Hilltop Hideout

A Utah couple embrace their Western roots.

Front exterior view

Vernal, UT, could be called a destination town. In prehistoric times, dinosaurs flocked there. Appropriately, Vernal is the gateway town to Dinosaur National Monument, a treasure trove of fossils. Later, humans came, leaving ancient rock art and old homesteads. In recent years, the migration to Vernal has been industrial. The town is booming with the development of natural gas drilling. This new busy-ness and subsequent loss of quaintness prompted long-time Vernal residents Sharon and Craig Hart to head for the hills. Craig’s family has raised cattle in the area for generations, so he is familiar with the ranch lands surrounding Vernal.

The landscape hasn’t changed much since outlaws roamed there, including Butch Cassidy and his infamous Hole in the Wall Gang. Sharon likes to recall those days and is more intrigued by stories of outlaws than by those of the dinosaurs. Sharon and Craig found the perfect property 35 miles outside of town, 20 acres located in the irresistibly named Butch Cassidy Estates. They envisioned building a little hideout cabin to escape from their home in bustling Vernal. The location is not for the faint of heart. To get to town, the Harts have to drive eight to nine miles of dirt road at 7,440 feet elevation, then another 25 miles on paved but narrow and winding roads. Living in this rugged outback takes determination, but the Harts have never regretted their decision to build there.
Special "tree house" room

After buying their land, the couple embarked on finding the log-home company they felt was right for them. While doing their research, they visited a model in Kalispell, Montana, by Montana Log Homes. The tour sold them not only on the company, but also on the model home’s design, which they patterned their home after, with some alterations. “We increased the overall dimensions of the floor plan a little and flipped it to accommodate the building site,” company sales representative David Gray recalls. The design process took a little more than a month. The result was a 2,780-square-foot handcrafted home. “Craig probably had something much grander in mind all along,” Sharon says. Craig admits sheepishly that her hunch is “probably true.”

Delivery of the skip-peeled, lodgepole-pine logs with 12-inch average diameters was scheduled for May 2005, but heavy spring rains and snowmelt resulted in extremely muddy conditions that delayed delivery. Sharon remembers pulling on garbage bags like fishing waders to walk from the car to the house during construction. The three truckloads of logs finally arrived in July. The project manager from Montana Log Homes and the building crew from Mark Feltch Construction were there to meet the trucks and unload the logs. It took four days to stack the logs and another four to cut openings in the logs for the doors and windows.

Great room and hearth in the log home

When Mark informed Craig and Sharon that finishing the home would take about a year, they didn’t understand how that could be, when erecting the shell required only eight days. “We left the job for four months of winter,” Mark explains, blaming harsh weather conditions that limit access to the site to snowmobile. “We left the project in November after getting the roof on and the home closed in.” When construction started, the nearest power line was 2-1/2 miles from the property, so Craig moved a large generator on site for the construction crew. Two months after work began, the community homeowners association banded together to bring power into the development.

By the following spring, the Harts’ building site had permanent power, making the construction crew’s job considerably easier. The workers returned in March, and the home was ready for occupancy in September 2006. Sharon recalls the couple’s first “sleepover” occurred on Labor Day weekend. When it came to decorating the home, Sharon’s experience in the furniture business—she owned an antique shop for 20 years—gave her the expertise to pull together the design elements. The décor reflects the couple’s roots in the West. Warm, Western furnishings from a local store, Western Living, and antiques from Jackson, Wyoming, grace the rooms.

Much more about this home, including a floor plan and details about the life-sized aluminum animal statues, ran in the September 2008 issue of Log Homes Illustrated.