Teri Orr: Pilgrimage for nourishment
May 1, 2015
The trip starts for me after I turn off Highway 6, right around Thistle, and drop down to Highway 89. The two-lane roads and tiny towns are a welcome time warp. And I am forced to slow down. There are two pumps, gas stations and soft serve, self-serve, ice cream machines. And this time of year, every field has babies — lambs and calves and kids.
When I hit Highway 24 there is a homebound feeling that propels me through the Dixie Forest up and over Boulder Mountain (thick with deer at the end of the day — babies and moms spring-loaded and bouncing from the edge of the road to the middle and across again). And then, at the edge of the highway and the very start of the Burr Trail is the lodge and Hell’s Backbone Grill, filled with a changing cast of characters and anchored by owner-chefs Blake and Jen.
I have been making this pilgrimage for nearly twenty years — not every year but every couple. I am happier the years I make it here. It serves as a base camp to adventures in southern Utah and to conversations and heart moments like no others. It is life simple.
The lodge has a bird refuge/sanctuary attached and all day long, there are great takings off and landings in the pond. There are hawks and turkey vultures and occasionally an eagle and a falcon. And all manner of starlings and wrens and geese and mallards. Across the road, there are cows that low at night. And owls that call. But not my name. I hope. Not yet.
At night, the sky is so clear and close and there is no light pollution around for hundreds of miles and we are high — nearly 10,000 feet, that the stars are nearly touchable. I re-name The Big Dipper, The HUGE Dipper. And all around it, is a necklace of sparkling gems I have never seen strung together so tightly. So many. I sleep uninterrupted. I wake when I wish and start another day of adventures.
I love to drive and something has been missing since I traded my Subaru sedan in for an Outback, back out in November. The Outback hadn’t yet been, out back. There was no red dirt stuck in the wheel rims or inside the door hinges. We needed to bond and nothing says "get to know one another" like some time in the desert. Highway 12 thorough the S turns and along the spine of Hell’s Backbone. Into Escalante, along a few dirt roads. Back out to 12 and onto Bryce Canyon. Another day, the length of the Burr Trail, to where it ends at Lake Powell. Stops to photograph Indian Paintbrush, and Penstemons and Sego Lilies and Evening Primrose and all manner of living things that waited, until this very week to pop into colors.
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I have been to both Hanksville and Henrieville and they are not the same or even close as any crow flies. One is a tiny charming ranching community in the shadow of Bryce Canyon cliffs. The other is a gas station intersection always blowing and dusty and barren. The desert isn’t universally beautiful.
My favorite nearby slot canyon. Creek bed. Off road. At night my dreams are of hoodoos and big-winged birds and clear water running over smooth stones. It is peaceful here in a way that cannot be duplicated.
In the restaurant at night it is quite the show of folks from all over the planet who have found their way here. Families and couples and single folks, all stopping to be fed and nourished and no, those aren’t the same thing. My waiter, it turns out, is from Kamas, because sometimes the world is that small and connected. On one night, just one, I hear a woman with big hair and much makeup who is, I’m guessing, in her 70s, ask loudly if there is a SPA, anywhere, around here? I want to say, "oh Honey, go sit in the creek and let the cool water caress your ankles and soften your hands." The original mani-pedi. But I know it is too late to soften her heart and I keep reading my book.
Tonight, it sounds like one of my favorite speakers from this year’s TED conference will be among us for dinner. A friend of my friends, who run the restaurant, he too, has a place around here. It seems perfect and not strange at all, he would be here, now. Serendipity builds upon itself.
I have brought with me a bag of books I couldn’t finish if I was staying here a month (which would be lovely to consider). In a spectacular display of understanding my heart, my friend in Park City loaded it up and dropped it off, right before I left town. On the grassy field outside my little cabiny space I read for long stretches and listen to the calls of the birds as the sun shines and a gentle, almost imperceptible, breeze whispers over/around.
I am in a world of vibrations — the washboard dirt roads — sure, those are obvious but unless you are devotee of red rock, high-walled, sun-washed canyons and luminescent spring green trees, you might miss the hum. Throw in a sunset hitting those red rocks and cloudless nights with pulsating stars and you are in a cocoon of connections.
It had been nearly two years, this time, since I had been back here. Two years is too long. On Sunday, I will leave this space and time and return to the Park. Good vibrations in tow…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.