You know the actual event horizon is out there somewhere but you can’t really make it out, what with the basin being chock full of lakes, meadows and lodgepole pine. For that matter, the spruce and fir don’t help much either.
And then there’s the haze you brought along, a residual from dancing the previous night away to the "Barfly Wranglers" with the rest of the posse down at the Defa’s Dude Ranch saloon. There are lots of intervening variables between you and the geologic probability that you’re searching for along that far west ridgeline of Grandaddy Basin, but you can never seem to get it squarely in your crosshairs.
You swear you can see forever from 11,000 feet at Hades Pass as it all unfolds in panorama down below. And you can! It’s just that individual erosion patterns have a way of hunkering down between, below, and behind the surface trappings. Up on the south slope of the Uinta Range, drainages are wide and rather full of themselves.
On this day, as on many in the past, we are stalking the illusive spot where the Duchesne River drainage "captured" the ancestral West Fork of Rock Creek thereby gaining "water rights" to Mirror Lake and its environs. Maybe not as brazen a theft as that perpetuated by Orrin Hatch and Earl Holding up around Snowbasin prior to the 2002 Winter Games, but, in the current context, certainly worthy of mention.
Once again we had journeyed up the North Fork of the Duchesne River to pay homage to the celebratory nature and the memory of the late, great Ernie "the bread man" Scow, a Park City icon if ever there was one. Members of the posse who keep track of such things figure this one had to be about the 16th annual gathering of the tribes.
It wasn’t long after Summit County had forced Ernesto to close up shop at his old party digs along Rasmussen Road out near Kimball Junction that he came up with the idea that the cute little dude ranch north of Hanna might be the perfect fit for his wandering flock.
And so it went, year after year, summertime raptures up on the south slope of the Uinta Range. Homemade music and homemade grub. And dogs, of course. In fact, most any livestock could worm their way through the door at one of Ernie’s group gropes. To one who for years packed Ding Dongs and Twinkies side by side on his bread truck, diversity came easy.
The drill over the years has been to rent a cabin so that you have a place to bunk down each evening after the saloon music stops and the campfire wranglin’ subsides. Oftentimes, following the initial evening’s festivities, participants find themselves being rousted out of their bedrolls the next afternoon when their turn comes around to once again perform upon the Pavilion stage.
Something about such gatherings has a tendency to blur the lines between here and now. For some the answer lies in confronting the aftermath of the previous night’s debauchery by tramping off into the primitive area as early as possible the next morning, which is how our current pilgrim finds his hiking boots standing atop Hades Pass at the break-over into Grandaddy Basin.
He read somewhere that early glaciation might have been the culprit that the divide that separated the Duchesne drainage and that of the west fork of Rock Creek had been scoured to the point where, in order to maintain their relationship with the Rock Creek side, the water would have had to flow uphill.
There is a "wind gap" on the old Hayden Peak quadrangle map where the elevation differential on the west side has the Duchesne waters flowing 800 feet below the divide, which isn’t all that much erosion in geological time. That could explain it all, but an explanation isn’t what the hike was about. It would take the setting of one’s eyes upon the actual topography of the "capture" to make things right in a moderately hungover world.
But accomplishing such a mission required much more hiking than had been originally budgeted for the day, and there’s still another night of fandango upon the saloon hardwood on tap. And then there’s always next summer when you can repeat the stalking ritual and gaze out into your basin of dreams once again.
If memory serves, this is exactly the same rationale that transpired each of the last half dozen years or so. You hike to the pass, attempt to locate the "gap" visually, then, failing that, succumb to the thought of a lazy hour or so along the banks of Grandaddy Lake itself.
Early autumn at elevation lends itself quite well for hiking and daydreaming along the trail. Thoughts easily turn to some former members of Ernie’s vigilantes-for-fun bunch that for one reason or another aren’t with us any longer. Too many, including Ernie, came to the end of their hike much too soon.
And that’s kind of what keeps this annual gathering of the faithful such a drawing card to both those who knew what those days were like and the greenhorns just learning about the mythology when lies are swapped around the campfire. Even through time, some forces are truly magnetic. Ernie "the bread man" Scow is one of those.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.
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