Friday, January 30, 2015

A Coyote Tale

The other morning before dawn I found myself driving south to open Twin Rocks Cafe. The air was crisp, registering 26 degrees on the car thermometer, and the sky was dazzling. Since I was slightly ahead of schedule and wanted to prolong the experience, I pulled the car to the shoulder of the road and killed the engine. Looking to the moonless vault of the sky dome, I observed the deep blue/black, almost velvety, background of heaven. Upon that three-dimensional backdrop was a star scape so bright and crystalline the sight drew me in. It was a visual utopia, and I was captivated.

My car rested on the asphalt highway along the bench just above Bluff. To the east, the undulating mesa was slightly backlit with the promise of sunrise. Wispy, striated clouds waited patiently on the horizon for the Sun God to paint them with tones of rose and tangerine. Sagebrush, Navajo tea and rabbit brush appeared skeletal and menacing upon what I knew to be rusty red hillocks of compacted blow sand. A dusting of frost accentuated by starlight crystallized the roadway, the surrounding terrain and the stunted vegetation.

Standing there for a while, I took in the beauty of my surroundings and watched as the cliff tops slowly began to take their hump-backed shape in the first blush of approaching dawn. Realizing my staff would be waiting for me to turn the key, I re-seated myself in the car, started her up and switched on the headlights. On my right, something caught my attention as I pulled onto the roadway. Squinting into the darkness, I again saw movement. I could see something low to the ground, of a dark amber color, trotting fluidly in my direction. In an instant I realized it was a large coyote, an old dog looking to box me in. I have associated with our Navajo neighbors long enough to know that, if you can help it, you do not allow a coyote to cross in front of you. If you do or it does, you are stuck in place until four vehicles pass by and clear the path. You then have to sprinkle corn pollen and pray to the four directions. If you ignore this customary wisdom, all sorts of bad and ugly things may befall you. Coyote is a chaotic creature, and it is best not to upset his, which becomes your, unstable balance.
Navajo Star-light Star-bright Basket Set - Elsie Holiday (#084)

The cussed canine was ignoring me, the noise of the car and the bright lights, acting as if I were of no consequence. I realized that if he crossed my path I would have to make an offering and wait until other travelers obliterated his tracks, making it safe to continue. If that chaotic creature crossed me, I would be sorry-out-of-luck, and way late for work. The only offerings I had were corn chips, pinion nuts, hummus, and cranberry juice. My bag of corn pollen was . . . well . . . nonexistent. The chances of four vehicles traveling from the north in the next half hour was unlikely, and I could not, would not be late for work. Our lead cook, Jenelia, gets a kick out of arriving earlier than anyone else. If she does, she will sit there in her giant white Dodge Ram pick-up truck with the red hand print on the right rear fender and tsk tsk tsk, while shaking her head. "You should just give me the key,” she says every time. "Not a chance,” I tell her, "then you will want to be the boss." "I already am,” she says, "you just haven't figured that out yet."

All that was incentive to hit the gas, honk the horn and flash the lights in order to cut Hasteen Coyote off at the pass. The coyote was still 30' off the road when he decided to let me go ahead. Instead of turning tail and running however, that old dog just sat back on his hairy haunches and watched me proceed. That surprised me, because coyotes are generally skittish when it comes to humans and their mechanical wonders, they usually skedaddle at the first sign of anyone or anything that might present a threat. Not this old boy, he rested there on the frosted sand and watched as I eased on down the road. When I realized he was settling in for the show, I slowed down and coasted on in. I popped open the bag of corn chips and fingered the right passenger side window to the down position.

Reaching deeply into the bag of chips, I withdrew a large handful. As I drove by, I looked directly into his citrine colored eyes and tossed my offering in his direction. I had the distinct impression the coyote was thinking, "Doo 'aha'shjaa'i" (How stupid). Something Jenelia might say if I told her about this encounter. Not a chance! I moved past the coyote and glanced into the rearview mirror where I saw him in the red glow of my taillights. He moved to the edge of the highway and paused. Maybe Ma,'ii had accepted my offering, forgiving my awkward approach. I should have been pleased with my successful avoidance of being jinxed by that bad boy beastie, but I just felt a little silly. When I finally made my way down Cow Canyon and rounded the corner to Twin Rocks Cafe, I saw Jenelia waiting. Our own chaotic character stood at the door, impatiently tapping her foot, awaiting my arrival. She was not, however, going to get any of my snacks, I had already offered-up enough.

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, January 23, 2015


For years I have struggled to adequately thank my father for the support and direction he provided during my youth. Like most sons of my generation, and all generations that have gone before, I am paternally challenged. Although I have tried in many ways to tell my dad I appreciate everything he has done for me, it never seems to come out right, or at all. If I start to jot down my thoughts, my pen and brain seem to simultaneously stall, creating a practical and emotional logjam. If I try to tell him, I just cannot seem to get the words out. After many failed attempts, I have decided to give it one more try, before one of us leaves this world. This then is mea culpa; my thoughts and confessions about my pop.

Over the past several years I have realized the more I try to differentiate myself from him, the more I become like my father. The more I experience in life, the more I understand what he encountered trying to raise five children in such a challenging environment. After one recent occurrence, I found myself responding in precisely the same way he would have 25 years earlier. My friend Dave always jokes that he frequently looks in the mirror and gasps, “Dad?” I am beginning to feel the same.

As a child growing up in this small town, the two things I remember most are unrestrained freedom and my father working a great deal. My dad, William Woodrow “Duke” Simpson, always seemed to be up early for work, returning home late in the evening. I imagine he must have felt like the mother birds that nest in the eaves of the Twin Rocks Trading Post porch. These mommas are never able to keep up with the needs of their hatchlings. While Duke was scrambling to meet our demands, mother Rose attempted to keep us out of harm’s way and prevent our long-term incarceration.

