Friday, July 31, 2009

Rebels Without A Chew

In the summer of 1966, Barry and I strode the gravel streets and scrambled up the red rock escarpments of Bluff like we were the rightful owners of this southeastern Utah Shangri-La. There were, however, older inhabitants of the town who disputed our claims. Good-natured though they were, the Johnson boys, Perry and Ray, tried to set us right when we became too big for our britches.

Old Adam's Hotel in Bluff, Utah.
Old Adam's Hotel in Bluff, Utah.

On one particularly memorable occasion, Perry decided he had had enough of our antics. So, quickly scooping us up in his gangly, heavily freckled arms, he strapped us to a gatepost in front of the house, leaving us to bake in the desert heat. We would certainly have succumbed had it not been for our benevolent savior Rose, who heard our terrified cries. After enjoying a few moments of blissful satisfaction while we squirmed, Rose finally liberated us.

At that time, Bobby Goforth was in his early twenties, and was long, lean and handsome. In his blue jeans, cowboy boots, pressed shirt and black hat, he looked every bit the classic western lawman. Bobby’s mother, Mrs. Goforth, was the teacher at Bluff Elementary School, and she took proper care of her handicapped son; always guiding him in the way of the Lord and working hard to keep him safe from temptation. Bobby, however, had a secret.

Across from the Twin Rocks Bar stood the remnants of the Adams Hotel. The lodge had originally been built by Frederick Joseph Adams in the mid-1890s. Adams was just a youth when his parents arrived in Bluff during 1882. After marrying his wife Agnes, Adams built the structure to serve as a trading post. When he died, in order to provide for her family, Agnes turned the it into a hotel and began taking in boarders.

The old building had stood vacant for many years, and its wooden porch, although still intact, had many loose planks. As it turned out, this was the perfect place for Bobby to hide his chewing tobacco, six shooters and caps from the prying eyes of his mother, who worked just around the corner. Bobby could not, however, deceive Barry and me, and we often uncovered his stash to smell the aromatic tobacco and carelessly shoot up his caps. From time-to-time we would stand at a distance while Bobby stared in confusion at his inexplicably diminished cache.

When the tobacco got the best of him, Bobby would swagger into the Twin Rocks Bar with his guns slung low. Standing slightly bowlegged, with his hands firmly clinching the pearl handles of his realistic-looking toys, Bobby would search the room for unsuspecting tourists. When he identified an unfamiliar face, Bobby would look the visitor straight in the eyes and declare, “You have five minutes to get out of town.”

It generally did not take long for stools to scatter and fannies to fly when Bobby made his pronouncement. “Bobby,” the proprietor would say, “you’re killing my business.” Bobby would just grin and order a grape Nehi soda. When he was finished, Bobby would saunter out, waiting for the next opportunity to “give ‘em hell”.

Barry and I were 6 and 7 years old respectively, and we admired Bobby’s pluck, so one day we searched the dusty streets to ensure he was not in sight, strapped on his six-guns, reached into his hidey-hole for a little chewable courage and came up empty. Apparently Bobby had not replenished his stock.

In spite of our tobacco shortage, Barry and I boldly stormed the Twin Rocks Bar. We had seen a few cop shows on television, so while Barry went in first, I backed him up. Quickly identifying an unknown patron, Barry gave him a mean look , grabbed the pistols and shouted, “You have five minutes to get out of town.” I could feel the excitement rising in my young breast. Now I knew the power Bobby felt. “Piss off!” the burley beer drinker said, lifting his glass and drenching us with the remnants of his mug. With that simple movement, our courage was effectively quenched.

Barry and I slunk back to the old porch and replaced Bobby’s valuables. “Shudda had the tobacco,” Barry said. “Yeah” I agreed, wondering what Rose would say when she got a whiff of her alcohol drenched miscreants and worrying that she might reattach us to the post.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, July 24, 2009

Moth Madness/Or Not!

It was my turn to open the cafe last Sunday morning, so I left home early in order to enjoy a leisurely, predawn drive to Bluff. I have always relished rising early and arriving before the appointed time, getting a jump on things. A side benefit is that I get to see nature's reawakening while I search out new perspectives. I enjoy rolling down the car window and feeling the cool morning air. Driving slowly and quietly, I am able to experience the world before others get involved.

Moth Madness
Moth Madness

Arriving at the cafe, I proceeded to fire things up. Turning on the grills, I started the coffee percolating and lit a flame beneath the deep fryers. People would be in for fry bread and coffee soon, so being unprepared was courting disaster. It was not long before the cooks and wait staff showed up and kicked me out of the kitchen. They said something about not being interested in micro-management. I chastised the entire mob for being insensitive, made myself a glass of my personal Postum (a blend of coffee, milk and coco) and went outside to find peace on the porch.

