Friday, August 30, 2013


Last week it rained. No, that is an understatement, it poured! On Sunday the rain came down so hard it nearly flushed us down the creek. Because we get so little moisture in Bluff, this is a high desert ya know; heavy rains are hard on us. Rampant floodwaters tend to find their way through, around and over any obstacle in its path. When those turbulent waters bump-up against our hard-packed sand, it melts on contact and is carried away. Soon after the rain began, the San Juan River ran at almost fifty percent solids. After the deluge I walked through town and viewed the near ruination of our drainage system. Culverts were washed out, low-lying properties were flooded, branches were down and sinkholes of all shapes and sizes were everywhere. The scene reminded me of what the Mormon pioneers must have gone through when they first put down roots in 1860. Their attempts to manage the San Juan and protect themselves from such downpours gave the local Native Americans much to cachinnate over. It can be argued that "water", or the excess of water, nearly pushed those undaunted individuals to the breaking point. With the spring floods and frightening thunderstorms, those Saints realized Mother Nature could bring you to your knees in a flash of white-hot lightning. The unmanageable river and heavy storms disrupted hand-dug ditches and undercut stone foundations with random ferocity.

Waterfall behind Twin Rocks Trading Post

Walking up to a sinkhole and kicking in a small rock to plumb its depths, I recalled that as kids Craig, Steve and I dug underground forts near our home. After watching one of those infrequent flash floods we quickly realized that water was a key excavation tool. At that point we began laying out the desired parameters of our subterranean structure and chiseling out the first shallow layer with shovels and a worn-out posthole digger. When we accomplished that semi-laborious aspect of the project, we simply dragged a hose over and filled the depression with water. All that was left to do was let it settle to break-up the hardpan. After the first twelve to eighteen inches, we made much more progress because the sand below was softer. When the hole was dug we would scrounge around for wood or metal overhead beams for support. That was then covered with a corrugated metal roof. A thick layer of dirt and debris hid the fortress from view. We would add a rabbit hole entry which was hidden behind a nearby sagebrush and, voila! Standing there looking down into that sink hole reminded me that my brothers and I had many below ground good times together, even though cave-ins were common.

During our early years, when the heavy rains came, our parents loaded-up the family in our sun faded blue step side Ford pickup truck, which sported a camper shell with flaked paint and missing windows. It was our goal to view the waterfalls spilling their frothy contents over the front range of the rusty red and black, mineral stained cliff tops. Dad, Mom, Susan and Cindy would slide neatly into the cab, and we three boys always clambered into the bed of the truck. Dad would then drive the perimeter of town and we would ooh and awe at the overhead spectacle. When the waterfalls come one can witness red water spouts shooting out over the precipice of the bluffs and hear the rumble of tumbling river rocks. These stones, which were left on high after the last ice age, along with gnarled, finger-like branches of juniper trees came crashing down on the rocky rubble below. I can still feel the spray of rainwater blowing in through the windowless frames of the truck topper, spritzing our faces and dampening our t-shirts and Levis' jeans.

With a head full of memories, I walked over to the 70 some odd year old bridge Bob Howell had built to span the ditch in front of his store. This span was constructed of a four foot corrugated culvert and capped with ancient railroad ties that are still saturated with creosote. The ribbed tube has been hammered, crumpled and bumped-out over the years, and the railroad ties are a bit askew. With only a small amount of concrete as reinforcement, the bridge served Mr. Howell for years. Many a truckload of Navajo people has crossed that bridge in support of his mini mercantile. My family bought the old store years ago and has used it as a trading post/pawn shop, a pottery factory, a storage facility and finally an accountant’s office. After more years and rainstorms than I can count, the structure is still viable. As I climbed into the ditch to inspect the damage, I bent to look inside the tube and was struck with an image of 5 young children sitting in the cool sand. They had bought grape and orange Nehi sodas along with small bags of Tom's peanuts as filler. The Simpson kids were enjoying an impromptu picnic in a protected and safe space. The memories were good here.

