Vacation Time – August 1997 Part VIII

I head back into town, having decided to follow the tracks and race a freight backsoutheastward into Wyoming. But there’s a little madness in my modus operandi. I hadto revisit the two antique shops for two disparate reasons. The first stop was tobrandish my toll-free treasure trove in front of the lady who thought she had themarket cornered on classic potato plates. The second visit was to thank the gentleman for referring the salvage yard to me. I pass a high-balling freight, then pulloff next to the tracks and wait for it to roar past, sending goose bumps up my arms.I never miss a chance to wave at the engineer, hoping my salutation might make theirdaya little more pleasant. I continue on U. S. 30 to Kemmerer and south to I-80 where I find a rest area for the night. There’s another glorious sunset behind theWyoming mesas. God, do I love this part of the country!

The next morning I’m headed west into Utah where I come upon the divergence of I-80 and I-84, the latter of which wends its way down an imperceptible grade through a subdued canyon towards Ogden. And of course, the ubiquitous Union Pacific tracks are snaking their way next to the canyon river. Exactly a year ago, I was ascending the same highway on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon tuned into a Salt Lake City FM station playing “soft jazz”, the most melodious motoring music one could expect. The freights were passing in different directions, and I was thinking how well the U.P.R.R. surveyors had earned their pay charting the path of least resistance toward Promontory Point, 130 years ago.

Anyway, I stay on I-80 southward until U. S. 40 lures me to Heber City where I stop to grab some groceries. While at the super market, I happen to notice a disproportional number of very attractive young adults shopping ina town of about 4300 people. Then I remember the proximity of the Park City and Alta ski resort areas, and these twenty-somethings are probably the ski-bunnies and stud-muffins polarized in Wasatch County just to be close to the slopes. I’m still in the parking lot, dust­ing off the dash, when I realize that I’ve inadvertently brushed against  the adjustable outer ring on the altimeter. Couldn’t have occurred at a more inappropriate time…no elevations are posted on Utah city limit signs. It’s a warm day and I’d like to get up to at least 6,000 feet. Okay, all is not lost.  I check my trusty Road Atlas for the elevation of Ogden, which is set at 4,300 feet. Well, let’s see, filtering my memoryof past driving experiencesaround. the area, I’m at least 5,000f.a.s.l., I figure, so I reset the altimeter accordingly (with my fingers crossed).

A gradual and steady climb up old Route 40 reveals some familiar pull-offs along the adjacent creek…very similar to the sites on St. Vrain in Colorado. Naturally, being such great campsites, they are all occupied by well-entrenched 5th-wheel trailers, or tents with clothes lines of laundry and billowing campfire smoke. I make a U-turn and descend a couple hundred feet to an irresistible pull-off, bridging the creek into a canopy of arboreal enchantment and a feeling of total security from the elements. I was hoping that the habitué I had seen before was just an apparition, but he was for real. I eased into his encampment and turned off the engine. His approachable hand gesture made me feel welcome in his homebase. He offered to share his “space” with me, but I couldn’t help feeling a little cautious – just a natural first reaction.

After making a stealthy surveillance of his squatter’s habitat, it was obvious he was not of the hit-rob-and-run category. The backseat of an old sedan was his makeshift bed, and the hood served as a kitchen countertop. A collapsible card table was clut­tered with utensils, plates, cups, empty milk cartons, salt shaker, and a butt-filled ash tray. There was an abundance of fire wood stacked next to a magnificent rock-structured fireplace, on top of which stood a replica of my campfire-sooted coffee pot, only twice as large. That should have been a clue he was my type of guy. He was a crusty ol’ codger, but trustworthy.

Nevertheless, I felt a little confined within his “arena”… like I was sharing a motel room with a stranger, using another person’s stove. Something just didn’t ring right. I made a half-lame excuse about wanting to get on the road while there was still a lot of daylight left. I did have my mind set on an old spot about 40 miles up the highway. I was kind of ambivalent about leaving ol’ Ron, especially when recalling his words: “It’s sure nice to have someone to talk to for a change”. But my mind was intransigent, and besides, he had been living as a recluse for two weeks, so what’s one more day? The gradient increases for quite a few miles, so I know I’ll be comfortable elevation-wise. I turn off at the promotional sign reading “Currant Creek Reservoir – 19 miles”. It’s only two miles when I exit the dusty washboard road into my idyllic heaven-by-the-creek. However, the picturesqueness is somewhat spoiled by human pollution – again! What makes the situation even more pathetic is there’s a half-full trash bag left behind in the wake of all the rest of the refuse. Is this some sort of endemic epidemic common to campsites? Well, I cleaned up Colorado, so I might as well clean up Utah.

As I’m filling up the rest of the trash bag, I’m refraining the vacuum cleaner ad: “It’s a dirty world, … somebody’s gotta clean it up”. The next mission requires even more perseverance, that is, scraping together enough ignescent wood for a campfire. It’s obviouslybeen a wet summer with a misty gauze of green everywhere. Ah, this bodes well for decreasing the danger of forest fires (from both lightning and man’s carelessness).I have yet to meetmy match when it comes to coaxing twigs and branches to ignite,but I have to admit, this was the ultimate challenge. It was a success for finallygetting a blaze, thanks to a half of a daily edition of theRocky Mountain News.You know, I’ve never carried a can of lighter fluid in my arsenal, considering thatbackyard barbecue torcher a flimflam way to start a fire. One match, one sportssection…that’s been the ticket. I fall asleep still thinking about Ol’ Ron.

Wouldn’t you know it, I’m headedback west on route 40 the next morning to pay a visit to the mystifying old man. He had my goat. I just wanted to find out wherehe’d been and where was he going. On the way down, I stop at the Whiskey Springs Rest Area, another familiar pull-off. I couldn’t resist dippin’ my toes in the coolstream. Legend has it that the trail blazers would stash their fifths of 86 proofin the creek for refrigeration. I do some wind sprints on the deep rye grass rightthrough the spraying sprinklers, barefooted of course. Ah, the delights of summer.

I pause for a few minutes, contemplating a tree line on a distant mountain ridgea little less than a mile away. I cup my hands around my eyes in the form of pseudo binoculars and “zoom in” on one 30 to 40 foot evergreen and visualize a human figurestanding next to the trunk under the lowest branch. Then I lower my hands and behold the scope of the entire panorama, simultaneously engaging my retina to focus once again on a man under a tree, silhouetted. At that moment, I am able to put into per­spective man’s microcosmic stature in absolute relation to the unequivocal enormityof this planet earth. It is tantamount to a fly on top of the Gateway Arch. It is a time for reflection on how miniscule we are in the whole scheme of things. I like it.