Monthly Archives: July 2019

July 10, 2019

John and I spent several days on the fishing ranch we frequent outside of Pinedale.  As usual, the canine population rivaled the human.  People: the two of us; our friend the ranch manger; John’s grandmother; and John’s uncle.  Dogs: Ghost, Gambler, Rosin, Humungous; and Rooney.  “Mungous” is a Turkish Akbash, a herding dog.  He is a gentle giant, except when he’s not.  He guards the ranch, as does Rooney, named for the British footballer.  The two of them patrol the huge borders of the ranch, mostly at night, setting up howls and fierce barks when they want their presence to be known.  Rosin, an indefatigable border collie, was new this year, named for the rosin that cowboys and cowgirls use to sticky up their ropes.  John and I had our first fishing success – ever – on this trip, catching two beautiful Wyoming cutthroat trout.  One we put back, one we took home for lunch.


A highlight of the ranch trip was spotting this bald eagle on our last day.  He or she sat atop this pole for well over an hour, fending off a gusty wind by alternately leaning into it and sinking talons into the wood.  We had seen golden eagles before, but not one of these.  Amazing.


On our way back through the Star Valley of Wyoming, we go through Freedom, a town that straddles the Wyoming/Idaho border.  Here is the town garage.



You might reasonably think Freedom refers to that kind of fervent mountainous patriotism we see all over the place on this drive.  “Guns and God” kind of freedom; bald eagle kind of freedom.  But that’s not quite it.  Established not long after the Civil War ended, Freedom is the oldest community in the Star Valley.  Its odd jurisdictional geography – Wyoming on one side of the street, Idaho on the other, has a purpose.  Mormon polygamists, who started the town, could simply walk across the street from Idaho (tough on polygamy) to Wyoming (more lenient) to escape or at least postpone prosecution.  Ergo, the town’s name.

On through Idaho, a stop at the Lava Hot Springs to soak in 105 degree water (alongside the road still called “Old Oregon Trail Road”), and straight on into Salt Lake.  Hot here, and likely hotter today as we make our way to St. George for the last night of our journey.

Day Four: July 3, 2019

Benoni (the name is Hebrew and means “son of my sorrow”) Morgan Hudspeth lived a short life.  Born in 1816 in Logan County, Kentucky into a large family of slaveholders, Benoni first went west with John C. Frémont on one of his mid-1840s expeditions.  Some accounts, improbably it seems to me, refer to him as “Ben.”  Not long after the discovery of gold, Benoni and four of his brothers —  Robert Nicholas, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Silas Bourke – answered the lure and mounted a wagon train expedition out of Missouri.

According to a contemporary account, it was a big operation: over 200 people, mostly families, with some seventy wagons loaded down with whisky, brandy, wine, silken hankies, picks, spades, boots, ropes, coffee, cards, and blankets.  Arriving in the vicinity of where John and I drove yesterday, near Soda Springs, Idaho, Hudspeth and mountain man John Myers set out to find a shortcut to the headwaters of the Humboldt River.[1]  In mid-July, 1849, almost exactly 170 years ago, Hudspeth and Myers opted to shoot off from the main trail – which must have already been crowded with goldseekers – and forge their own trail directly west out of Soda Springs.

Their cutoff, all 130 miles of it, saved them about twenty-five miles, but it meant crossing four more mountain ranges to do it.  What they saved in distance, they likely lost in time.  The Hudspeth Cutoff rejoined the main trail at the beautifully named landmark known as the Silent City of Rocks, which is now City of Rocks National Reserve.  In the 1840s, the Silent City of Rocks marked the halfway point for emigrant trains coming out of Missouri bound for California.  Overlanders wrote their names on the granite, using the axle grease from their wagons to do so.


Benoni Hudspeth died in California in 1850 and is buried not far from Sutter’s Mill, where all the gold rush excitement had begun two years earlier.

We made Jackson in the early afternoon, coming through the Tincup Creek watershed and into the gorgeous Star Valley.  We had our obligatory dip in Tincup Creek – cold runoff water! – and John scavenged a new set of bleached bones for his collection.


Tincup Creek, Idaho


By dusk, he was patrolling the property at his grandmother’s house.


[1] The naming history of the Humboldt is an exercise in western history all by itself.  In addition to the names given it by the Numic speaking indigenous people of the region, the Humboldt has variously been known as the Unknown River, Mary’s River, Paul’s River, St. Mary’s River, Swampy River, Barren River, Ogden’s River, and, finally, the Humboldt.

Day Three: July 1, 2019

Today was our easy drive, St. George to Salt Lake.  I enjoy this leg very much.  We rise out of the sandstone cliffs and desert landscapes into evergreen and pine foothills as we approach the Wasatch Range.  We race past Cedar City, near the site of the notorious Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857.  We pulled off at Parowan, a tiny and neatly buttoned up LDS community of a couple of thousand (population hovering right around 3000).  Big wide streets where you just want to drive slow, stately 19th century banks and business blocks, lots of swing sets in backyards, tiny retail outfits advertised in the front windows of small houses.  “I could live here,” John said.  My country boy.  “Could you?” he asked.  “Well, if the wi-fi was really good, and if I could have a big dog, and if I could go to Salt Lake once a month or so….maybe.”  “Would Mom like it here?”  “Um, no.”

Made Salt Lake early afternoon.  We love this city.  Booming, by all indications.  We raced up to the superb Natural History Museum that looks out over the entire Salt Lake Valley from up by the university.  The museum is beautiful, the displays sensitive and smart, and we always enjoy the gem and mineral displays.  Dinner at the famed Red Iguana, which did not disappoint, then a swim, then a climbing session at The Front, the standard against which all climbing gyms ought to be measured.

Blue Planet on Netflix at night, and now we are making plans to head north, into Idaho and the Oregon Trail country, and climb up towards Wyoming and the Tetons.


Day Two: June 30, 2019

In early 2016, a couple dozen armed religious revolutionary Mormon cowboy ranchers took over a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service installation in eastern Oregon, the Malheur (“bad luck”) Wildlife Refuge.  Zealots of the sovereign movement, the occupiers argued that the federal government had no authority nor right to own or govern public lands; at their most zealous, they insisted that the federal government was an entirely illegitimate body.  They often justified their “We the People” beliefs by reference to the Constitution, the very document that legitimated the federal government and defined its powers in the first place.

I remember the coverage of this occupation clearly.  Some journalists and commentators wrestled with meanings of the moment and the movement with care.  They tried to figure out the motives of the occupiers and where their anti-government thought and behavior fit in the history of the West and in the Era of Trump.  Others – in the press and in popular commentary – took the easier path.  They fell to the strain of “those zany westerners” in treatments of the Malheur occupation and its major figures, father/son ranchers Cliven and Ammon Bundy.  These were, the story went, westerners leaning into their independent streak, not willing to let the federal government push them around.  Wacky westerners, steeds replaced by pickup trucks, lever-action Winchesters now automatic weapons.  Westerners being westerners at the fringes of civilized behavior, harmless, maybe even a tad romantic.   I find this lazy and even dangerous.

I write this about forty miles from where Cliven Bundy, the patriarch and guiding light of this strain of the western sovereign movement, launched his first effort at trying to prove the shaky point that western public lands did not belong to the government to manage and protect.  Not far from where John and I hiked today, just back over the Nevada line, is the Mojave ranch country out of which Bundy emerged in armed resistance to the United States in the early 1990s.  Twenty-five years later, Bundy’s son, Ammon, taking a page from his father’s independence primer, gathered a couple dozen men and women and went after that wildlife refuge in Oregon’s rugged Harney County.


I just read a very good book about all this, and I thought about it all day yesterday and today.  SHADOWLANDS, by Anthony McCann, is a thorough and lively take on Malheur, in all its “laughter and terror,” as the author writes.  McCann weighs the claims of the Malheur occupiers against circumstance and history, and he nimbly gets out of the way of the drama that the participants so generously provide him.  This is in the truth-is- stranger-than-fiction genre, to be sure, and it is both a good and a haunting read.


This was a good day of hiking in the sandstone cliffs outside St. George, up by Leeds.  Those old Mormon stone houses, laid out here even before the Civil War began, are still in silent vigil.  We ran into a bunch of folks on the trail.  John scampered and climbed and clambered hither and yon, especially once he put his climbing shoes on.  Tomorrow: Salt Lake, with our usual stop at The Front climbing gym and Red Rocks Brewery.


Day One: June 29, 2019

Up and out early, both of us excited to hit the road.

Uneventful, easy drive to and past Las Vegas and into the red sandstone cliffs and canyons of the Nevada, Arizona, Utah country.  The Virgin River runs just over 150 miles near the Utah/Arizona border.  We drive alongside it each summer, in the Virgin River Gorge coming out of Mesquite, Nevada, towards St. George.  Despite being the primary drainage for southwestern Utah, the river is usually dry or nearly so when we come by.  Not today.  Parts of the river, down in the gorge, actually had rapids – well, riffles – of Mexican chocolate hue.  It is a beautiful gorge, though not so beautiful to tempt me to in making an offer on this out-of-the-way surprise:


The river is named for Thomas Virgin, a fur trapper in Jedidiah Smith’s company.  The Smith party wandered through in 1826, the same year in which Smith rode into the lands of Mission San Gabriel and was captured by Spanish soldiers.  Smith, Virgin, and the others were the first Americans to see the river.  Smith – who named a lot of things in the West – first called the river the Adams River after President John Quincy Adams.  John C. Fremont later changed its name on his maps to honor Thomas Virgin.

We made St. George in the early afternoon, swam a little, then ate dinner at our regular favorite, the Painted Pony.  Then we popped up into the red rocks overlooking town so that John could climb and clamber about.  He is getting so strong from all his climbing; it’s fun to watch him eyeball a wall to see how he’ll tackle it, which route(s) he’ll chose.



Tomorrow we swim at the St. George community pool, with its giant slide, and then go into the bigger red cliffs to hike, climb, scout out petroglyphs, and try to do it all before the day heats up.

It is good to be on the road.