Monticello, Utah – The Making of the Saddle Trees

Monticello, Utah – The Making of the Saddle Trees

Leaving our winter home in Morenci, AZ, and headed north toward Salt Lake City, UT. I’d like you to come along with us on our adventure.

So, as we’re leaving Safford, AZ, heading west by northwest across San Carlos Apache reservation, the terrain is both high desert and mountainous in this region with ten thousand seven-hundred-foot Mt Graham to the South which bears ponderosa pine, blue spruce, and douglas fir. The ponderosa pine is also known as Apache pine. These pines have an unusually long needles, which are gathered to create baskets.

Salt River Canyon

After turning onto 60 N near Globe, AZ, and winding through the mountains and still on the San Carlos reservation, we came to an amazing canyon called Salt River Canyon. Before descending the winding switchback road, there are multiple brake check areas, just to give you an idea of just how steep this road is. It’s 4% and some 7% grades and traveled by many big rigs as a shortcut. The sound of jake brakes is very common in this area.

As you get to the bottom, there is a visitor center and an old bridge which you can walk across and see the Salt River below. While we were there, the winter melt-off was in full swing. This river was raging big! Once we crossed the bridge and started our ascend up the other side, before topping out, there are multiple areas to pull off and view this amazing Grand Canyon-like area.


Next stop, Pinetop! As we were driving through Pinetop, we came across Donald Trump/Patriot headquarters. We stopped and ate at a Mexican restaurant there before heading toward Snowflake. Outside of Pinetop, we turned left and headed West toward Snowflake and Holbrook. Once reaching Holbrook we continued North on 191 across the Navaho Nation on some of the roughest paved roads our GMC has ever been on! There is also a Hopi Indian Reservation, almost spot dab in the middle of the Navaho Nation.

Traveling through countless sand canyons, we came upon a fairly large group of Hogans in the town of Chinle. Hogans are octagon dwellings that Navahos called their home for centuries. Some are made of modern materials, others of logs that are laid down in somewhat of a log cabin-style wall. The older ones we saw had a dirt roof with a stove pipe centrally located and the entrance always pointing East. It is my understanding that if an individual dies in a Hogan, the body is not removed from the doorway, but a wall is knocked out to remove the body and the Hogan is then burned to the ground.

My knowledge of the Navaho people and their ways was graciously explained to me by a dear friend of mine who is from Chinle, Jeremy Perry. He and his family have made traditional Navaho jewelry for many years. While spending time with him I was able to ask him about his people and their culture.

Monticello, Utah

As we left this area and continued North through areas of sandstone pillars. These are some of the most beautiful red monuments one could imagine. We went North out of Arizona into Utah, crossing the San Juan River toward the quaint town of Bluff, UT. Continuing North to our first stop and overnight stay in Monticello, Utah, it was a beautiful drive through snowcapped mountains.

While in Monticello, we had dinner at Gustavo’s Mexican restaurant, which was more Mexico City-style cuisine. I would recommend stopping here to eat, if ever in this area.

Mexico City style tacos. Small flat corn tortillas with carne asada, red onion and cilantro with a white bowl with spicy jalapeño dipping sauce.                    Mexico City style tacos. Small flat corn tortillas with chicken, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, and cilantro with a white bowl with spicy jalapeño dipping sauce.

We stayed at The Atomic Blue Motor Inn on Main Street that night. It was the neatest retro-style remodeled motel and made you feel like you had stepped back in time. It was affordable and clean, and the staff was friendly and helpful.


Hotel room of Atomic Clue Motor Inn in Monticello, UT. The curtains are orange, the bedding is white with yellow, green and orange stripe. There is an old time yellow rotary style phone on the brown table along with a retro TV box that held facial tissues. There's a grey and white chair next to a small white, round table. Along the back green wall, there was a multi level writing desk with a whilte lamp and grey chair

There are several places to eat in the quaint town of Monticello, but some seem to be seasonal. Breakfast and coffee was a no-go!

The making of saddle trees in Monticello, Utah

Our main reason for staying the night in this little burg was to stop in and visit Sonny Felkins at Quality Manufacturing. They have built saddle trees for top saddle builders for close to forty years. After arriving and walking into the office and not being met by the man himself, I proceeded to the back where I could hear a sander running and commandeered a gentleman sanding on a tree bar. The gentleman turned off the machine and offered his hand. When I asked for Sonny, he pointed his finger upwards and said, “He’s up with God!”

Sonny had passed away around a month prior. The gentleman I was speaking to was Lester Lee, a long-time employee of Sonny’s and now the shop foreman for Double L Saddle Tree. Double L Saddle Tree is now owned by two individuals in the area.

Vincent in a blue coat, zipped up with a cowboy hat and seringeti sunglasses. He has a salt and pepper colored mustache. The other man is wearing a blue tshirt and cap. He's wearing glasses and has a grey mustache and goatee. They are standing next to a table with a saddle tree on it.

Type of saddle trees

We are very fortunate that these two individuals are continuing the tradition of producing rawhide-covered saddle trees. This type of saddle tree is the tried and tested saddle tree that has been around for centuries. With the advent of synthetic materials, fiberglass, injection molded, rhino-coated, will never take the place of these wood and rawhide saddle trees. This process allows the tree to flex under the movement of a horse and thus not creating soreness. The wood used in these trees has a memory and will always return back to its original form. The rawhide covering is hand-nailed, not stapled, and laced with deer hide string, which is laced by hand done by Lester’s wife.

saddle tree made from rawhide covered wood with a black and white sticker on it that says "Double L Custom Saddle Trees"

We should support those that carry on with all the vast legacies left behind by those before us.

Always remember, keep your mind in the middle and a leg on each side.

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