Walking over to the patio between the cafe and trading post, I pulled up a chair and retreated into it. The moon flowers surrounding the alcove were in full and glorious bloom. I breathed in the freshness of the emerging day and the slight, gentle aroma of the plants, counting this as one of the simple pleasures in my life. I knew the scene would be drastically altered when the light and heat broke through. Soon after the sun discovers them, moon flowers, also known as datura or jimsonweed, wilt into limp, rumpled remnants.

While I relaxed, a hawk moth the size of a hummingbird visited the nocturnal blossoms. It is not uncommon to see these delicate creatures pollinating the jimsonweed. The moths insert their long beaks into the floral tube to reach the sweet nectar deep inside, thereby pollinating these remarkable flowers during the hours of darkness. This guy was running a tad late. As I watched the moth, I thought of how the Navajo view this creature. I smiled to myself at the correlation I see between their interpretation and mine. I remembered that moths are symbols of temptation and foolishness; that their behavior (acting like a moth; flying directly into the fire) has come to stand for self-destruction and insanity. That, the Navajo believe, is punishment for breaking cultural taboos.

The Navajo people realized long ago that everyone has an alter ego. The "other I" is a second personality or persona within a person. One positive aspect of moths is that, through pollination, they bring beauty to the world of humans. Harmony and balance in life is essential to survival and the laws of nature reflect this fundamental principle.

Watching that moth flit about in the early morning shadows caused me to reflect on my early religious training. I thought of what I came to know as, "The seven deadly sins" and later, "The seven opposing virtues". I learned, as the Navajo came to recognize in their own time, that it is often a greater struggle to battle against one's inner demons than to war against outward, obviously ominous outrage. Because we fight alone, the small personal battles we daily fight within ourselves can easily overcome us. They are incessant, continuous and threaten to drag us down, so we must find hope where we can. Often a simple, obvious metaphor can help maintain focus.

Sipping my drink, I felt a sense of wonder at living in this incomprehensible universe; well, maybe partially comprehensible. There is often a veil over reality; a hidden world bewildering to us. I recalled the day I realized that I live within a certain window of intelligence, or lack thereof. Right then I vowed to expand my outlook. I knew a great deal of inner reflection and outward education was essential to overcome my limitations.

One thing is certain, we all slip up, fall flat on our face and come up dirty. I openly admit that I regularly do so. To regain our footing, brush ourselves off, learn the lesson and rejoin the incredible journey is most important. A search for order; attempting to live the good life and fight the good fight is imperative. To rely on those who surround us, support us, have faith in us and understand our essence is essential to us and to those whom we support.

Watching that moth pollinating those luminous flowers helped me see that it is the human responsibility to promote order and project it onto the chaos of the world. Life is never simple or easy, and rules are often interpreted to promote our own self-satisfaction. The correct, just answers can be less than obvious, and the full story is not always told or comprehended. The trick is to attempt an understanding, to keep an open mind, to be flexible and willing to change when the facts present themselves. The goal is to be aware of and distance oneself from that, most destructive, open flame.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, July 17, 2009


It has been just over a month since the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) arrested numerous citizens of the Four Corners; focusing primarily on the community of Blanding. The indictments stemmed from alleged violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (“ARPA”) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”). At base, the charges related to removal of ancient artifacts from public and tribal lands.

Steve Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post
Steve Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Not much of national interest happens in southeastern Utah, so we are not accustomed to seeing so many television and newspaper reporters. When they arrived at Twin Rocks Trading Post, asking probing questions, looking for sound bites and hoping to write the story to end all stories, we were cautious.

Those indicted are our neighbors, schoolmates, clients; people we have known for the better part of 40 years. “Do you want to go on the record?” the media representatives asked. “No,” we responded, not wanting to speculate about the facts or harm our friends. There comes a time, however, when you have to put your marbles in your pocket and stake out a position.

As the weeks wore on and more facts leaked out, many people from outside the area telephoned and e-mailed, wanting to know our thoughts. “It’s complicated,” we told them, not wishing to engage. After all, one of our local doctors had taken his own life shortly after being arraigned and emotions were running high. We also have met the FBI agents assigned to this region. Both officers are intelligent, professional agents with families.

Enraged by the investigation and execution of the warrants, the townspeople of Blanding began making their own allegations of overreaching and excessive force; several of their comments touched me and others confounded me. The local people inquired, “Why did the the agents have to use flack jackets, shackles and guns?” They pointed out that many of the individuals arrested are good people.

