Outside magazine, November 1995
Bob Foster worries about sending people the wrong message. A polygamist who lives and stockpiles explosives in a cave near Utah's Canyonlands National Park, he knows as well as anybody the potential for being pigeonholed in these post-Oklahoma City times. "There's a lot of media hype about extremists and oddballs these days," Foster says, standing in front of his castle. "So I figured we'd just blow this wide open so there's no question about our motivation."
Foster, by the way, is being literal. Last year, in part to ease his fellow Utahans' minds and in part to take advantage of a tourism boom in the state, the 70-year-old blasted 12 additional "rooms" to the already honeycombed sandstone cliff he calls home. Then he hung a shingle for the Rockland Ranch Inn, a sort of Stone Age bed-and-breakfast whose motto, appropriately enough, is "Cliffdwelling at Its Best." As he speaks, a dozen or so guests are ensconced behind him in the orange sandstone, frolicking in the pool, making trips to the soda machine--cheerfully doing what motel guests do.
A rawboned former logger and high school religion teacher, Foster began carving his Xanadu about 15 years ago to be what he calls an "off the grid" sanctuary for his three wives and 38 children against impending floods, earthquakes, and urban riots. The arrangement worked quite nicely: Each wife set up housekeeping in a different cave, and Foster allocated the rest of the "holes" to his children. Then he had the B&B idea.
At the Rockland Ranch Inn, furnished caves like the so-called Flintstone Suite go for $55 to $75 a night. All guests are free to use the swimming pool, a natural sinkhole on top of the cliff. Bathrooms, however, must be shared--"Just like at Chevron or McDonald's," says Foster--and there's no TV, except for home videos of the Foster family's past demolition projects. If you want to engage in conversation about the evils of monogamy or Armageddon, Foster says he'll oblige. But he won't force anything on you. "We've only had one couple walk out," he says, "and I think that had more to do with sharing the bathroom than anything else."
To keep up with demand, Foster is drawing up plans for more guest rooms that will branch off from a 100-foot-long bilevel living room. He's also erecting a tepee village, and he wants to open a sweat lodge. These are grandiose plans for a man who believes civilization is on the verge of collapse, but Foster assures that the hand of God is upon his cliff and will shield those who dwell there from harm. "I came to this place with zero money, and two days later a man I barely knew drove up with a truckload of ammonium nitrate and said, 'Where do you want it?' " Foster says with reverent awe. "Miracles like that keep happening out here."