Southern Utah has true historian in Mel Aldrich, 82
Mel and Zoe Aldrich started visiting Duck Creek in the 1950s. The couple now has homes in both Cedar City and Duck Creek, and until recently would often be seen flying a four-seat 1958 Cessna 175.
Mel Aldrich photography
DUCK CREEK, Utah – If this quaint community situated about 30 miles east of Cedar City ever needed a mayor or a town historian, Mel Aldrich would undoubtedly be a slam-dunk for either of the positions.
While many have discovered the beauty of Duck Creek in the past five years or so, Aldrich was scouring the area 50 years ago looking for hunting and fishing to escape the rat race of Southern California.
Now 82, the former field rep for the shuttle program and the Saturn Apollo program remains the go-to guy for those searching for history of the area. His photography has proven invaluable for everyone from developers wanting shots of the mountains to the Utah Department of Transportation needing aerial photos of the recent avalanche along Highway 14.
Add in the shot Aldrich got of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1946 on the island of Terciera in the Azores off the coast of Portugal. At the time, Eisenhower was returning from Europe to run for president of the United States.
“I was on a flight to the coast of France and out of uniform having just crawled off our B-17 in flight fatigues, no cap, not even the presence of mind to salute either the Colonel or General Ike,” Aldrich laughs now.
Until recently, Aldrich was able to secure many his photos while flying a four-seat 1958 Cessna 175, which he restored in the early 1970s. The popular figure retired from flying and put the Cessna 175 up for sale but not before marking up thousands of memories.
Aldrich still remembers leading a caravan through Zion National Park and being detoured to Cedar City via Highway 14 in 1959 to what was then called Movie Ranch (now Duck Creek).
Once the group had made it to Cedar City, the Aldriches knew they’d never forget the beauty of what would eventually become Duck Creek Village. It was an unforgettable beauty that has since transformed the area into a wildly-popular getaway.
“I started coming to Duck Creek back in the 1950s,” said the colorful Aldrich, whose multi-faceted talents include that of pilot, photographer and Howard Hughes-like ability to spot a success story long before many others were born.
Aldrich found a piece of property overlooking the meadow on Movie Ranch Road and calmly watched as everyone else found their way up Highway 14 over the next several decades.
Aldrich and his wife, Zoe, will celebrate their 61st anniversary in March enjoying the summers in Duck Creek while retreating to Cedar City to escape the cold in the winters.
At the home in Cedar City, there is a display featuring about a dozen planes Aldrich built with 3-6 foot wingspans. His prize work is probably the replica of a B-17 that he rode in 1946 while serving as a crew chief on a plane as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corp.
After Zoe and Mel Aldrich, everyone else in Southern Utah is a Johnny-Come-Lately, or at least in Duck Creek. When it comes to story-telling in these parts, the Aldriches are sources for everything from their first visits to developer Milt Farney’s real estate promotions in the 1970s and the first Duck Creek Chili Cook-Offs the early 1980s.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget the filming of famous movies in Duck Creek ranging from How the West Was Won starring James Arness; Daniel Boone; Big Skies of Wyoming; and the biggest of all My Friend Flicka.
“We still love Duck Creek, but not in the same way,” Mr. Aldrich says now. “The biggest difference is that a one-room cabin used to be luxury. Look what they’re building now.”
While Mel and Zoe continue to enjoy their 1,000 square-foot cabin that cost about $3,000 to build in the early-1970s, the invasion of newcomers has resulted in numerous Taj Mahal-like structures so lavish they could be featured in some of the country’s top architectural publications.
“He is super stubborn,” laughs Rick Hanna of Mountain Man Realty. “He sees things and if they’re not right, he follows through.
“Mel doesn’t have a lazy bone in his body and Zoe is the same way. They both have done so much for the village.”
Hanna, 57, has been in real estate since 1982 and he recalls the first time he met Aldrich.
“I was riding my snowmobile on his property,” recalled Hanna. “He came out and told me to get off his property. Then, my snowmobile broke down and he came out and fixed it for me.
“By the time he finished with the repairs, we were fine with one another. I have flown with Mel, and he’s an excellent pilot. He is sheer determination.”
Duck Creek builder Rudy Delapaz, who has lived in Duck Creek since 1994, added “He worked for Nassau years ago and he’s really an amazing guy. And he’s still going strong.
“As a pilot, he knows the mountains in Southern Utah better than anyone. He provides a service of aerial photography of the area unlike anyone else. If you want an aerial shot of your cabin, he’s the man. For a guy who is flying and hanging out the window shooting photos at the same time, he’s quite a talented individual.”
Zoe Aldrich has nothing but fond memories of her husband, who she met him in 1945 while the two were living in La Habra, Calif.
“He likes to try different things and he follows through with everything,” Zoe says. “He was very good on his job in helping put together the moon mission and the space shuttle. He never sits still and always has something to do.”
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