It is surprising how many people in Utah know very little about one of the great stories from Utah history — the story of the Hole-In-the-Rock pioneers.

One hundred and thirty years ago this October, some 250 undaunted Utahns answered a call and with faith set out on an "impossible journey" that took them through some of the most desolate and rough terrain on the North American continent.

The Hole-In-the-Rock expedition, or San Juan Mission, as it came to be known, is the story of Mormon pioneers who answered a call to go to the Four Corners area of southern Utah to serve as a buffer between lawlessness and civilization. They settled Bluff and other surrounding communities in what is now San Juan County. An influx of white men — cattlemen looking for grazing land, miners from boomtowns in southern Colorado, lawless elements seeking a place outside the grasp of the law — threatened to clash with the Native Americans in the area and engulf the whole southern part of the territory in another Indian war.

These intrepid saints went forth not for money or personal gain. Unlike earlier pioneers, they were not fleeing persecution or seeking a place where they would find freedom of religion. This group lived in prosperous Mormon communities in comfortable homes and ran successful businesses or farmed land much more productive than where they were going. Even more astonishing, they went as families. About one in five of the company were children 6 years old or under.

They went because they were called and because they believed that call was from the Lord. They went because they believed it was necessary for the safety and good of the overall community.

University of Utah historian David Miller wrote: "In all the annals of the West, replete with examples of courage, tenacity and ingenuity, there is no better example of the indomitable pioneer spirit than that of the Hole-In-the-Rock expedition of the San Juan Mission. No pioneer company ever built a wagon road through wilder, rougher, more inhospitable country, still one of the least-known regions in America. None ever demonstrated more courage, faith, and devotion to a cause than this group." ("Hole In the Rock," p. ix)

They cut a wagon road across the Escalante desert to a cleft in the sheer rock face of the Colorado River gorge, which today overlooks Lake Powell. This narrow crevice, which they named the Hole In the Rock, descended through solid rock at a breathtaking 45- to 50-degree angle. In order to descend through the narrowest part, they blasted out the side walls and used that material for fill for much of the rest of the 1,700-foot drop. About 80 wagons then plunged through the cleft down to the river below. Miraculously, not a wagon was lost, and there were only minor injuries to animals and the pioneers.

Although the Hole In the Rock was one of the most remarkable achievements of the company and gave its name to the expedition, the challenges didn't end there. Pioneers blasted and carved a wagon road through the hostile red-rock country from the Colorado River all the way to the San Juan River. What was supposed to take only six weeks ended up taking six months. Three babies were born along the way. Miraculously, not a single life was lost.

In the end, they accomplished their purpose. Today, thousands of their descendants trace their roots to Bluff and Blanding, Monticello and Montezuma Creek and other settlements and their ancestry to these heroic pioneers.

It is a remarkable story and one that can lift and motivate us today to emulate their courage, their effort, their undaunted determination to do what needs to be done.

As we celebrate Pioneer Day this year, as we remember those first companies that came to the Salt Lake Valley then spread out to colonize the Great Basin, may we also remember these later pioneers of 130 years ago and honor them for who they were and what they did.

Gerald Lund is the author of several historical novels, including the series "The Work and the Glory." His soon-to-be-released novel, "The Undaunted," tells the story of the Hole-In-the-Rock pioneers.