Thursday, December 8, 2011

Westward American Road Diary: Utah, Part 2

Before this trip, Steve and I never heard of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who led expeditions through the Grand Canyon and much of the West, when our young nation's maps were not fully drawn, and lands were uncharted, at least by those who sought to claim it. We just so happened to be in lodging in Green River for the night and visited the John Wesley Powell museum the next morning. Steve was eager to get to Bryce, but we took our own uncharted course this day, which happened to be Halloween. Nature awaited, but so did history. Aside from the leisure enjoyment, I love travel as a part of continuing education. I never want to stop learning. I have so much more to learn. I hope you embrace learning and discovery too.

John Wesley Powell had strong views on how the government should dole out its resources and even proposed dividing the states by water lines. His views are considered prophetic knowing the water issues the West now faces, and all signs are pointing toward future wars not over oil, but water. Who are the prophets in more recent times? Was it Jacques Cousteau warning decades ago of what he saw in the ocean? I think of the horror of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Josh Fox telling us of the follies of natural gas drilling? Whenever I see feel-good ads on television by an oil company, I smell something fishy. There's a commercial where an American family is in a kitchen excited for cheaper energy so they can have more money to go out to dinner. So what if someone's water supply gets permanently damaged?

All that seems scary. Goblin Valley State Park seemed like an appropriate place to be on Halloween.

Some history from "The Rough Guide to the Southwest USA," which I got at a library book sale for about 35 cents. Three cheers for thrifty living!

"The small patch of barren desert became a park for the simple reason its clay-like rock formations are funny. The man who first noticed them, in the 1940s, called it Mushroom Valley, but "goblin" is as good a name as any. In the 1999 movie Galaxy Quest, a sci-fi spoof, Goblin Valley doubles believably as an alien planet."

Capitol Reef National Park, the second largest of Utah's five national parks but least visited, was one of my favorites. I agreed with the guidebook, "the word "reef" seems to confuse visitors. It refers to the fact that the hundred-mile rock wall thrust up by the Waterpocket Fold presented an almost impenetrable obstacle to nineteenth-century travelers, who therefore likened it to a reef on the ocean. Add the resemblance of rounded "knobs" of white sandstone that top its central section to the dome of the US Capitol in Washington, and you have "Capitol Reef.""

The village's old orchards hold three thousand trees planted by the pioneers.

Not a sight you see in New Jersey! Tourists, not cowboys, seemed to be helping out drive this cattle herd.

Imagine living here with your brothers and sisters, many of whom had to sleep in cutouts in the wall.

The Behunin family lived this way.

A range of emotions fill me when looking a Fruita's one room school house, constructed in 1896 but with no pupils since 1941. Children were taught in the early years in the winter so they could help with the farming in the rest of the year.

You might think of this image romantically, or maybe you think of the great progress we made. Or perhaps both. I think of McGuffey readers, the Little House series, less complicated times. But I'm grateful for educational opportunities too.

I think a lot about how little we value history in education, but our own family histories are undervalued. I'm always looking up the history of everything from a hot fudge sundae to the name behind a river, but I want to know more about my family history before it's lost. I need to know cherished family recipes in English (most are in the Swiss-German dialect in handwritten cookbooks, others maybe just in my mother's memory). We all won't have a plaque documenting our time for those who follow.

There was a little audio box outside of Merin Smith's Shed and the farmer spoke of the hard life they had, but so much of it good. The fruit they harvested. The quiet times in the winter with the women quilting and reading. The dances. The differences were some, one supported one party versus another, but mostly he looked back with a happy heart.

The land here is like none I've ever known. This is sacred country.

Our schedules this year fated us to come here in the fall. I couldn't have imagined a better time.

At the Rim Rock Spaghetti Western Cafe, I had to get, what else, the baked spaghetti, with garlic bread and a salad with ranch dressing. I left contented (I think carbs get a bad name) and curious about spaghetti Westerns. I haven't seen any. We stayed at the quaint motel here attached to the cafe for a night's slumber.

Clearly, Utah has left my mind racing and full of questions. Next: Bryce and Zion.


  1. Me thinks you have a second career blooming as a travel writer and photographer. A little history, a little tourism, a little social commentary. Oh, what fabulous books you would write!

  2. Thank you! I take no money for anything related to this humble little blog, but for now it pays in other ways creatively. But wouldn't it be wonderful to see more of America on a more extended trip and document it? I've found much inspiration from our pioneer foremothers who recorded their journeys in the West, as a witness to the events of their times. I am just here as a witness to my own.