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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172

Tangri-La: Utah Back Country
by Mark Swint

One of the things about back country flying that I most enjoy is the occasional discovery of a truly spectacular spot unknown to the rest of the non-flying world. Every once in a while a small piece of paradise is encountered, and I’d like to tell you about one such spot and the truly extraordinary man who created it.

This place is called Tangri-La and it began as one man’s dream for a little bit of heaven on earth. Its creator is Bud Tangren, a successful Las Vegas businessman who has literally carved a personal retreat out of the red sandstone cliffs that reign in the mighty Colorado River just a few miles up from its confluence with the Green River.

Bud is no stranger to the raw, natural beauty of Southeastern Utah. In the 60s, he and his brother established a nice little 2,000 acre spread on the Green River in a place known as Anderson Bottom. They ran cattle on the ranch, which sat in some of the most scenic land in the west. Since they had the only fresh water readily available for ninety miles, their ranch became a favorite stopover for the rafters who would float the river. Because of the land’s natural beauty, Morris Udall, Secretary of the Interior under Richard Nixon, came to Anderson Bottom with his brother Stewart (later a senator from Arizona). In 1970 they spent three days with the Tangren brothers while surveying the area by helicopter. After their visit the government decided to incorporate the ranch into the Canyonlands National Park. The U.S. Park Service came in and condemned the land. They threw the Tangrens off their hard-won property and destroyed everything they had built over the previous decade. They dug holes and buried the equipment, vehicles and anything else that couldn’t be burnt or hauled away. In the end the Tangrens received absolutely no compensation whatsoever for their land, equipment or hospitality!

Being an indomitable spirit, Bud decided to move east a few miles to the Colorado River and start over. He faced years of bargaining and obstacles with the State of Utah and the Federal Government before finally securing 135 acres of beautiful Colorado River bottom just south of Moab, Utah. Spending that first winter in a trailer convinced Bud that he needed a structure a bit more substantial. His first project was to build a lodge house on a rocky outcrop just next to the river. At the same time he contracted with some fellows to blast 10 hotel rooms out of the side of the nearby cliff. His thinking was that he could have an exclusive dude ranch with enough rooms for a few guests with the lodge serving as the restaurant and gathering place. Building the rooms out of the rock took advantage of the insulating properties of the sandstone and the rooms are maintained at an almost constant 70 degrees.

The blasting portion of the project went pretty quickly with almost 1,000 cubic feet of rock coming down at a time. Bud says the real work was in mucking out the debris after each blast. Eventually, the process was refined and soon they could drill and blast each charge in 40 minutes. The mucking out took another hour, so considerable progress could be made in a day. The biggest challenge to the whole project was getting the supplies and equipment to the ranch. Bud said the closest source of materials was in Grand Junction Co., Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City.

As the blasting continued, and the process became more refined, Bud began to realize that a private residence for him and his family could easily be blasted out of the adjoining hillside concurrent with the rest of the work. The first effort on the residence began with a garage project on the lower level during which three bays approximately 50' deep were blasted. Next came the residence itself, which was up and to the side of the garages. One of the things Bud is most proud of is the fact that two different efforts to blast a tunnel up from the garage were started simultaneously. One crew started down from the top and the other came up from the bottom. In a time when laser alignment drilling was not available to the average person, these two efforts were done with some good old fashioned WAG engineering and they met perfectly in the middle. The home consists of a large living room area with a kitchen, bathroom and three good-sized bedrooms. I can attest to the insulating quality of the rock, because when I was last there on a very cold December day the home was a very comfortable 72 degrees.

The best of mining technology was employed in the construction of the caverns. After each hole was created the walls were secured with 6' anchor bolts holding chain link fencing and metal lathe. Gunnite was then sprayed into the lathe providing a finished appearance while at the same time ensuring that no loose piece of rock came down unexpectedly. All the blasting and primary excavating was accomplished rather quickly in 1980. The finish work took a bit longer and the overall project is an ongoing effort, which shows considerable progress even since my last visit just a few months earlier. At present a nice Sauna complex is being built next to the hotel rooms. This will complement the aforementioned lodge, home, hotel rooms, and shooting range. Other buildings on site are dedicated to the construction project and the part time cattle ranching which goes on periodically.

One of the less-successful endeavors at Tangri-La was a lovely fruit orchard Bud planted early on to provide fresh fruits for his guest. He had all of the fruits common to Utah and the trees were flourishing until a family of porcupines showed up and in very short order managed to strip the bark off the base of almost all the trees. A few trees survived but most were killed right away.

