Friday, April 8, 2016


Early last week a married couple from Madison, Wisconsin strolled into the trading post and reminded me how things such as rivers and human beings drift, ramble and roam in an eternal cycle. Both Barry and I are extremely proud of our respective offspring, so, as we often do, we found ourselves talking with these trading post patrons about our children. While discussing their youngest son’s educational experience, the woman explained, “He took a meandering path.” The comment brought to mind the San Juan River, which only two miles south of Twin Rocks Trading Post snakes westerly on its journey to Glen Canyon. Draining an area of almost 25,000 square miles, its headwaters begin in the mountains of Colorado at an elevation of approximately 14,000 feet. After rippling through parts of New Mexico and Utah, the watercourse empties into Lake Powell, where it mingles with the waters of the Escalante, Colorado and Dirty Devil to form the second largest reservoir in the United States.

Named for St. John the Baptist during the Domingez-Velez Expedition of 1776 (also known as the Domingez-Escalante Expedition), the San Juan has been host to a number of civilizations over its long history. Centuries ago ancestors of today’s Pueblo people lived along its banks and in its side canyons. When they departed in the late 1200s, they left behind sacred images pecked into burnt red sandstone cliffs, secure storage structures tucked into high ledges and small masonry communities.

Historically Ute and Navajo people have claimed adjacent land as their own and included the tributary in their rich cultural histories. More recently, Mormon pioneers encamped in what is now known as Bluff, attempting to divert the San Juan's waters into their head gates and irrigation ditches for purposes of cultivating fruit trees and vegetable gardens. The settlers, however, soon discovered the river was altogether unmanageable and abandoned their quest to tame the nomadic beast. While its average flow is 2,200 cubic feet per second, in 1927 the channel crested at close to 70,000. Presently constrained by the Navajo Dam project located in northwestern New Mexico, the water does not rage much anymore, and contemporary farmers and ranchers have successfully harvested its moisture for their crops and livestock.

Approximately seventeen miles west of Bluff, the river carves its way through the desert landscape 1,000 feet below a small roadside pullout known as Goosenecks State Park. Looking down from its parking lot, visitors can view the results of 300 million years of water erosion and gaze at the rare and amazing geologic formation known as an entrenched meander. From the moment I first experienced its twists and turns, Goosenecks has stood as a metaphor for my life at Twin Rocks Trading Post. As with the young man's schooling and the San Juan River, things at Twin Rocks tend to meander.

Like the Goosenecks, Barry and I are at times referred to as “rare” and even “amazing”. When applied to us, however, the terms seem to have altogether different meanings. I have to admit, there are times it seems Barry and I have been together at the trading post well over 300 million years and that we have accordingly worn each other through to bedrock. Mostly, however, we flow through our days in a generally amicable manner; we come to work in the morning and meander to Twin Rocks Cafe for coffee; then we meander to our desks to check email and review the news of the day; we meander out to the sales counter when visitors arrive and meander back to our offices when they depart; and finally, after a hard day of buying and selling turquoise, silver, Navajo rugs and Native American baskets, we meander home. Through it all, Priscilla bobs alongside, diligently attempting to keep our watershed productive despite overwhelming odds.

For years I worried the trading post needed more direction, and that its unconstrained and at times fiercely erratic twists and turns might eventually spell disaster. As I have grown older, however, I came to recognize the elegance in its chaos. Barry and I never know from moment-to-moment who will navigate the wilds of southeastern Utah to arrive at our Kokopelli doors. And, we cannot predict what treasures, both artistic and human, they will unveil once they enter the store. Whatever their origin, we mingle our stories with theirs in an ongoing attempt to create a larger reservoir of cultural and historical information to share with anyone who cares enough to ask. Maybe by the time Barry and I are fully eroded our entrenched meandering will have created something of enduring interest. That is surely our ambition.

With warm regards Steve Simpson.

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