if they dared...and leave.”
“We put brand new updated restrooms on the property and built the gift shop first.” Says Wyndee, as she lays out the timeline for what has become a world famous home and attraction. And the sign? "When we retouched the letters after we bought the place there was a lot of discussion, some people who claimed it defaced the rock. And of course the apostrophes…that was the way Gladys wanted it and that’s the way it’s going to stay”.
In 2003 they added a general store where you can get everything from collectible model cars and kitsch to waffle cones. And it’s worth craning your neck in the general store. Eric has a collection pinned to the ceiling of album covers, concert posters and stuff that will have you saying “wow I remember that” over and over again.
Wyndee had a couple of ostriches that inspired the petting zoo and in 2008 those birds became the nucleus of probably the most extensive collection of live animals in San Juan County. You would be hard pressed to find a living, breathing Camel, Zebra, Wallaby and a Watusi anywhere else in the county.
Hole N’ ‘The Rock gets about 500 visitors a day. January is the slow month. That’s when the inventory is done, and the painting and repairs are taken care of. February can be hit or miss. Lots of sales reps visiting with key chains, collectible plates, there’s Elvis on one set of goods, Marilyn on another. How about...a scale model 18 wheeler with your grandson’s name on the side of the trailer? Wyndee sat through the sales pitch that brought it to you.
By March first the visitors are back. They move through the front doors of the General store and pay for their purchases, buy a token that will get them into the petting zoo and more often than not climb behind the wheel of the jacked up Jeep made of license plates out front.. The tour of the home is usually next as visitors move through the cavern where more exclamations of “I haven’t seen one of those in years…” echoes throughout nearly every room.
Back outside the same cry can be heard echoing off the cliffs overhead as visitors move through restored gas pumps from bygone years, and not so restored advertising signs, some still with neon intact. Reminders of motels or sporting goods stores that were fixtures in Moab, Blanding, Cortez or another nearby roadside attraction in the Four Corners.
Wyndee feels like the changes they have made have tripled the visitation to Hole N’ ‘The Rock. And that is without advertising. She did a little of her own research to determine what was working. Hole N’ ‘The Rock was working.
“What we found out about 12 years ago, we were spending thousands a month in advertising and we did a little test for about two weeks. We had all the girls in all our stores ask the customers where they heard about us. We had radio ads, TV roller ads in town, but we found out that 95% of the people coming in were repeats or drive bys. No one mentioned the TV ads, no one mentioned the radio ads, no one mentioned the publications. Nada, it was like totally nuts. So we quit the advertising and we haven’t missed a beat. Well a few of the people we were advertising with monthly, they were not happy.”
This was just the opposite of what the common wisdom was. When consulting mortgage bankers and loan originators the message was just the opposite. Advertise! Advertise big!
When you look at Hole N’ ‘The Rock you realize that it is already advertising big. Plus there’s that Jeep up on top of the thing. That will get your attention.
Wyndee knows that big red rock is a big draw and not just to those out on vacation.
“I do get a lot of locals from Moab that come out to do their Christmas shopping because we have unique stuff. They don’t like the gift shops in town because they are too high priced.” Wyndee says as her eyes betray a smile behind her mask.
This is where the call to the locals comes into play. You are most likely craning your neck to see what’s over there as you drive by it on your way to Moab anyway. If it’s hot out, there is ice cream inside. If it’s cold out, there’s ice cream inside. Stop. Look around. You have been dying to go inside that 5000 square foot cave home all your life. Do it. Then come outside and see what happened to all that stuff that has populated your life along the way. And while you’re at it feed a camel.