Although this may prove an unpopular sentiment in our community, I have to ask, “What would you expect the agents to do under the circumstances?” Surely they have specified procedures designed to protect themselves and those accused of a crime. Just as surely, under our legal system we are innocent until proven guilty. Are those law enforcement procedures all right until they are applied to us? What would the spouse and children of an agent feel if he or she didn’t come home that evening, or came home with stories of how one of the suspects had been hurt or killed because standard procedure was not followed? It must be noted that the only casualties associated with the investigation were self-inflicted.

Having been indirectly involved in the botched 1986 raid of a similar nature, I was extremely interested to see how the Justice Department had prepared its case this time. My father, whose business was investigated during that earlier incident, recently said, “Probably 90% of us in San Juan County have violated ARPA or NAGPRA. What will they do, arrest us all?” Clearly, that is a true statement and a legitimate concern. It is also clear that many of the people indicted are in fact good people who have done a lot for their communities and families.

Good people, as we know, sometimes break the law, and when they do, they must be prepared for the consequences. The law applies to us all, even when it is unpopular. Although artifact hunting has historically been a favored activity in San Juan County, the Justice Department has sent a clear message that it is time for a change.

Having been involved in the legal system over 25 years, I have a great deal of faith that justice will ultimately prevail. Those who are innocent will have the opportunity to prove it. Those who are not may gain a newfound respect for the guarantees contained in our Constitution. Mistakes are always possible, but as we have all assured ourselves over the years, this is the best legal system in the world.

Now that the wheels of justice have begun to turn, we will all hopefully be more knowledgeable and responsible when it comes to the archaeological treasures of San Juan County. Responsibility should be the watchword, both for the justice system and the accused.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dragon's Breath

As I drive to Twin Rocks Trading Post each work day, I am forever looking forward to the view from atop White Mesa Hill. On first inspection, the land from this vantage point appears sparse and unappealing. Upon close investigation, however, there is a genuine depth of character. The vista is always magnificent and the landscape's composition varies each and every time. The diversity arises from variations in cloud patterns, angles of sunlight, precipitation, mist and any number of other contrasting natural phenomenon. The land itself never really changes, but my view of it is regularly modified.

White Mesa Sunset
White Mesa Sunset

The same is true on my drives home in the evening. I have seen the land and stark vegetation painted in dazzling coats of hoarfrost, over-laid with icy drifts of winter snow; dripping wet in a hundred shades of green with nourishing moisture; and baked to a red and gray/green dust by the summer sun. It has been my pleasure to witness magnificent thunderstorms and displays of ragged lightning that are at the same time frantically riveting and breathtakingly enchanting. There have also been the most spectacular sunsets from that unobstructed vantage point one can imagine. One such experience brought back a terribly fond memory.

Lately I have been spending a great deal of time thinking of my son Spenser, who has decided to serve a two year mission for his church. He has been assigned to the other side of the country, aka the Richmond, Virginia mission. Enduring two years without hugging and spending time with any of my three children seems a daunting challenge. Spenser, however, has decided this is his destiny so I have committed to support him.

Just before sunset on this particular evening I was driving north, en route to Blanding. I could tell the sky was edging towards the spectacular, so I paced myself to catch the view at full exposure as I crested White Mesa Hill. The fates were with me that evening, because I hit the top just as an amazing representation of refracted light painted itself across the rolling, wave-like cloud formations resting just above the western horizon. It looked as if the hand of God had struck a match and lit the furnace of life. An eruption of emotional energy and visual stimulation moved across my senses as the scene rippled along the canyon rims and mesa tops spread out before me.

I was instantaneously transported back to a time to when Spenser was a young lad of about eight years. Laurie, the kids and I were preparing to barbecue some steaks for dinner. Spens, thinking of doing a good deed, went outside and turned on the gas grill. I walked out on the back porch a few minutes later with the fresh meat on a platter and strolled up to the grill. As I reached for the knobs to turn on the propane, Spenser, who was playing nearby, said, "I just turned them on Dad." I could tell by the lack of sound that the flame was not lit, so, thinking a few seconds of extra gas would not make much of a difference, punched the ignition switch.

In a flash of light and a "whoof" of sound, the barbecue lid blew open and a rush of dragon's breath streamed forth. The eruption was over in the flash of an eye and the lid banged shut. In that instant, I lost my lashes, brows, forearm hair and the thatch above my brow. My eyes teared up in an effort to cool my scorched corneas, and I knew I would never see things quite the same. There was an instant of pure, unadulterated horror, because I believed I was a dead man, then incredible ecstasy when I realized I had survived the blast. Spenser and I must have screamed out loud, because Laurie came sprinting out the back door with McKale on her hip and Alyssa in tow.