Duke had a saying that went something like, “Rose, those kids could break an anvil,” which was generally true. As a means of preventing us from destroying what he was trying to build, Duke always managed to keep us busy. If he had been a religious man he may have said something like, “Busy hands are happy hands,” or “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” Instead, he would simply say, “Don’t you have anything to do?” If the answer was “No”, he had little trouble finding projects to keep us engaged. Initially he put us to work as attendants at a small filling station he rented on the south side of Blanding.

When we were at school, Rose and Duke took over. It was not an easy time for any of us. Although I resented the restriction the job placed on my free time, I was happy to have a little folding money in my wallet. I felt like a king when there were a few bucks in my pocket. Duke paid pretty well; a dollar an hour. It was not until much later I realized what those years of running the business taught me.

The filling station was probably the start of our venture into the trading post business, although there are many other influences that may have been the true catalyst. The local Navajo people frequently wanted to exchange turquoise and silver for gas and oil, and that ultimately resulted in the construction of Blue Mountain Trading Post.

I cannot remember how old I was when Duke began taking us on buying trips; possibly nine or ten. What I do recall is that he was always ready to pack up and head out on a new adventure. Sometimes it was a trip to a Colorado auction and sometimes it was a journey to the Phoenix flea market. No matter where we went, we universally had an interesting time. Duke was happy just to be on the road, and we were glad to see new places.

During one of those trips Duke purchased the entire inventory of a defunct shoe store. When he returned home, we had a yard sale that resulted in the shoeing of the entire town, for years. On another occasion he brought home a trailer full of western hats, shirts and jeans. The Blanding clothing market was nearly devastated.

These trips also allowed Duke to introduce us to the pleasures of the wider world. On one excursion to Colorado, Duke and I were driving through Moab when he asked if I wanted a beer. A short time later I was sitting straight up in the cab of the pickup truck with any icy brew in my hand. I could barely contain myself as I popped open the bottle. After one gulp, my excitement was extinguished. The taste was so bitter on my inexperienced tongue that my thirst for beer was permanently quenched. I think Duke knew what would happen, since a similar situation occurred when I acquired an interest in cigarettes.

As I graduated high school and college, I determined to leave Utah and never return. I had had enough of this state and my father’s business, so I left for the bright lights of the big city. I was convinced Duke was not quite as smart as he thought, and not nearly as bright as I. Surely he sees the irony in my coming back to the land, the people and the business he loves. I only hope he sees how much I appreciate the man he is, and the man he has helped me become.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Sunrises and sunsets over this high desert country are fabulous at this time of year, they often look as if someone took a match and fired-up an entire bank of burners. Ripples of red, orange and yellow dispersed across the heavens warm my bones and afford me great comfort. The deep red tones seen just before dawn and just as the sun sets are the most rich and vibrant. It may sound funny, but because of the added inner warmth and marshaled mental state, my mind often focuses on friends and family.
Navajo Modified Double Ceremonial Basket - Sonja Black (#47)

In Navajo relationships the color red is especially meaningful, it is the color of their people, those who have welcomed us into their culture, tradition and lives. Many have shared with us their artistic aptitude. Their deep skin tones contrast with our "pink" coloration. Because of them, however, we have been able to sustain our trading post and live a satisfying life in this country, which is rife with canyons, mesas and mountains. To the Navajo, red (ltci, ltci', litci 'igi) is a powerful and symbolic color, it represents danger, war, and sorcery, as well as safeguards against such occurrences. In the story of the Hero Twins, First Man gave a prayer stick colored with blue paint and sparkling earth, symbols of peace and happiness, to Child-of-the-Water to watch while his brother, Monster Slayer, went on one dangerous adventure after another. When the warrior got into serious trouble, the prayer stick turned blood red. At the close of the Night Chant participants see the red of the sunset because Child-of-the-Water traveled on darkness when he journeyed to join his brother. The Navajo deity Talking God explained the color as it is represented in the War Ceremony, instructing Monster Slayer, "This [red] represents the blood that will flow on the soil. Both ours and that of our enemy." The color red is also found in ceremonial baskets that symbolize the joining of blood, marriage, children, and family.

The iron impregnated cliffs surrounding our muddy red river valley reminds me of the ancestors of my wife and children, the first white men and women who fought their way across a wild and unruly landscape to establish our fair city. Their story is well known to us, and it goes something like this: "The Lion of the Lord (Brigham Young), he had a sacred plan, to spread the word of wisdom 'cross a wild and ruthless land'. John Taylor followed through when Brigham's days were done; he sent the Saints a packin' to the valley of San Juan. San Juan Hill [the last hurdle into Bluff] was a gut-busting scramble; the trek so far, had worn us to the bone. To go much further was too much to handle, 'Stickety-To-Ti' brought us here, it finally brought us home." There's more, but you get the picture. There was bright red blood on the red rocks of San Juan Hill and on the valley floor before civilization finally arrived in this lonely settlement.

The Simpson family first came to Bluff in the mid-1950s, back when Daddy Duke's hair color was still of a sandy red hue. There have been many a blood red sunrise and sunset since then, and over time our clan has set down roots and grown in this rocky red soil. Some have wished or tried to dislodge us, but our tendrils run deep, and the family tree stands fast. From Susan to Cindy, we have brought forth and raised our children here, and you will find their footprints memorialized in the concrete in front of our businesses. As it says in the chorus of the San Juan Camp song, we were and are; "Never far from failure, we strove to continue, sacrifice was assured to achieve a higher goal. We faced a trial of strength and a test of dedication, stubborn faith and motivation allowed us to endure." And endure we shall until the time one of the towering rocks comes crashing down on us or they place us beneath the grey donies and iron red soil of cemetery hill.

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team.
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.