Over the Christmas holiday my family and I had the opportunity to drive down the Butler Wash road. My wife's twin sister Lisa and her husband Wade were visiting, McKale was out of school, Spenser and Alyssa were home from college and Grandma Washburn popped in from Monticello. The day was clear, bright and beautiful, with high wispy clouds and a slight nip in the air. It seemed the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the natural world. Alyssa, McKale and I took the Toyota Tundra, while everyone else piled into the big ol' king cab Chevrolet pick-up truck owned by "Uncle Wado". We drove south from Blanding to Shirttail Corner, where Highways 191 and 95 intersect. One of my first jobs, other than within the Simpson family enterprise, was working for Holly Vowell in the gas station located at this junction. It was there I decided it best to work with family.
While I reminisced about how Wayne, my boyhood buddy, and I had attempted to discover where each back road in this part of the county would take us, Alyssa drove the Tundra west through the twist, into Westwater Canyon, across the mesa to Zeke's Hole and through Cottonwood Wash. During that time Wayne and I put a lot of rough, tough miles on my Toyota 4x4 pick-up. Although we saw a lot of back country, and placed ourselves in numerous precarious predicaments, we barely scratched the surface of the huge and varied landscape. McKale asked if we were near the location where her Mormon ancestors had shot Old Posey in the rump. This led us to discuss the reasons why the last Indian uprising in San Juan County occurred and how it eventually played out. Tongue-in-cheek, I told McKale and Alyssa that their mother's side of the family had always been, and would likely always be, causing people a fiery hot and fearful pain in the hip pocket. The girls immediately came to their mother's defense, claiming to be excruciatingly aware of my personal history, and finally concluding that my ancestors must have somehow been responsible for the entire incident.
The argument went on until we pulled off the highway and onto the Butler Wash dirt track. There I changed the subject by pointing out Black Mesa rising up in the east. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, this was the site of a Pershing missile tracking station managed by the United States Army. The foundation of the main building was still in place. At least it was the last time I was up there, some 20 years ago. The girls made me promise to take them to the mesa sometime soon. As we traveled south, we admired the numerous and varied rumpled humps of Comb Ridge off to our right and the twisting meandering Butler Wash that runs between the road and the ridge. I reminded the girls how Navajo people view Comb Ridge as sacred, because it is considered the carcass of the Great Snake. According to Navajo legend, the snake remains frozen in time and place. To our left were the most attractive coves and buttes butting up against White Mesa. This is the western boundary of Ute tribal lands. Because of interactions through the Blue Mountain Trading Post, our family was familiar with many people living there, both presently and historically.
As a group we pulled off the road several times to let Millie, the Jackson's dog, run and to get out and touch our surroundings. You really need to dig your fingers and toes into the good earth, smell the vegetation and lean against the sandstone to get a sense of this country. In my opinion, you must see it, feel it, touch it and taste it. That's what I'm talkin' about.
It wasn't long before we came to an intersection that split the path. "Which way?" asked Alyssa. I thought of the road south that would eventually connect with Highway 163 west of Bluff and recalled a bicycle ride I took from Blanding to Bluff several years back. I remembered coming to this same spot and trying to decide which way to turn. The sand in the road had been getting progressively deeper, but back then I was tough. Undaunted, I veered to the right and free-wheeled it south, making slow progress peddling through the blow sand covering the roadway. The arduous journey allowed me plenty of time to contemplate my sanity and strength, or lack there of. It was not long before the two meager water bottles I had allowed myself for the journey were bone dry. By the time I made the intersection and pounded out the remaining four highway miles into Bluff I was exhausted and completely dehydrated. I stopped at the K&C Trading Post and purchased a tall, ice cold soft drink to quench my thirst. It was at that point I learned Pepsi does not rehydrate you when you are parched. Instead, it will likely give you a hurtful case of hiccups.
"East," I said to Alyssa, "let's go see the cleft in the earth and look upon signature rock." "Alrighty then," said the girls in unison. Those in the Chevrolet followed closely behind. We soon came to Decker Ranch and parked our vehicles near the slot canyon. As usual, Spenser headed straight for the edge of the precipice, looking for the quickest way in. Everyone else was more cautious, not wanting to plunge in and become skinned or wedged. McKale had her Nikon out taking pictures and recording our trip. Looking into that canyon caused me to consider its deep, dark, moist interior. I could see why early Native American people believed places like this were emergence centers. We walked over to the slick rock at the southeastern edge of the slot and saw several generations of signatures etched into the wall. Because of our history and heritage, we were familiar with many of the names. We discussed the triumph and tragedy they had faced and wondered if anyone would remember us and just what our legacy may be.
With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and The Team
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