Standing there with a giant, pronged fork in one hand and a plate of red meat in the other, I must have looked like the Devil himself. I had been scoured clean of exposed body hair, had a pink pallor due to the blast, my forelocks were smoking, my face was smudged coal-black and tears ran down my face. Spenser was jumping up and down, yelling repeatedly "Daddy blew-up!" Laurie looked my direction, did a quick mental evaluation, decided I would live and turned to comfort our son. I re-opened the lid, placed the meat on the now warm grill and went inside to wash my face. It was a Vesuvius-like experience to be sure.

Tears welled-up and I smiled to myself as I recalled that precious moment and relived the wide-ranging emotion. As I review my life's experiences, I have a tendency to see them as a scene from the crest of that mesa; at first glance, sparse and unappealing, but upon closer investigation a genuine wonder and amazement. To take the time and make the effort, to look closer, is to unveil a life blessed and made wealthy with the love and companionship of an inspiring family. To be impacted by subtle yet striking beauty and occasional moments of near tragedy is to truly live. I have been cleansed by the breath of the dragon and lived to tell the tale. Good luck son and be well!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rebels Without Any Shoes

On a recent trip to Salt Lake City, I was held up in a road construction zone while the big machinery rumbled past, scratching and compacting the earth. As I sat in the car waiting for the flagger to release me, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a large, unmolested patch of tall grass waving gently in the late afternoon breeze. The soft light made the stalks shimmer in alternating shades of deep green and pastel lavender. The scene reminded me of a summer day in the mid-1960s; a time when Barry and I had fallen into the rebel mode and were rapidly becoming an unbearable thorn in our mother’s side.

The rocks in Bluff, Utah
The rocks in Bluff, Utah.

That year the desert around Bluff had seen an unusually generous amount of moisture, so vegetation was abundant. Patches of weeds and clumps of grass sprouted everywhere. As a result of the plentiful rain, the goatheads were also thriving. For most children those pernicious stickers posed a significant problem; not for Barry and me.

Since money was tight, after school let out for the summer Barry and I jettisoned our shoes and went about barefoot. It did not matter that the gravel was sharp and the goatheads sharper, the soles of our feet were like leather and not much penetrated the thick calluses we had developed.

On that particularly memorable day, the morning began innocently enough. Barry and I got up early and went down to the wash to begin our planned earthworks. The sand was soft and easy to excavate, so, without giving any thought to the possibility of a cave-in, we dug holes into the bank to use as a fort. When the neighbor kids arrived and interrupted our engineering, a clod fight ensued.

As anyone raised in a rural environment knows, dirt clods are an effective means of defending yourself without much risk of permanent damage to the belligerents. Since Barry and I were not blessed with great pitching arms, it soon became apparent that we would get the worst of it. So, abandoning our fortifications to the enemy, we retreated into the interior of town.

A few minutes later we wound up at the Twin Rocks Store, which at that time was a cross between a bar and a small market. At the Twin Rocks, you could whet your whistle and get milk for the babies; all in the same transaction. As usual, there was an assortment of people waiting outside to do their business. As was also customary, though it was still before noon, a few had already imbibed.

With our egos bruised from the recent drubbing, Barry and I decided to redeem ourselves by educating these wayward individuals to the dangers of intemperance. When a Navajo couple became fed up with our sermon, a large lady grabbed Barry and, turquoise jewelry clanking, threw him in the back of a waiting pickup truck. I can still see the woman in her velveteen blouse with coin buttons, turquoise bracelets and squash blossom necklace holding Barry tightly as they drove away. On his face was an extremely sad expression that told me he was resigned to his fate. I was sure we would never see each other again.

Since television had recently come to the Simpson household, I had learned a lot about indigenous cultures. “Cannibals” I thought as my mind flashed an image of Barry sitting in a large, boiling caldron. “How am I ever going to explain this to Mom,” I remember thinking. Resolving that I could wait until dinner to inform Rose of her loss, I struck out for the wash. Maybe I could offer a truce and get back to my excavations. “It is always better to stay busy in difficult times,” I assured myself.

A minute later I noticed the pickup truck begin to slow. When it had come to a full stop, the Navajo abductors rolled Barry out of the truck and into the soft dust. By the time I arrived on the scene, Barry had brushed himself off. “That was close,” he said. “Yes,” I responded, relieved that I would not have to tell Mom that her son had been stewed into bones and broth. “Better keep our lectures to ourselves,” Barry suggested as we hotfooted it down the graded dirt road towards home.

And that is how the Rebels Without Any Shoes learned that it is better to give than to recite.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post