Friday, January 28, 2011


The other morning I went out for an early morning walk and unexpectedly became entangled. I was walking up the mountain road, north of town, before the sun began its journey across the heavens. The sky was a velvety blue-black in color, with brilliant pinpoints of starlight adding dimension but not much illumination. There was no moon, and it was pitchy dark. It was times such as this that had caused me to place a Mini Maglite in the pocket of my heavy Carhartt coat. I do not see well after hours, which causes me hesitation when striding the weather ravaged and narrow back roads of town. Enlightenment is essential, so I am not "Stumblin' in the dark!", like Noah of the old Sunday School song. I was feeling the thermal embrace of the canvas duck and quilted lining as it deflected the frigorific blast of arctic air blowing in from the north. My head was encased in an orange stocking cap, and my hands in black neoprene gloves . . . I was stylin'

Navajo Owl Carving
As I followed the narrow but helpful beam of artificial light, I saw an appealing plume slowly drifting across the blacktop. I shuffled left, clumsily bent over; hampered by my heavy coat, and attempted to grab the feather in my gloved hand. I felt like Ralphie in The Christmas Story; over-encumbered by exterior garb! I finally had to pull my right hand loose from the neoprene, kneel down and scoop up the quill. As I looked at the feather in the blue glow of the flashlight, I heard a noise; clip-clop-clip, clip-clop-clip. Quickly looking up in the direction of the sound, I found my beanie covering my eyes. I stood up, frustrated by hindered vision, pushed back my hat and shone the light up the road in the direction of the oncoming sound. There in the glow of my flashlight was an oncoming runner, tightly wrapped in a thin suit of Lycra, Under Armour hat and gloves and a fancy pair of fluorescent running shoes. I say runner, because the young woman was moving fast, she was definitely not a jogger. I moved over to the side of the road and felt a fresh breeze as she flew past, sprinting into the embracing gloom. I waved my new found feather after the less than languid lass and said: "Bless you sister!"

Smiling to myself, I recalled the time I successfully ran down a fine young filly of my own. It had turned out well, three fantastic offspring were proof of that. I refocused on the feather and found it to be about 7 inches long and 2 inches wide at the top end. It had a creamy tan body color, was horizontally banded in a medium gray, with smudges of lighter gray mixed in. The quill looked to have been dropped by a large bird of prey, my guess was a Great Horned Owl. "Humph!" I thought to myself, remembering the Navajo belief that the owl can be either a harbinger of bad tidings or, on the positive side, a guardian to ward off evil spirits. I choose the latter, thinking "Better to keep things focused on the up-side." As I went on my merry way, I stuck the feather in my cap and whistled Yankee-Doodle.

It was still dark when I found myself at the intersection of Reservoir Road and 300 West. In the distance I could see a jogger. Actually I could only see a halogen headlamp bee-bopping along. I knew there was a hound in tow, because I heard dog tags jingling. I turned my light to the side of the road so as not to distract them. Just as we passed on opposite sides of the byway, the headlamp hit me square in the eyes and I was blinded by the light. At the same time a mid-size English Bull Dog came running up and greeted me in doggie fashion. I pushed the nosy critter away from my backside and heard a woman say, "He's nice, he won't bite. All the while that light was flashing in my eyes and the dog circling my legs. I was trying to walk on by, but the dog, and now, the jogger were right there beside me. What I did not know, because of the excessive show of light, was that the dog had pulled free of its tether and was trying to become better acquainted while the woman was attempting to regain the leash.

All I knew for sure was that dog was way too friendly and the woman (with her Halogen bulb) was blindingly close. I was discombobulated by the unintended skirmish. I finally got a clue as to what was happening when the woman said, "Could you grab that leash for me?" I stopped, bent over (big mistake) grabbed the leash and shoved it toward the over bright light source and backed away. "Thank you!", said the female voice. "No problem!" said I, turning to high step it away from the overly-bold boxer. It took me several minutes of separation to regain my night vision and sense of dignity. By that time the dynamic duo had departed. I still do not know who that woman was, but I do know the dog's name was Mac. "Bad Spirit, that dog!" I said to myself. Taking the owl feather from my hat, I reached up and wedged it between the wood and metal of a nearby stop sign and left it there for someone else. Maybe it would bring them better luck than it had me. As I walked on I reflected on how the local Natives view dogs.

