By Bill Deverell
This summer marks the fifth year that my son John and I will drive from Pasadena to Jackson, Wyoming, so that he can spend a week at the wonderful Teton Science School learning about the ecology and environment of the Rocky Mountains. This year, like 2016, will see us on the road for a long time. We have cleared our calendars in favor of wide-open spaces, snack packs in the car, historical markers, and motel swimming pools.
Today was day one. We know this route well. Out of Pasadena early enough to dodge most of the Vegas-for-Fourth-of-July traffic on I-15 North (traffic was oddly light today). Up and over the Cajon Pass, with its beautiful vistas and engineered freeway and adjacent railroad tracks with their impossibly long trains snaking up and down the mountain. I can’t drive this without thinking of the 19th century railroad finding its inexorable way to Southern California, its natural resources, goods, and markets.
At the top of Cajon and on toward hardscrabble Hesperia and Apple Valley, with local hints about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans inscribed on signs and roads, everything baking in the July heat. Las Vegas, eventually, though we roar by without so much as a stop to put a quarter in a slot machine. We’re headed to St. George, Utah, 100 miles from Las Vegas, not far over the state line of Nevada and Utah – with that sliver of Arizona to cross first, near the Virgin River Gorge (more water this year than the usual just-damp condition of years past).
We made St. George by mid-afternoon. Red sandstone cliffs as sentries surround this quaint city of about 85,000, which has been around since the start of the Civil War, when Brigham Young sent LDS pioneers here to grow cotton. We stay at the same motel each year – a good free breakfast, people are friendly, and there’s a little pool. We stay in St. George for a couple of reasons. We feel like stopping by the time we get there. There’s a fascinating silver mine ghost town just to the north, near where we’ve hiked and looked for indigenous petroglyphs in the past. The Fourth of July is celebrated with a small-town exuberance (high school bands, bean bag toss, three-legged race, that kind of thing). And they have a great community pool with a huge outdoor tubular water slide. We’ve hit the pool and slide already today. Tomorrow is the Fourth and we get to hang with the locals for the day. I’ll listen carefully to hear if I can glean information about this part of the Great Basin’s perspectives on the current state of the Republic.