How did you find that place? It's a question that I always seem to be answering.
Well, Some of the time I'm told about these unusual places that I go to, but more often than not they're places I find on road trips. Like last Saturday.
Knowing that I, like a lot of Las Vegans, regularly go to Cedar City, in Utah for either the Shakespeare festival, camping, or skiing, a friend told me that I should try going up via Highway 18 instead of Interstate 15.
They told me about a monument at a place called Mountain Meadows that commemorates one of the worst events in the history of the country. A place where the locals allowed their fears and prejudices to overcome their reason and massacred a wagon train of settlers passing through the area. The site is marked at two places. The first is on top of a hill overlooking the valley. From here you can get a sense of how the terrible scene unfolded. The second is the memorial itself down in the valley. It's a simple monument enclosed by an iron fence that consists of a waist high wall surrounding a large stack of rocks. Beneath the memorial lie the remains of some of those who died here. Perhaps it's the simplicity of the monument or the complete lack of modern day noise that brings on the tranquility, but when you combine that calm with the sound of the near by stream, the song birds, the American flag flapping in the breeze above you, and the ethereal wind passing through the iron fence it brings the moment home in a way that I've never experienced at any other monument. . In a uniquely inspiring way it reminds us that the only way to avoid catastrophes like this in the future is to remember the ones committed in the past.
That was where I ended my adventure Saturday. But it began earlier when I left Interstate 15 at the Littlefield exit and headed North through Beaver Dam. This two-lane highway is the antithesis of the Interstate. Here people are just out for a Sunday drive. If you travel this highway in the Spring, even in a dry year, you'll find that the shoulders of the road are packed with wildflowers. I found this drive so peaceful that I passed right by the small wooden sign with the BLM logo on it, but years of conditioning caused me to put on the brakes and back up for a closer look. The words were simple and few. Woodbury Desert Study area.
Intrigued I set off down the graded dirt road. It turns out that around 3,000 acres were used back in the 30's for the first comprehensive study of the desert tortoise. When I came to the other side of the study area I prepared to turn around when I noticed a small narrow canyon off to the North. Always looking for an adventure I parked the Land Rover in a turnout and started hiking up the canyon. I was rewarded with some of the most vibrant colors the desert has to offer. The cacti and wildflowers were in full bloom. I could only smile broadly at my good fortune. But what really made me beam was at the end of the canyon. In front of me lay outstretched a classic almost pristine example of the high Mojave desert. With the exception of where I just entered there seemed to be no other way into this area. Mountains surround it on all sides. I was so enraptured by the view that I forgot the first two rules in hiking in the desert. But an old friend quickly reminded me. Always watch where you step in the desert, and stay on established roads and trails. It was an omen and I was more than willing to accept it.
Back on Old Highway 91 I quickly returned to that peaceful Sunday drive state, and again missed my turnoff. But this time I did notice it. It's just that I wanted to see what was further down this highway that had brought me such luck. Sure enough I again was rewarded.
Off on the side of the road was a very small temporary printed sign announcing that the High Valley Mountain Men were having a rendezvous. Once again my interest was piqued and I turned off the highway to investigate. There were people dressed in period costumes of the mountain men and women. They were trading in handmade artwork, clothing, and utilities. More important ly they were having competition in knife throwing and black powder rifles and pistols. Since I was getting a bit hungry I had one of the delicious Indian tacos made with Native American frye bread. And of course I couldn't resist the chance to fire one of these rifles with the terrific booms. Turns out that the recoil on the rifle is almost non-existent. And I hit the target dead center. Another omen and I'm back on the road.
I can't possibly tell you about all the incredible things that I found on this journey, but I think you get the idea. That's what I did last Saturday, what did you do. Perhaps next Saturday you should consider a road trip. The rules are simple. Keep your eyes peeled, be open to exploration, respect the land, and always stop and ask the locals what's out there. Do that, and like me, you'll be amazed at all of the incredible stops Along the Way.
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