This narrow slit in the wall of the canyon was the site of one of the most heroic and determined efforts at colonization by Mormon pioneers of the West. the Mormon Church organized the San Juan mission to select a site for settlement in the region. The expedition was composed of nearly two hundred-fifty men, women, and children, traveling in eighty-two covered wagons, and accompanied by nearly one thousand head of cattle. The "short-cut" proved to be deceptive, and the pioneers spent the winter at Forty-Mile Spring. A portion of the group camped at the top of the Hole-in-the-Rock, a narrow crack in the canyon rim 2.5 miles (4 km) downstream from the mouth of the Escalante River. It was through this notch that the party intended to make its way. Throughout the winter, they worked on the crack, enlarging the opening.
Work was slow and tedious with only pick axes, shovels, and limited quantities of blasting powder available. The precipitous drop to the river below was nearly 2000 feet with an average grade of 25 degrees, although some places were as steep as 45 degrees. At last, on January 26, 1880, the expedition made its way slowly down the precarious road. A ferry was built at the bottom and was used to cross the Colorado river."
- Barry M. Goldwater