Friday, June 17, 2011

The Highway or the Byway

The other day Jana and I attended a two day conference at the Brian Head Ski Resort near Cedar City. After closing the trading post, we packed the car and prepared to head out. There were a number of things that needed to be done to ensure Kira and Grange were properly attended while we were away, so we went to Blanding to take the necessary action.

Stark Beauty

Having completed all the assigned tasks, we left town at approximately 7:30 p.m. Since Brian Head is on the opposite side of this extremely large state, we elected to head north, intersect Interstate 70 West at Crescent Junction and speed along the freeway until we ran into Interstate 15 South, about an hour and a half north of our destination. Our goal was to arrive at the lodge before 2:00 a.m. Since it was both late and dark as we traveled the freeway, there was no sightseeing, only straight driving.

At the completion of the conference, Jana and I sat in the parking lot debating whether to return via our original route or take the longer, slower way over the mountains. The freeway would be faster and bring us home sooner, but the scenic byway offered an abundance of beautiful scenery and a number of small towns to investigate. As we discussed the two alternatives, it struck me that a similar choice had brought me to Twin Rocks Trading Post. Over 20 years ago, I had decided to exit the professional life I had begun and moved to Bluff. Little did I know the impact that decision would have on my life.

Realizing southern Utah offers the largest concentration of natural wonders in the United States, Jana and I chose the mountainous route, which, even though it was early June, was still beautifully blanketed in snow. The first town we visited was Panguitch, which is embraced by the majestic mountains we had just traveled. This quaint little town is adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park, and offers a naturally colorful view of the Aquarius Plateau.

Our visit coincided with the Annual Quilt Walk. Apparently Panguitch, which is a Paiute word meaning “Big Fish,” had been settled during the frigid year of 1864. An early freeze killed the crops before harvest, leaving the pioneers without winter stores. As the deep cold settled in, seven brave men volunteered to go over the peaks to the more established settlements to secure flour to feed the starving population. The men spread quilts over the deep snow to prevent them from falling through the soft crust. The quilt walk commemorates their heroism.

As we drove through Red Canyon near Bryce, over the pass to Boulder, down the mountain to Torrey, past Lake Powell and across U.S. Highway 95, I could not help thinking of all those heroic individuals who had tried to settle this still untamed land. Their journeys had paved the way for the rest of us. Although they may have made some inroads, there remains a vast geography of land that will never be subdued.

Southern Utah is a stark beauty that cannot be fully appreciated from the windshield of a car speeding along the freeway, or from the office of a city high-rise. Like Bluff itself, she must be experienced on a personal basis, slowly, in all her lonely isolation. As I discovered all those years ago, however, it is a byway worth taking.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

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