Navajo people believe the Holy Beings formed the dog; male and female. The first male dog was dressed with the dawn and was white. He traveled from the east. The first female dog was reddish or brownish yellow and she was dressed with the twilight. She traveled from the west-central region. On their ears sat the Little Breeze. Their ears were made from the winds, and at the tip of the tail also there is a breeze; (that has,certainly been my experience). So when a dog passes another dog he can tell from the mouth to the tip of the tail his entire history (that explains it). As he has the wind at the ears and at the tip of the tail he never gets lost. Burned food was put on their noses and they were black. A medicine stick was placed inside their stomachs, and they say that is why a dog never gets enough to fill himself. He knows many things, for he was sent to guard the doorways of the people. I made it home without further incident, walked in the back door and found Laurie standing at the stove making the morning meal. "Hi Hon, how'd it go", she asked. "Well", I replied, "I was gifted a fleeting glimpse of the good old days, tempted fate, was blinded by the light, and made a new, close, personal friend." "That's nice", she replied, refusing to take the bait, "breakfast is almost ready."

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Anti-Baker Street

Sunday morning found me standing at the south facing window of Twin Rocks Cafe, with only two panes of glass and a thin layer of air between me and the outside chill. As I stood marveling at the numerous multicolored hot air balloons floating over our small community, I could feel the cold penetrating the glass and reaching through my light jacket. In the background Sirius Radio wailed out Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street .

In the song Rafferty sings, “He’s got this dream about buyin’ some land. He’s gonna give up the booze and the one night stands. Then he’ll settle down. It’s a quiet little town. And forget about everything.” Baker Street is a song about a disillusioned man who wants to move away from his neighborhood and buy a home of his own; a man who wants to reinvent himself and establish a more peaceful existence.

The restaurant was empty, awaiting the flash of customers that would arrive once the balloons landed and were safely stowed in their trucks, trailers and RVs. The cooks and servers wandered about the place aimlessly, anticipating the crush, but not knowing what to do with themselves in the interim.

To get a better look at the pilots who flew north and west of the building, I pressed my face against to the window and was reminded that the thermometer registered significantly below freezing. The pilots were, however, warmed by their burners, which created lift for these wonderful beasts and shielded the flyers from low temperatures.

Melvin Gaines, our neighbor and friend of many decades, shuffled over to his trash barrel and placed a sack of refuse into embers that still smoldered from the night before. After many years on the County Road Crew, using his long, narrow back to complete difficult tasks, Melvin is permanently bent forward about five degrees. This is a working man’s working man. It has always been interesting to me how this industrious, softly spoken, unassuming man commands the respect of virtually every citizen of Bluff; an extraordinary feat in a town where intelligent minds question every motive.

As the trash flared, Melvin trudged back to his front door and disappeared into the warmth of his modest home. Watching this elderly gentleman engaging in the simple task that would be frowned upon or altogether banned in a more developed environment, I was reminded that our isolation allows us a freedom unknown in more populated areas. For a moment I drifted back several decades to a time when Bluff was even more wild and free; when Melvin was a young man, when I was a boy and when Navajo people still traveled in horse drawn wagons.

Loud hisses of blazing propane punctuated the frigid air, bringing me back to the present and causing the balloons to rise and fall on invisible air currents. This was the final day of the 13th Annual Bluff International Balloon Festival, and the balloonists had been hoping to fly in nearby Valley of the Gods. Bad road conditions in the valley had, however, forced them back into town for a third day. Since it was my turn to man the cafe, I was secretly thrilled with what was otherwise considered bad luck.

As the haunting saxophone solo of Baker Street faded, the balloons sailed around eroded monoliths and kissed red rock cliffs; brightly colored silk juxtaposed against buff colored, desert varnished sandstone. Not long after Gerry Rafferty finished his lament, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came up on the playlist; yet another song about someone wishing for a simple, more meaningful life away from the city lights. “Was this a sign,” I asked myself, wondering whether the music contained a secret message.