Straightening up, I blinked at the raw sunlight and looked around our fair city with a refreshed outlook. The morning sun filtered through the leaves of giant cottonwoods surrounding me, and the rough and tumble landscape looked as if it had been scrubbed clean I could still hear an echo of the laughter we had left as children, and it did my heart good. I took in the towering, undulating cliffs surrounding Bluff City and felt at home. Scraping the moist sand from the tread of my hikers, I climbed into my car and returned to Twin Rocks Trading Post. As I did, I realized that a cleansing, albeit gritty, rainstorm may have its drawbacks, but there was also a positive side. They often wash away the gray, obscuring dust of the past and remind us that there is both a positive and negative side to all things.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve, Priscilla and Danny; The Team.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Root On Me

It was a hot Saturday afternoon in early August and I was in the yard pulling, chopping, hoeing and raking weeds. As Momma Rose, my mother, will attest, when I was young it was virtually impossible to convince me weeding was honorable work. I wanted nothing to do with it, and did not hesitate to let Duke and Rose know how I felt. Try though they might, they never succeeded in convincing me those vegetative invaders were better out of the ground than in it. Since moving from the house above the trading post and into my own home, I better understand their perspective.
Steve Simpson Home

As I pulled, tugged and cursed at one particularly well rooted plant, I was reminded of a recent visitor to Twin Rocks Trading Post. This man, who was long past middle age, came in, politely greeted Priscilla and me and began carefully inspecting each turquoise bracelet, bolo tie, bangle and bobble in the store. I worried that if he expanded his task to include Navajo rugs and baskets, I would be there all day and all night; maybe into the following week.

As his investigation proceeded, he began to fire off questions about Navajo legends, medicine men, healing ceremonies and cultural taboos. With his intelligent brow, round reading glasses, careful diction and precise questioning, he might have been a professor at some expensive Eastern liberal arts college. All that was missing was a tweed jacket, rumpled white shirt, woolen trousers, bow tie, paisley stockings and loafers.

Filling him in the best I could, and relying on Priscilla to back me up when I had no insight into the specific inquiry, I wondered at his interest in these cultural phenomena. After about 30 minutes of constant questioning from this elderly gentleman, I felt compelled to put a question to him. “What is your interest?” I asked. “Well, I’m from South Carolina”, he responded, “and down home we still have people practicing Voodoo. Our West African traditions have some similarities to your Navajo beliefs.” “Oh yeah?” I replied, baiting him to continue.

We had already considered the Navajo legend that arrowheads are made by Grandfather Horned Toad and that they are used as protection against evil spirits. I had explained how Navajo people sometimes feel they have been cursed by someone who has placed a turquoise bead or other foreign object in their body. “It takes a medicine man to extract the substance and get the patient right”, I advised.

Momentarily forgetting his geography, he asked, “Has anybody ever put a root on you?” “A root?” I replied, puzzled by the question. “Oh, sorry,” he said, “that’s South Carolinian Voodoo terminology. Down south, if you want to place a spell on somebody, you ‘put roots on them’ and then a ‘root doctor’ must be engaged to undo the curse.”

A root doctor, like a Navajo medicine man, treats ailments with a variety of remedies made from indigenous plants. Unscrupulous root doctors may be also asked to place a root on one’s enemy. This involves preparing potions from graveyard dirt, powdered snake or other compounds.

After thinking it through, I assured him that, “As far as I know, there are no roots on me.” “That’s good. Best to keep it that way,” he cautioned, concluding the conversation and exiting the building.

As I pulled and scratched at my obstinate weed, I questioned whether I had indeed been rooted by someone who had it in for me. “Maybe it’s my parents”, I thought, remembering the past. Surveying my yard, I wondered whether I could find a root doctor on Angie’s List or in the local Yellow Pages.

With Warm Regards;
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; the team.