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More Dogs on Main

It’s a family tradition to drive up into the Wolf Creek/Soapstone area on the 24th of July weekend. Some years it’s a major expedition. My father used to really get into it, and had an old Chevy Suburban that he kept just for that. At the time, the roads were terrible: dirt tracks with washboard everywhere except where there were boulders. We always took a big tow chain and a chain saw with us, and frequently had to use them to get through. I don’t know if it was just the family growing or people feeling like they needed an escape strategy, but it gradually became a trip that involved multiple vehicles, many of which were ill suited for the road conditions and offered a good excuse to retreat after a while when the little kids started tossing cookies in the back seat.

For some reason, I look forward to it every year.

We did the Readers’ Digest version of the trip this year up the paved road to Wolf Creek Pass, then a short side trip on a gravel road. Then we parked and got out for a hike. The wildflowers were probably at their peak, and the growth was deep and lush. It’s pretty country, with big rolling meadows filled with flowers and pine forests around the edges. There are still some snowdrifts. The Soapstone Loop is still a pretty good mountain bike ride for the scenery, even though on the weekend it is swarming with ATVs.

The hike goes into a side canyon to a place where my great-grandparents had a little cabin on one of their sheep-grazing permits. The sheep were on the forest from mid-June through September. As a young married couple, my grandparents would move out there for the summer every year, and the tiny two-room shack provided a degree of comfort for my grandmother and their little children. Wolf Creek is still pretty untamed today, despite a paved highway through there. Bear and mountain lions are reported all the time by the few remaining sheepherders and lumber men in the area. I suspect they named it "Wolf Creek" for a reason. A hundred years ago, when my grandmother, with seven kids in tow, first set up house for the summer, it must have been primeval.

My grandmother was often the only woman up there, and their cabin quickly became the social hub of the area among the widely scattered livestock and timber men. Between a good meal and her pies for dessert, and some legendary poker games spiced with whatever the sheepherders were distilling at the time, it must have been quite a spot. It was about the size of a one-car garage, but they supplemented the cabin with sheep wagons and wall tents.

We’ve got two photographs of the place. That’s pretty remarkable since, in the Depression, nobody had a spare dime to buy film or get it processed. There are really no other family photos of that period, but for some reason these two of the Wolf Creek cabin survived. One shows my father twirling a lariat in full cowboy fashion. He was probably about 18 and looked like trouble. The other shows some visitor we can’t identify leaning on the fence reading a newspaper.

In my earliest memories of the place, the only thing left of the cabin was the floor, a raised platform covered with linoleum in a very wild pattern. The walls had long since tipped outward and mostly rotted away. The iron cook stove was there, but in pieces, and a little bit of a corral fence remained. The only thing there now is a bed spring with some trees growing up through it.

I hiked up there with a bunch of my sister’s grandkids, some of them early teens. I was trying to explain how it worked: sheep on summer range, winter range, trailing them down Parley’s Canyon and 21st South through Salt Lake.

Blank stares. Why didn’t they just drive back to Heber at night? How come they didn’t have electricity? Where did they buy their groceries? Even standing there at the cabin site, sticking their hands into the ice-cold spring that had kept milk and meat fresh six generations ago, I’m not completely sure they believed any of it.

It’s a way of life that is as long gone as the old cabin itself. But when the wind was just right, I was pretty sure I could smell one of Grandma’s apple pies baking, and hear Grandpa shuffling the deck.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs on Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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