Power for Tangri-La comes from a power station built next to the lodge but it is rather noisy. Bud has installed a solar panel array, which provides sufficient energy for average demand. Refrigeration for food is accomplished with propane powered refrigerators like those found in nice motor homes, and a bank of batteries stores unused solar power for evening needs. Water comes in two forms: most culinary water is bottled and shipped in, while water for showering and other normal usage is taken right from the river. Bud has rigged several giant tanks to hold the river water. It is allowed to settle for a time in one tank, then transferred into another for use. After the river sediment has settled out it is quite clean and with some chlorine treatment is perfectly suitable for most applications.

Bud is a master collector and scavenger. His property boasts a Howitzer cannon on the gun range, a portable jail cell which did duty in the wilder days of Fremont Street in Las Vegas, and a four section tower around the power house. The tower was once the scaffolding used by Steve McPeak to mount the world's tallest unicycle for the “Guinness Book of World Records.” (Steve also holds the record for the longest unicycle ride, covering 160 miles in 24 hours.) The most bizarre item on the property, in my opinion, is a giant baseball set in the middle of a pasture. I asked Bud about that and he told me it was an old marker buoy that they hauled in as part of an art project for his son and a friend who painted it with its baseball motif.

Another unique feature of the property involves Bud’s effort to tame the mighty Colorado River during its annual flood cycle. Every year the lower flat of Tangri-La would flood and remain under water for a time. Bud solved the problem by bringing in old autos laid end to end along the river. He poured a half yard of cement in each and covered the whole thing with dirt. The Dutch would be proud of the resulting dike, which has held the river back for the last twenty years. The government was not so proud and the BLM objected, but as Bud says, sometimes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to seek permission.

Bud has always intended that Tangri-La be for fly-in guests only. The property is accessed by one of the best private airstrips I have ever seen. It is 2900' long and about 75' wide. It is perfectly smooth and I would not hesitate bringing any type of small aircraft in. He will not let any road vehicle come onto the property other than the construction vehicles he has utilized in the past. His dream is to have a fly-in dude ranch for the discriminating traveler who could use an airplane to achieve the ultimate get away from the civilized world for a time.
Bud is spending most of his time now on another project called Sky Ranch, just 10 nautical miles east of Tangri-La. There he has secured 40 acres where he has paved a beautiful 3500' airstrip and is, at present, securing all the permits and authorizations to begin selling one-acre home sites right on the runway. When all is ready, a lucky few will be able to have a vacation cabin or full time home right in the heart of the magnificent Red Rock country for which Moab is becoming world famous.

These days, Bud’s son Rodney is taking up the bulk of the work remaining to be done at Tangri-La. Rod hopes to have it open for limited business and overnight guests later this year. In the meantime, day travelers are welcome to stop in anytime. Explore all you want but make sure the curtains are closed when you leave and don’t lock the doors! You will usually be there alone, as the work on the place comes in fits and spurts; however, the buildings are open. Feel free to have a piece of candy from the dish on the coffee table and when you’re done looking around make sure you leave the place as you found it. Bud would, however, appreciate an entry in the guest book sitting on the piano.

Tangri-La is located on the Denver Sectional right below the Potash settling ponds on the west side of the Colorado river just upstream from Canyonlands Park. The lat./long. coordinates are N.38.28.0 W. 109.39.5 The strip, while bounded by the cliffs on either side of the river, is very easily accessed from either direction. For those of you coming up from Arizona, Nevada or Southern California, an excursion over the Colorado River canyon will provide one of the most spectacular scenic rides of a lifetime. If you are coming in from the North or East you might want to fly down stream for a similar experience. Once on the ground there is a cement parking pad just off the strip at mid-field, or you can taxi in and around the lodge to park closer to the hotel rooms.

If you would like to visit Bud’s other project at Sky Ranch, the coordinates for that strip are N.38.30.0 W. 109.27.5. Bud and his lovely wife Lacoma might just be there and you will have no trouble at all being entertained by his accounts of the projects and the surrounding local history.

If you are thinking of visiting Tangri-La or want to find out more about a home site in Moab, feel free to call Bud at his home in Las Vegas at (702) 451-1779 or in Moab at (435) 259-1966. If you can’t get in touch with him before you go, don’t let that stop you. Just realize that you will only experience half the marvel of Tangri-La!

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.