My mind began to question, “Should I too be looking for a more simple existence? Since everyone else seems disenchanted, shouldn’t I be as well?” “No,” I concluded, “This is that quiet little town away from Baker Street, where you can forget about everything. This is a place where balloons carry warm, friendly, trustworthy individuals who make young people like Kira exclaim, ‘I love those people!’ It is a place where I can look out from my counters of turquoise and silver, from covered porches where sand tirelessly accumulates, and see Melvin tinkering diligently on his trucks, tractors and generators.” Bluff may very well be the dream at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, the anti-Baker Street in an otherwise chaotic world.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Roseto Ravens

Driving down the road from Blanding to Bluff last Saturday morning was a visual delight. Nighttime temperatures have been so cold lately that the snowfall we received last week has turned crystalline. The sage and rabbit brush south of town still has scintillating flakes on the branches, and the juniper trees on the northern edge of White Mesa Ute Community remain naturally decorated with clumps of frozen flurry. That alone was truly appealing, but the angular sunrise was blindingly bright and the frosty ground cover of ice crystals sparkled like an unending carpet of diamonds. I was so enthralled with the sight that my speed must have dropped to half the prescribed rate. Before I knew it, I had three vehicles backed up behind me, jostling for position and maneuvering to get past. As the motorists blew by, speeding along their merry way, their frowns of disapproval only slightly diminished my feelings of pleasure.

Raven by Ray & Alondra Lansing

As always, I looked forward to the view from atop White Mesa Hill. This day the scene offered a long range exposure of offset mesas and monuments in contrasting shades of profound pastels. Puff clouds, and long, linear jet trails added to the picture perfect spectacle. There was less snow than just up the road, but the shadowed white patches of protected powder allowed for unusual highlights in places usually hidden or unrecognizable because of their subtle nature. I thought back to the previous week, when I found myself at this same spot at an earlier hour. Instead of this brightly lit and luminous scene, I overlooked a forbidding ocean of blanketing clouds, a vast seascape of white mist capped with gray and black tipped swells. "Wicked!" I thought out loud as I geared the Nissan down one gear and dove into the known, but currently unfathomable depths of that well. As I traveled through the super soupy mist, I lost track of where I was. I knew the road I traveled, but lost myself in space and time for a brief spell. I was lucky enough to travel the remainder of the road to Bluff alone, embraced and entranced by the ground cloud and nearly zero visibility.

This day was totally different, it seemed warm and sunny outside the vehicle, even though I knew the wind chill would be south of freezing. I topped the crest of the hill overlooking the Bluff Bench, descended into the sweeping curve, then lined out on the straightaway before Cow Canyon. Looking down the highway I noticed a moving ink spot up in the sky, in direct line to the highway. As I watched, the black dot dropped from the heavens and became a bird, and then, as I gained on it, I recognized an oversize raven. The charcoal cherub seemed unaware of my oncoming presence. It dipped out of the sky and lined out straight down the highway in front of me, on a southerly course.

The brazen bird leveled out about 12 feet above the blacktop and, because of his quick descent, sped along at an accelerated rate of speed. The meteoric maniac must have been enjoying itself because it held course, hurtling down the strip as if gaging speed by the fleeting flash of passing lines beneath its wings. I was gaining steadily on the feature creature. As I closed in, the raven looked as big as a feathered football, with a gracefully curved, pin feather wing span nearly five feet in length. The brawny bruiser looked like a stealth gunship on a strafing run. I fell in behind the feathered test pilot and for a brief space in time felt as if I were flying right with him.

The feeling was surreal; it was as if I became the bird. I experienced its elation at zipping along a personal, lonely drag strip. I envisioned its perspective and point of view. The experience was exhilarating; that big bird must have been having a blast. The acquaintance was short lived, however, because I let the car drift a little too close to the bird's back side. The massive raven must have sensed my presence, because it dipped one wing and zigged to the left, then a fraction of a second later dipped the right wing, zagged in that direction and shot off the main drag across the brigham tea and stunted brush-encrusted hillocks in the direction of Calf Canyon. Bummer! I am hoping it is psychologically harmless to imagine myself as a bird in boundless flight. If not, certify me and throw me in the proverbial bird cage.

That evening I was driving home as the sun was setting on the western horizon. Just before I exited the Bluff Bench I saw a congress of ravens freewinging it across the highway from east to west. The batch of birds were seen at the high point of the hill with the magnificent Blue Mountain range as a backdrop. The mountains are draped in a brilliant white coat of snow this winter, with deep blue stands of forest showing through in random areas. At that particular time of the evening the mountains present themselves surrounded by a baby blue aura, accented by a pink glow from the slanting rays of the setting sun. The view is spectacular. I thought I recognized my raven from earlier in the day in the midst of the group. All of the ravens present seemed to be having a grand time dancing across the sky. The beauty and tranquility of the scene, and the fact that I was going home to my family, caused me to reflect back upon an e-mail I received earlier in the day, one of those junk messages that catch your eye just before you dump them in the trash.

