West's wild beauty timeless in appeal

Skip the progressively uglier urban areas

We went West again this year. We had two objectives, St. George in southern Utah to visit Cal, my wife's brother, and Mary Jane, and our Utah State pals, Swede and Phyl Larson, and the Pickett family reunion at Lava Hot Springs in southern Idaho.

We're trying to avoid interstates, especially I-70 to the Colorado border, so we headed out on another route for Lamar, Colo., getting us onto a road we had enjoyed years ago, up Wolf Creek Pass and into Durango, Colo. We couldn't believe what had happened to Durango in 30-some years. Like other places in the Rockies and desert it has boomed much too much.

We had never been to the Four Corners, so we headed there and found the place was more than a tourist trap. We were on our way to Kayenta, Ariz., the town that carries you up through Monument Valley. Never had we been there, and what a thrill to see the many promontories that had been in the John Ford-John Wayne westerns.

Moab, Utah, was our next destination, though we drove in to see Newspaper Rock and the southern part of the Canyonlands National Park. Moab is like Durango, a city headed for the ugliness of Phoenix or Albuquerque, but it was the takeoff point for a look at the magnificent (yes!) Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. And, though we had been there years ago, we had another look at Arches National Park.

Do people realize the grandeur of much of southern Utah? We had to drive north to the interstate to connect with our next destination, Capitol Reef National Park, another of the great places. We had toured there years ago with our friends the Roes, Ineda Roe being the daughter of the man for whom the Hickman Bridge in the park is named. Then south, and the surprise of the beauty of the Dixie National Forest, high, rainy, exciting.

We hadn't anticipated going into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is a huge area of rocks and canyons and incredible beauty, and we wondered about the people in Utah (how people in the West hate the federal government) who got hot and bothered when Bill Clinton declared the area a monument. What did these people want there, coal mining, oil exploration, power facilities?

Though we have been to Bryce Canyon several times we went again. You can never get enough of Bryce, but we confined our stops to places we could walk into with ease. High, cloudy, cool, and then to Cedar Breaks monument, and our revelation that a good many of the "cedars" in Utah are really junipers. A ranger in Canyonlands told us this.

To St. George. This once-sleepy little Mormon town has grown like Durango. Hot; it felt almost like Phoenix there. But our relatives and friends gave us tours of the area, and we saw the lovely homes and the red rocks around the town, and our friends took us to the new monument that tells of the terrible Mountain Meadows Massacre that took place in early Mormon history.

In recent years we have avoided downtown Salt Lake City, but in that city we visited my brother and his wife, my friend since boyhood 1927, and my wife's bridesmaid of '47. Neal, my brother, took us up to Bingham Canyon, that vast copper pit whose views rivaled those of the national parks. If you go to Salt Lake City head for Bingham Canyon.

Do you know the Trappers' Loop that goes from I-84 and up into Ogden Valley? Please give this road a try, and in the valley go to the Trappist Monastery and buy some of the best honey in America. Ogden looked especially pretty this year. If I retired to the West I think Ogden would be the place.

Up through Cache Valley, my homeland, and up through some mountain towns I knew in my boyhood, especially an isolated little place called Mink Creek. To Lava, where the Picketts meet to eat and do other things. Though there were fewer of us there we still had a lot of little kids running around, but the reunion was sobered by the fact that my brother in Arizona had just died.

And time to go home, and I-80 across Nebraska tricked us this year, with far more orange barrels than we had seen before. And Lawrence was much too hot and I saw little evidence of rain, but, home once more.

� Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His column appears Sundays in the Journal-World.


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