by Mary Cokenour
Mexican Hat, named after the famed sombrero formation, has a history rich in oil, gold prospecting, and uranium/vanadium mining.
In 1882, this small town was first named “Goodridge”, after E.L. Goodridge who came to the area in hopes of striking it rich on gold.
Like the Beverly Hillbillies, up from the ground came a bubbling crude; oil that is.
From 1906 to 1910, a man named Neville built and ran a trading post north of the San Juan River; but it was Jim Hunt who took it over and built the inn.
Over the San Juan River, the bridges that have come and gone have their own colorful history.
The original suspension bridge burned down and a second was built; wooden planking held many a horse drawn wagon, motorized vehicles, two legged to four legged walkers.
During the 1940s to 1952 (around the time the San Juan Inn was built), this small, narrow suspension bridge across the San Juan River could not support large trucks.
The ore, hauled from mines in Cane Valley and central Monument Valley, would be transferred to smaller trucks, transported across, and then transferred back to five-ton trucks, which brought the ore to a stockpiling area about a mile north of Mexican Hat.
In 1952, construction began on an all steel and concrete “arch” bridge (completed in 1953), which would support the full weight of the larger ore hauling trucks. (See a photo at sjrnews.com by Fred Blackburn; taken sometime within 1955-57 of the two bridges side by side)
This story comes from the father of Amy Watkins Kensley, teacher at the Monument Valley Elementary School:
“In 1953, the driver of a small truck hauling a bobcat tractor (as large as a D6 John Deere tractor) chose the wrong bridge to travel over. The full weight of both vehicles caused the planking to give way about halfway across; it all fell into the San Juan River, but, surprisingly, the driver was not injured.
“While being repaired, the work crew placed a wooden panel over the broken section; the bridge was closed down to all traffic. One day, a man asked if he could ride his horse over the suspension bridge, but was told no due to safety issues.
“However, the next morning, the work crew came upon the man attempting to ride his horse over the bridge anyway. It was very apparent that the horse did not want to go (horses being smarter than humans at times); however, they both made it across safely.”
In the 1970s, the suspension bridge had become obsolete and was finally dismantled which brings me to the Olde Bridge Grille (formerly Old Bridge Grill Café and renamed in 2007).
If you happen to watch the Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, this would proudly be rated “Dive”. Bar, pool hall and restaurant with delicious “you are definitely in Southeastern Utah” food…sandwiches and tacos made from authentic Navajo Fry Bread; Mexican specialties; deep fried foods that satisfy carb cravings without being greasy; half pound burgers, and sandwiches stuffed with meat to bring a tear to the eye of any meat lover.
Besides lunch, the Olde Bridge Grille serves breakfast and dinner; stay at the Inn and your meal is merely a few feet across the parking lot. This is the perfect place to sit with friends, family or even on your lonesome; look out at the San Juan River and enjoy a great meal.
The portions you receive are generous, reasonably priced, served with a smile, and you are not rushed out! Afterwards take a stroll along the property paralleling the river; check out the Hydraulic Measurement Station established in 1914; Trading Post with assortment of local handicrafts; the modern day “petroglyphs” painted on the red rock by a local artisan.
The San Juan Inn, Trading Post and Olde Bridge Grille; historical and a whole lot more!