Sunday, May 25, 2008

Riding into the Hand of God--Hop Valley

The least known part of Zion National Park is the Kolob Canyon formations at the NorthWest corner of the park. Locally, it is known as the Kolob Fingers for its hand-like topography when seen from above. Flying over the Kolob Fingers is something of a religious experience. Pardon the hyperbole, but the view from above is the most beautiful piece of terra firma on this Earth. Six West-pointing fingers and the South-pointing thumb pictured above, dominate a bewildering tangle of slot, crack, and sheer cliff. I have flown into His grasp several times, the wind in my face, soaring with the raptors on the magic carpet of my Powered Parachute. The spectacle evokes involuntary tears every single time. Its natural beauty causes the soul to recoil, as if transfiguration would be required to withstand the view.

I first disovered Hop Valley on a flight over the fingers. A beautiful narrow valley, lush with grass, and a meandering stream that seemed to emerge from the ground on the south end of the valley and disappear into the ground at the foot of a small mountain on the other. The fingers tower at the north end of the valley, rising 2500 hundred feet above, and across a chasm another 1000 feet below, where Hop Valley's creek re-emerges and empties into LaVerkin Creek. It is a choice peice of real estate surrounded by official park, but still private property. Generations of the Lee family of Virgin Utah have run cows in her verdant meadows. We met Alan and some of the family there last fall while on horseback and helped him round up some strays that had wandered into the Park.

This weekend's weather threatened rain, so we looked forward to our planned overnighter into Hop Valley with great anticipation. Riding and camping in the rain is good practice for our summer wilderness trip, and we love it anyway. Defying nature under hat and slicker is good, raw fun. So, prepared for rain, my two daughters, friend Bruce Jenkins, and I decended into the Valley.

The twin smells of wet pine and spring sage blew coldly against our faces as we rode between the myst-shrouded canyon walls. Weather barking more than biting, we got a few sprinkles on the way in, and a gentle, dry rain that sounded like cannon-fire against our tent the next morning. It spat just enough to discolor the vertical sandstone cliffs and scrub the already-pristine air. At bedtime, the sky cleared and we hunted constellations to the sound of a lonely blues harp and the warmth of a fire.

Life's stream wandering through the straight and narrow, a gateway to the very Hand of God--riding Hop Valley is an allegorical journey, rich with metaphor and spiritual overtones. No wonder the ancients feared and revered this place. I often wonder if the general decline in religiosity can be traced to the loss of our night-time sky and our addiction to pavement. Only the most calloused soul could miss the still small voice, or the lions roar of His love in this place.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Frogs Chorus and Mule Bray at Short Creek

East of the Hurricane Fault and tucked up against the South West corner of the Vermilion cliffs that surround Zion National Park lies a quiet little community that has recently found its way into the world's spotlight. The twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona straddle the Utah-Arizona border as a single community. Formerly known as Short Creek, it was settled in 1913 by a group of people looking for a remote place to live the religious practice of Polygamy. Historically hounded and driven, they live in a somewhat closed society. Their shyness, born of the intense scrutiny and curiosity that follows them--is a bitter irony since they shun the spotlight that pries into the practices they hold sacred.

In my Optometry practice, I have had a unique opportunity to know them personally in a way that outsiders rarely enjoy. Over the past 10 years, I have taken care of many hundreds of them, including several of those who were rounded up in the Texas raid last month. In many circles, these are fighting words, but contrary to popular opinion they are among the finest people you can find in this world. The institutional child abuse and pedophilia wildly assumed to be part of their culture is in fact isolated and rare. The FLDS children and adults I have known over the years are genuinely happy people. The children are uncommonly gracious, respectful, and inquisitive--most showing obvious signs of good parenting. They live simple, devoted lives and follow strict guidelines regarding modesty and morality that defy what the media reports as fact.

