Carving a hedge against doomsday

His beliefs are rock-solid

The Salt Lake Tribune/December 26, 2007

The way things were going, Bob Foster figured the end was near and there was no safer place to be than inside a rock in southern Utah.

That was 1979.

Nearly 30 years later, Foster still lives in a mammoth sandstone slab south of Moab, an astonishing creation he calls Rockland Ranch.

Through the years, Foster has carved eight homes and a "charity house" into the rock, creating comfortable and even luxurious dwellings.

When he started it all, Foster was a younger, stronger man - one driven by apocalyptic fears and his fundamentalist Mormon faith to find a safe haven to rear his polygamous family.

He found it on 82 acres in the sagebrush desert, an edge-of-the-world spot off a twisting, red dirt road and dominated by a massive sandstone formation.

"It was crystal clear this is the place," Foster said. "I knew I was to cut holes in rocks for a refuge center."

Foster signed a 50-year lease for the property, located on state school trust land, and began blasting home-sized holes in the sandstone.

There are 22 years left on the lease, which runs about $6,400 per year, but Foster doesn't expect the government to last that long.

So his work continues.

Foster's most recent project: the ''Charity House,'' a 10,800-square-foot space that will include 12 apartments, a library, chapel, baptismal font, kitchen, dining area, pantry and laundry.

"I didn't expect I'd be here but here I am," said Foster, 82, who has three wives (his first wife divorced him) and 38 children. "I told the Lord I'd be out here until I was 75, but he had other plans."

'The Lord made me so strong'

Foster is a lanky man with bright blue eyes and skin mottled by rock blasts and desert sun. He once worked as a seminary teacher for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The LDS Church, which publicly disavowed polygamy in 1890, excommunicated Foster in 1972 after he became a fundamentalist and took three wives. Two had taken seminary classes from him years before they married.

He was convicted of bigamy in 1974 and spent 20 days in jail doing "hard labor" - washing the sheriff's car.

"I figured it was a new mission," said Foster, who to this day remains a compelling preacher.

The experience, though, helped give urgency to his pursuit of a safe haven for his family and friends.

Foster worked in a uranium mine for nearly five months to learn how to "shoot" rock. He was 50 when he put that knowledge to work and began blasting at Rockland Ranch.

Foster worked alone because "the Lord made me so strong." In six months, he cut 70 holes into the rock, which is about a half-mile long and 500 feet tall.

Pennies from strangers

Money to fund the project came in strange and, in Foster's view, miraculous ways.

Tourists would take a less-traveled fork off a state road, wind up at "The Rock," chat with Foster and contribute a few bucks. A man once showed up with a truckload of ammonium nitrate. A woman gave him thousands to keep the work going. Once, a blast shot out a tourist's windshield.

"He laughed, handed me a $100 bill and drove off," he said. "Everybody that came through here was handing me money."

He turned one of the first spaces into a bed-and-breakfast inn, which had the motto "cliff dwelling at its best" and proved a big attraction for European tourists.

But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused business to dry up in an instant and Foster sold the space to another family, which uses it as a vacation home.

Homes with a view

The homes, which range from 1,700 to 6,000 or so square feet, are surprisingly comfortable. The interior of the rock is cool in the summer; wood stoves keep the homes toasty in the winter. And the views are fantastic.

Generators and solar power provide electricity; water comes from a 30,000-gallon water reservoir atop the rock.

There is an orchard, a volleyball court, an outdoor kitchen and miles of open space that is perfect for four-wheeling. For about 20 years Foster lived "flat alone" at the rock with, for various lengths of time, his wives and children - about 23 of whom spent most of their childhoods there.

"I loved it. It was just awesome," said Enoch Foster, 29, a son who moved back to the ranch about nine years ago and now helps carry on the construction.

Said Anne Wilde, a fundamentalist Mormon who has known Foster for about 35 years: "I greatly admire him for his desire to provide an opportunity to raise their children in an atmosphere where they learned to garden, raise animals, get water and power, repair machinery and build homes along with their academic schooling and religious training."

'It's not a sex party'

The ranch has, through the years, been developing into a small community of 70 to 75 people. Visitors are frequent.

"He is a friend to a lot of people and welcomes them down there," Wilde said.

The odd home fronts attached to the rock continue to draw strangers who want a closer look. They get a tour and a rousing conversation that typically circles around Foster's main focus: religion.

"I disturb a lot of people because I get into religion," said Foster, who is not associated with any sect. "But that is one of the missions I have to carry out."

He talks as much about the Bible as the Book of Mormon, intent on sharing his view that the "whole Christian community is a lost cause" because of its conception of God and other doctrines. Many of his views are on the Web at

As for polygamy, its purpose is the same today as it was in the days of Abraham, Foster said.

"If God has a man he wants multiplied, he puts him into plural marriage," he said. "It's not a sex party, it's to get children here."

The end must be near

Foster never expected to run out his lease. Long before that happened, he said, he figured state government would collapse.

He will be "dumbfounded" if life as we know it continues on much beyond 10 years, what with global warming, war and all.

"It isn't that it is coming to the end of the world, it is coming to the beginning of a different one," he said, adding that "I'm not the only one who sees we're headed for a brick wall."

Even Hollywood gets the message, he said, as shown by the stack of doomsday movies in his home. "Hollywood does this up in spades," he said.

Whatever comes, Foster is ready.

"I think I knew I was building another Ark," he said. "This one won't float, but it will be good against time, heat and fallout."

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