Wandering the West
April 13, 2010
After a few weeks laid up at home following knee surgery, it was time for me to shake out the cobwebs and hit the road, if only for a few hours. If you live in the Park City-Snyderville-Salt Lake Valley orbit, you may not truly appreciate what lies just one rise over low hills to the east in the Kamas Valley.
I started making the Park City-Kamas-Oakley-Peoa-Brown’s Canyon circuit long ago. It has always been a pleasant ride in the country, serving for us first as a sure-fire way to get a fussy baby to sleep in the rear car seat, or in later years a good route to put the top down on the Mustang and enjoy a spring day. But since the babies graduated from college and gas hit $3 a gallon, our trips through Kamas Valley have tapered off.
It occurred to me as we passed Jordanelle Reservoir on Highway 40 that it had been years since we last made the circuit. And it occurred to me that many newer Park City-Snyderville area residents probably never think to take a ride out that way to see our east-county fellow Summit County residents. Not a lot changes along Highway 32, at least not since Jordanelle Dam went in. Some of us old timers will remember the old crossroads, the small farms and the town of Keetley, all now buried beneath Jordanelle. (Little known fact: It cost more to build the new roads around Jordanelle than it took to build the dam itself.)
Turning left at the light at the bottom of the hill below the dam, we started up to Kamas. In nice weather, a good stop here is at Rock Cliff Nature Center where the Provo River spills into the east side of the reservoir. We picnicked there on another fine spring day with deer nibbling the new shoots of grass just a few dozen feet from our table. Past Rock Cliff you’ll see the first of a handful of sawmills a reminder that in eastern Summit County many residents are still working hard to wrestle a living off of the land, be it from logging and sawing or from farming and ranching. This tends to explain the different politics between conservative, multi-generational eastern county families and all of us newcomers (just thirty years for me) with "different" thinking who populate the ski terrain of the west county.
At the intersection in Francis, you can go straight or turn right and end up driving along the Provo River, still flowing lazily while awaiting the snowmelt that will turn it into a torrent. A left turn heads you toward Kamas. Any direction takes you down country lanes, past century-old log barns, with views back to the Wasatch and Mount Timpanogos.
One reason for the drive alone is to dine in Kamas. Years ago now, Sean Wharton opened the Gateway Grille, bringing lobster bisque and similar upscale plates to a burger-and-fries town. A dozen stops over the years have never disappointed, but this past week we needed a break from months of healthy eating while getting ready for the knee operation. That dictated the burger-and-fries stop at Hi Mountain Drug, where a crowded lunch counter and table section competes for space with greeting cards, housewares and corny gifts. The handmade burger patties and long-cut fries here are dirt cheap and as good as burgers get and they’ve got the awards to prove it. Their "Best in State" hamburger is something to crow about. Wash your burger down with Iron port a cream-soda-type beverage served in a mason jar. It was once a Utah soda fountain staple, but probably is sold in no more than three places in Utah today.
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This is a good time to cruise through the Kamas Valley. As snow retreats up the Uintas, the fields will fill with lambs, calves and foals. Try some side roads Democrat Alley, North Bench or Cow Alley in Oakley or Wooden Shoe Lane in Peoa. If you missed the burger at Hi Mountain because it was Sunday, instead try the Road Island Diner in Oakley a 1939 diner plopped down in the unlikely setting of an east county ranch town. On New Lane outside of Oakley you might stop at the Rundown Ranch for farm-fresh eggs if the sign is up.
From Peoa, a town with the highest vowel-to-consonant ratio I know, return via Brown’s Canyon and its Back of the Wasatch Mountain views. A few hours on the road in eastern Summit County calms frayed nerve endings, fills the belly and brings a smile.
Larry Warren is a writer, filmmaker and author who specializes in all things western.
INSIDER TIP: Stop at New West Country Store in Kamas for an eclectic mix of working cowboy gear like saddles and Carhartt’s, along with silver belt buckles and fine western wear.