Unfortunately for them, outsiders like me who know them well are counted on fingers. As a result, the dehumanization and marginalization of the FLDS people has been far too easy. So here we sit, Americans who cherish Constitutionally guaranteed liberty, pursuit of happiness and due process, cheering Texas as they strip my neighbors of theirs because they dress like pioneers and live a hated religious lifestyle. Sadly, few dare to openly stand up for them. To my dear friends in Short Creek, I wish you God-speed.

Hildale is the gateway to this week's mule trek. I hear the top of Canaan Mountain has quakies and a beautiful small lake, so my boys and I packed up and headed that way with a verbal description from one of my next door neighbors who has been there. Sorry Elvin, but you lost me. I had to call on Lawrence Steed of Hildale who came to the rescue with Topo maps and an experienced guide. That got us to the trail head and a mind's eye view of the terrain we were facing. The only way up with horses is the Squirrel trail, we are told, and even that might be very risky. It was. When we got to the final ascent, I tied the pack mule, left my boys below, and went up to see what the top looked like by myself, then made my way back down. The boys were delighted to go back down to the grassy narrows for the overnighter we had planned.

Its a beautiful canyon. As we rode towards the head of the stream lined narrows, we began to hear a chorus of frogs. The canyon walls offered an incredible acoustic that magnified their already big voices. We struck camp in a pretty meadow with a watercress filled spring that fed the central stream and the boys spent the rest of the evening chasing frogs.

As I lay wrapped in my bedroll, looking through the narrow star-filled gap above me--my three sons worn out and dreaming, the world went away for awhile. I was in a grand tabernacle with a chorus of frogs, in sharp harmony against the constant babble of the brook. My young mule, worried about where she was tied, offered her lonely bray in rounds of four pretty evenly across the entire movement. Finally at 4 or 5 am, the last encore was over and only the brook had the energy to continue. What majesty!! The Master of all conductors has performed a brilliant piece just for me!

Next morning the boys slept in for a while before going back on the frog hunt. As we finished up somewhere around noon, it was obvious that summer has finally arrived. The canyon wasn't bad, but we knew coming out was going to be warm. No matter. One of the great secrets in Short Creek is a little pizza and icecream place called Craigos. Our family makes it a point never to travel anywhere near Short Creek on a full stomach. Jared and Lil make the best Pizza Bombs (Calzones) you will ever find. My boys probably came on this trip, mostly on the promise that we could have lunch there on the way out. There is no where to sit, but the food and cheerful help are worth far more trouble than that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rusty has a new sister

Out at SugarCreek Ranch in South West Missouri, Dennis and Karen Miller just sent me pics of their new addition--Rusty's half sister Kali (same Dam, different Sire). After all the reports of the tornados that tore up their part of the county yesterday--its nice to see sunshine in a picture from Missouri dated 5/12/2008. Karen reports that some of what hit Missouri yesterday came within 20 miles of them--and more are expected today. Hope they stay safe!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Riders of the Purple Sage

I'm not sure I can improve upon the silence, or say it any better than these photos. The offerings of spring beg a little reverence, and command a lot of respect.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

BLOOMIN' Pahcoon Springs

Mataqua is a hamlet inhabited by a couple of off-the-grid families, tucked down in Utah's SouthWest corner. During the flood in January, 2005, the Santa Clara River wiped out all the bridges and crossings that serviced Mataqua and her nearest neighbor, the town of Gunlock. During the flood's peak, the only way into either place was by helicopter. The re-routed dirt road to Mataqua now runs through a corner of the Shivwits Indian Reservation before meeting up with its original course near Pahcoon Springs.

Today was the Back Country Horsemen's SouthWest Chapter monthly ride. We parked at Pahcoon Springs and spent part of the day enjoying the desert at its finest. The view through Rusty's Buckhorn sights was a breathtaking splash of color that only nature could reproduce. The photos that follow don't do justice to what we witnessed, but I did the best I could with the camera in my right hand and a fistfull of ASS in the other: