Saturday, August 8, 2020


Moab, UT

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    Beautiful lightning show has downside

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    Ron Drake
    Ron Drake
    Times-Independent Columnist

    A lightning storm July 23 provided Castle Valley residents with a spectacular light show across the eastern sky.

    Bill Rau, who is an avid photographer and seeks out clouds and sky pictures as his favorite subjects, caught some beautiful images of cloud-to-cloud lightning during the storm. Other residents either took photos or just watched in awe as the spectacle unfolded before them.

    Some of the spectators also witnessed one lightning strike that made contact with the ground, or more specifically, a cedar tree that immediately flamed up like a huge torch. Some members of the Castle Valley Fire Department also saw the lightning strike while other residents called fire department members or the Grand County Sheriff’s dispatch office to report the strike.

    Three members of the Castle Valley Fire Department responded to the rugged area of upper Castle Valley southeast of Round Mountain, which is located on land under the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management. The fire department members traveled as far as they desired on the rough two-track road and located the smoke from the strike about a mile off of the road.

    A lightning strike at Castle Rock
    File photo courtesy of Bill Rau

    The Moab Interagency Fire Center was notified in the meantime and they dispatched Bruce Jenkins, the Grand County fire warden and two BLM fire crews to locate and deal with the fire. The local fire department members remained in the area until the other fire units arrived.

    Jenkins said that they continued on the road until they came to within 200 yards of the location then used their noses to sniff out and locate the source of the smoke. They found debris under the tree still burning and returned to Moab at about 11:30 p.m. after dousing the flames.

    The next morning a crew from the Utah Division of Forest, Fire and State Lands spotted a tree that was still burning at the east end of Porcupine Draw. They accessed that fire from the Loop Road and put it out.

    Forty years ago this week construction began in Castle Valley for the new telephone system. Previously there were a half-dozen phones in Castle Valley, which were provided from an old phone system that dated back to around the turn of the 20th century. Niels Fugal and Sons, a Pleasant Grove contracting firm under contract with Continental Telephone, began laying underground telephone cable on all the community’s roads with drop wire to each home. The new system at the time involved beaming the signals from Moab to Bald Mesa on the La Sal Mountains, then back down to Porcupine Rim and from there to a concentrator in the valley. From there the signal travels by underground cables to each home. The equipment for the system has been upgraded several times over the years but the general operation of the system remains the same today. The new phone system was in operation by December of that year.

    It wasn’t long after it went into operation, and as the valley began to populate, the phone company had to add new phones lines to meet the demand for phone service. This happened several times over the years and one time after new lines were added the general manager at the time stated that Castle Valley would never need any more new lines.

    This was just before the internet became a household necessity and the manager didn’t foresee what was to happen. Since then the utility has struggled to keep up with the demand. River Canyon Wireless has installed a service, which provides reliable internet service to most residents in Castle Valley, and that has eased the burden for Frontier Communications.

    Currently Emery Telcom is installing fiber optic lines in the area and will soon lay wire to homes that subscribe to their service. So, the residents of Castle Valley have come a long way since that new system 40 years ago.

    Just over 20 years ago the Castle Valley Planning Commission was in contact with a cell phone company to put a tower on the town lot. The commission pointed out the benefits from the tower that, besides the obvious cell phone coverage, included $6,000 per year for the space. Nothing happened from that initial conversation. Maybe the same company was in contact with the fire department to use their station on the Castleton Road for a tower about the same time. The fire district didn’t own the property at the time so no further discussion ensued from that initial contact.

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