The message read, "Does friendship and family keep us well?" Yes indeed, the phenomenon is known as the 'Roseto effect' - firm familial bonds and being part of a tight social group can keep us healthy. It certainly seemed to be working with the local raven population. The close personal relationship they have with the land, the sky and each other, works well for them; they seem and act happy. As for the rest of us, I believe we are also well. How can one not be well in an environment such as this, with such a close knit family, good friends, open spaces and incredible scenery? If there is any place in the world where someone has a high probability of being well, this is certainly it. Enough said! Except maybe . . . Be Well!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team

Thursday, January 6, 2011

America's Coolest Small Town!

Have you heard the news? Bluff is in the running for America's Coolest Small Town! Uh-huh! Thats what I'm talkin' about. Sister Cindy dialed me up the other day and informed me that Budget Travel magazine was holding a competition to decipher which small town, in this great nation, had the most "Cool" emanating from its pores. Someone was on the ball, in the know, when they nominated Bluff City, Utah. Now to be sure, our family members are forever throwing out abstractions for anecdotal missives. Mostly, Steve and I look down our wrinkled noses at such suggestions and shrug them off as undignified and/or disturbing but Cindy had something here. Bluff is way cool, she is near and dear to our hearts and always on our minds. The town of Bluff really is chic when it comes to a higher quality of life, space to breath, time to relax and enjoy, proximity to the natural world and the local services are, well, "small town" but packed to the cliff tops with customer service and attention to indulgent detail.

Balloons over Bluff

I mean to say, where else can one find such a wide and delicious variety of sustenance, from the quick and convenient K&C to sit down and entertaining Cottonwood Steaks, a Faybelle Burger, an organic minded River Kitchen, Comb Ridge Coffee and, wait for it.... Navajo Pizza and local ethnic feasting under the mighty Twin Rocks. Comfort food at its best! And, if you did not bring a bed roll you might sleep Inn with Kokopelli, Recapture the good old days at the lodge, Motel it with a Mokee, or forsake a cactus by settling down under a delightful Desert Rose. Too comfortable? How about ganging up at the old Decker House, parking under a Cottonwood or sequestering your Cadillac and Airstream at the Ranch. For a restful night's sleep come to where crickets are the night sound of choice and the stars, night lights worth warming up too. I read in the write-up that the magazine was looking for towns with an edge. Seriously? Have you ever stood on the edge of a 400' sandstone abutment overlooking Canyon Country? Now that will give you a tingle in your groin, I mean to tell ya'.

I understand a "Coolest Small Town" retains a population under 10,000 inhabitants. Bluff accounts for 250 people, in permanent residence, on our best day. But, the stand-out personalities living amongst the red rock houses and Sage Brush bungalows makes us appear much more robust denizens of the high desert wise that is. Character traits run deep and formidable in our fair community, thus the attraction to outside, habitual, interests. In Bluff you will not find quaint country retail venues, you will discover a Twin Rocks Trading Post owned by an unmanageable gang of Bluffoons and stocked with world class Native American art, an Yanito Gallery managed by the artist himself displaying personal works of wonder, a Dairy Cafe gift shop run by a dear disciple of self motivation and inspiration, supplied with an amazing variety of art and craft from local artisans of creative composition and a Cloudwatcher bent on exhibiting the magic and wonder of this region. All of which, as I understand the prerequisites, are essential to the moniker of "Cool".

One of the coolest of the cool aspects of Bluff is the great, great, great outdoors that surrounds us. High adventure awaits those fit and furious frontiers-people who dare to venture into our rugged back country. Whether it be on foot or in the clean comfort of a 4x4 the scenery is amazing and the atmosphere intoxicating. If you need a Far Out Expedition you might look-up Vaughan or take a trip down the mighty San Juan with Wild Rivers. High adventure is assured when you trip through our tulips....or cactus flowers as it were. If you want to access our self-assured village from a heavenly perspective you should stop in on our annual Balloon Festival in January. Drift over the endearing Bluff Fort and accompanying church house or the spires of Father Baxter Leibler's Episcopal Church up-valley. The cliff tops and side canyons are inspiring from on high. Serenity and tranquility abound in and over Bluff. Our town was first populated by ancient peoples as early as 650 AD and founded by exhausted Mormon pioneers on April 6th 1880. So if you are in favor of letting others in on our great little secret add your comment to America's Coolest Small Towns @ . Give Budget Travel a heads up so we can let the world know of Bluff's coolness. Vote before the poll closes on February 11th; the top winners will be featured in the September 2011 issue of Budget Travel magazine. "We be Cool!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.