“There weren’t many flower gardens [in Moab],” Newell said, adding that very few streets in Moab were paved at the time. “It took me three years to learn to live here and like it. Now I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Newell was born in Sudan, N.M. When she was a year old her family homesteaded in Dove Creek, Colo.
“Dove Creek was our stomping ground,” she said. “We always came back to Dove Creek.”
Newell spent most of her childhood there, but her family often spent winters in Durango, where her father earned extra money working the smelters. “I loved Durango,” Newell said. “It was like the big city to us.”
The family moved to Monticello while Newell was in high school. Her father opened a small grocery store that he operated throughout the Great Depression.
“Nobody ever left without something to eat,” Newell said. “People always tried to pay [him] back.”
She recalls a phone call her father received after retiring to Arizona. He had given a man $15 worth of food during those difficult economic times, and the man wanted to pay him back. “He drove 100 miles out of his way to pay back $15,” she said.
Newell later attended a small business college in Grand Junction, Colo. “I outlived the school,” she said, noting that it has long since closed.
Soon, however, she determined business wasn’t for her. So she transferred to Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., and there, she discovered her love for writing.
“I took this wonderful journalism class and got stuck on it,” she said.
During a vacation break from school, Newell was offered a job as the secretary for the Farm Security Administration in Monticello. The job included travel to Salt Lake City to take a Civil Service exam, and that led to a job offer with the U.S. State Department.
“World War II was just building up, and the boys were leaving,” she said. To fill the vacated jobs, the government started hiring women to work in the offices. Newell accepted a job in the State Department’s Special Division, which took her to Washington, D.C., a big change for a small-town girl.
“I’d only ever been to Denver or Salt Lake,” she said.
Newell said that her job was fascinating, and she really enjoyed it until she heard about a job opening with the federal Alaska Highway construction project.
“I’d never been to Canada,” she said. “It sounded too interesting not to go see.”
So she headed to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. And although she was employed on the project, she had only driven 10 miles on the highway itself, and that after a sympathetic truck driver let her ride along so that she could say she’d driven on the highway.
Soon after, Newell headed to San Francisco. “It sounded like a good place to be,” she said.
She was working for the Army Corps of Engineers when the war ended.
Eventually, she decided to move home.
“I’d had my bellyful of big cities,” she said. She moved back to Monticello to be close to her parents. Then she met her husband, George (Hub) Newell, at the Hole n’ the Rock, which was a restaurant at the time. They’d never met because he was from Moab, and Newell’s parents had told her that Moab boys were off-limits because they were “too wild.”
Maxine and Hub married and moved to Green River, where he worked as a bridge engineer. Their only daughter, Jane, was born there. The family bounced between Green River, Moab and Monticello before finally settling in Moab.
Newell spent six years writing for The Times-Independent, and in 1968, she accepted a job as a ranger with the National Park Service, a job she kept until she retired.
“My favorite thing to do was an interpretation of Wolfe Cabin, so I tracked the history of that down. That became my first book,” Newell said.
Newell went on to write several other books including “Charlie Steen’s Mi Vida” (1992), “The Untold History of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument” (with Terby Barnes in 1998), and “The Story of the Hole N’ the Rock” (2005). Newell said she was a friend of the Steen family for much of her life and knew Charlie Steen and his family quite well.
“Charlie and I shared a birthday,” she said.
Hub died in 1975, only two years after the couple had moved into a home on Walker Street in Moab. Newell stayed there for several more years before deciding that the 80 rose bushes she tended to were too much work. Though her garden is smaller now, she still grows roses.
Newell has a crowd of friends who stop by her house every afternoon for “happy hour,” and, she says, she is content.
“My son-in-law asked me once why anyone would want to live in Moab,” she said. “My answer was that everything is a little easier here.”