Monday, November 14, 2011


In the mid-1950's my uncle, Bill Hurst, whom we called "Dee" by his middle initial to distinguish him from his father, grandfather, and son, was a forest ranger on the east side of the Uintah Mountains of eastern Utah. I and my sister Judy spent part of those summers living with Aunt Dolly and Uncle Dee, playing with my cousins. My cousin Bill J. and I often tagged along with Uncle Dee on his horse patrols in the Uintahs. Those days were a major influence on the rest of my life and career.

Dad, who was a doctor in Salt Lake City, would meet us and we'd end up camped at Tamarack Lake where Dad could fly fish for cutthroat trout. The horses allowed us to pack just about everything: a wooden grub box full of food, canvas tepee tents, the Dutch oven, and coffee pot. I can still smell the boiling coffee, the trout frying in butter, and the smell of browned biscuits from the Dutch oven as the coals were brushed off the top and the lid opened.

They are huge mountains: Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah rises 13,528 ft. It's the highest east-west range in the country; its quartzite rock is is about 700 million years old; the range uplifted between 70 and 50 million years ago. I learned all these things when I was a young boy and fascinated by geology. Vernal, Utah, where the cousins lived had a fantastic museum, full of dinosaurs, and Dinosaur National Monument is just a few miles away.

I hadn't been to the Uintahs since I was a boy. While I was in Salt Lake City on my most recent road trip, my brother Tony and his wife Shelly asked if I wanted to drive up to the mountains and check out their cabin site they had purchased. It had been a dream of theirs to build a little cabin there and retreat on the weekends. We hopped into their Jeep and headed east, up Parley's canyon, up, up to the town of Kamas, up the Provo river to Smith-Morehouse canyon.

Tony and Shelly walk up the road to the homesite

The magic key to the gate didn't work, so we parked outside and walked the mile up to their property. It was pretty overgrown, but Tony looked for the corners, while Shelly wandered through the trees. Tony's dogs, Pepper and Jack, ran amok, picking up thousands of prickly burrs. I was careful but still managed to be covered with the sticky seeds. Lots of work needed here to build a cabin.
Shelly in the aspens

Tony finds a corner post

I can see why they fell in love with the property; perched on a hillside, it had a great view of the surrounding mountains. Memories of an earlier era flooded through my mind. My first Boy Scout camp was near here at Camp Steiner. The last time I saw my T-shirt, my daughter Daphne was wearing it.

We hiked back to the car, drove up Smith-Morehouse for a hike. I was amazed at the number of people here and the variety of motorized equipment they carried: 4-wheelers, motorcycles, jet boats, motor boats. I never remembered seeing anyone when I was a kid.
Tony drives past the reservoir

We parked the car and started hiking. As I walked, I looked up at the peaks, the quartzite and shale shown pink and gray through the vegetation. These mountains are very old, so there are very few sharp cliffs like my beloved Teton range, a young pile of granite only 10 million years old.
The mountains peek through the pines and aspens

As I headed up the trail, the fall colors were just at their peak. I constantly turned on my camera and snapped shots of Tony's and Shelly's butts ahead of me framed by the brilliant golden aspen leaves. I could smell the pine gum on the lodgepoles and pinions which took me back again. I would break off a piece of dried sap and chew it into gum, which made my breath smell like turpentine, but was a great fun for a kid.

Shelly and Tony hike ahead

Tony and Shelly were preparing for a huge hike the next weekend: they and friends were hiking from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim, the equivalent of a marathon, but with several thousand feet of elevation change. I hustled along behind them, the high altitude making me pant like a chicken that is too hot.
Red scrub oak

Every now and then scrub oak would give a brilliant red contrast to the green and yellow of the pines and aspens. Even though it was late in the year, purple daisies were still in bloom. We stopped at an open meadow and took photos of the panorama, then each of us posed atop a large boulder.
Shelly, Tony, and Jack pose on a boulder

Yours Truly atop the boulder; the aspens in full splendor

Jack, Tony, and Shelly share lunch at the forks

At the forks of the creek, we stopped and sat down on the flat boulders over the tiny trickle of stream still flowing late in the dry year. Jack rooted around looking for a handout. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the staple of the mountains, full of calories and taste. Tony and Shelly looked like marathon runners. I, of course always look like a mountain climber.
Tony, Shelly, and myself in the stream bed at the forks

Time to turn around and head down. Tony, Shelly, and Jack left me in the dust. I hoofed the five miles as fast as my senior legs could carry me. They were on a mission; I was just having a great time. Every scene needed a photograph. I looked over the edge down to the stream; Jack was gulping a bit of water. In an instant he was back up on the trail.
Jack runs down to the stream

As I rounded a bend, a huge caterpillar was lumbering across the trail. His gold and black 'fur' shown in bright contrast to the dirt and leaves on the ground. I had to take a final photo.
A caterpillar crosses the trail

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