September 15, 2009
This year’s gathering of the faithful up along the banks of the North Fork of the Duchesne River flowed through as idyllic an autumn weekend as could be imagined. Blue skies dotted with the occasional cumulous clouds for contrast and temperatures best suited for anything from hiking to reading in front of the cabin ruled three peaceful days.
Although the partying component is always off-scale, so too is the spiritual aspect of the annual get-together started by the legendary Ernie "the Bread Man" Scow back in the day. There are those who still ride for Ernie’s brand that figure this one might well have been the seventeenth in the series that began once Summit County put the kibosh on the shindigs out at his spread on Rasmussen Road.
It seems like ever since Ernie himself up and passed on to that great bread route in the sky, that someone else at least more-or-less associated with his posse has followed suit each year thereby creating voids that must be honored and remembered by ritual among our confederacy of dunces up at Defa’s Dude Ranch each fall when we once again circle the wagons.
There appeared to be quite a group this year, at least in the Saloon once sundown showed up and the Barfly Wranglers began nudging sometimes tossing folks around the hardwood dance floor with their honky-tonk sensibilities and smirks pretty much intact. It oftentimes seems that we are not worthy of such a virtuoso musical outfit.
Although the campground never looked like it was bursting at its seams, the cabins all rented out quickly, as has become the norm, and tents were pitched every-which-way about the grounds but, seemingly, in those areas designated for such a purpose.
You had your usual assortment of Harleys and hiking boots and Stratocasters and mandolins and hooting-and-hollering back-slappin’ buddies swapping lies amid laughs and guffaws loud enough to echo up and down the canyon. No doubt about it, it was another "hug-fest" for the ages.
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The Pavilion, only a few short steps from both the Saloon and Café, is the scene of the crime on Saturday afternoons when open-microphone sessions hold forth on stage and any number of makeshift-ensembles strut their musical shtick.
Also, part and parcel to the music, the covered structure plays host to what might well be the most decadent and scrumptious potluck feast ever seen in those parts, at least since the previous year’s bash. When one gets right down to it, much of the weekend seems to be spent on the business of satisfying collective appetites.
For a few celebrants, the weekend would never be complete without a jaunt from the Grandview Point trailhead at 10,000 feet up to the "breakover" at 11,000, where the entire Grandaddy Basin is laid out before you, and then on down to Grandaddy Lake itself for a lazy packed-in brunch and brew along the shoreline.
The Grandaddy Basin, one of many jewels along the south slope of the High Uintas Wilderness, is the main drawing card, along with the stunning North Fork Canyon itself, which brings pilgrims in search of nature’s truth to this area. The entire vibe, from the thickly forested landscape sprinkled with alpine lakes and majestic peaks to the aromas of high-mountain pines and fresh pack-horse droppings, is to die for.
By late-morning Friday, hikers mostly had the trail to themselves, with the occasional backpacker, trudging back to the cooler nestled in his dust-encrusted mode-of-conveyance, the only co-conspirator. It is during these moments that subtle ecstasies can be shared by merely a glance.
Throughout the weekend, however, thoughts of those no longer with us resided just below the collective consciousness. Memories of Ernie Scow, Geno Kempert, Jay "Lightnin’" Williams, Scotty Russell and Kevin Fieldsted unfolded into reverential and hilarious storylines truly befitting the moment.
Each evening their names would be shouted from the Saloon stage as tunes associated with them, permanently part of the Barfly Wrangler’s set-list, enveloped those celebrating their lives as they had once celebrated those who went before. Note by note, riff by riff, verse and chorus by verse and chorus, their time here was honored.
Those with special attachments to Lightnin’ gathered on the bridge that crosses the North Fork just down from the corral and, in their fashion, sent him off on his way with love and humor and the casting of his ashes upon the water. If the weekend had a true focal point, the time spent in communion upon the bridge was it. Our search for the proper way to get there from here continues.
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.