March 29, 2006
In your mind’s eye, the place was an oasis. K-town you called it. Situated at the confluence of bliss and beauty, the still somewhat rough-hewn area Jacob Hamlin attempted to fortify back in the 1860s always had its welcome mat out – at least it seemed so on the surface. It was the kind of place where you could stop to clean the desert out from under your fingernails and behind your ears.
It was smack-dab in the middle of some of the most striking red rock country on the planet. It was a stone’s throw from Zion and Bryce and Cedar Breaks. The Kaibab Plateau and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon were neighbors. The Vermillion Cliffs ran right down Main Street.
The majestic Kaiparowits loomed nearby and the sweat lodges and brush arbors of the Navajo Rez were but a cloud’s mosey away. Pipe Springs and Old Paria served as bookends, gently pressing inward from opposing horizons. And only a few miles across the state line lay one of those quintessential western watering holes. One could always knock back some trail dust with a shot of red-eye while taking in a desert yarn or two at the Buckskin Tavern.
Down the road apiece from that particular barstool waited the turn-off for the two-and-a-half hours worth of washboard that snaked across the Arizona strip toward the magnificence of Toroweap and Vulcan’s Throne. If the Grand Canyon had an edge, the end of this dirt road was it.
The exposure was total as you peered down the 3,000-foot sheer dropoff to the roaring rapids of Lava Falls. No postcard stands hereabouts. No pavement or service stations or North Rim lodges in these parts. But the night sky could rival Chaco Canyon and, among the pronghorns and peregrine falcons anyway, primitive worked.
Meanwhile, back up and around the corner from K-town, was that slice of heaven around Mount Carmel they refer to as Maynard Dixon country. Maynard, a western painter of much renown, had some pretty comfy digs on the outskirts of town and spent many-a-day wanderin’ in search of inner and outer cloudscapes to express upon his canvas.
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Down the road the other way toward Lake Powell sat a collection of buildings and characters that went by the name of Big Water. Assembled by three-pack-a-day polygamist Alex Joseph, this quite crusty community lent itself well to scuffling and talking God and baseball. The "kickin’ tires on rusty cars" hall of fame couldn’t find a better home. But then David Allan Coe roared into town and opened a bar – and all bets were off.
All this is nothing more than prelude – character development, if you will. Its sole mission is to provide a sense of cultural geography to the environs of K-town, to place it in its proper setting. You see, Kanab, Utah and its denizens find themselves once again in the news. They have become a cause célèbre.
Their mayor and city council, as everyone knows by now, adopted a "natural family" resolution that some have found a bit exclusionary. Much of the community has protested, but it was the "calling out" of the mayor by a 17-year-old intern/columnist at the Southern Utah News that set the event awash in journalistic ink.
The mayor’s reaction to the young upstart whippersnapper was to send out letters drippin with condescension and condemnation to both the lad’s LDS bishop and his editor at the paper. The kid, obviously a ship without a rudder, needed a "mid-course correction," and the city "elders" needed to get onboard.
The result of all this "propheteering," of course, has been a call both nationally and internationally to boycott K-town, to teach it an economic lesson. Well, the mayor and the city council have taken so much heat from their quite embarrassed constituency that the collective backpedaling has come to resemble a herd stampeding in reverse.
The irony of all this is that, back in the day — when Southern California Edison successfully lured Kane County politicos between the sheets with their perfume of a power plant up on the Kaiparowits — the fine folks of K-town "dis-invited" all humans of an environmental persuasion once the deal fell through.
So there you were, caught in a reverse-boycott – unwanted and, until you reached a more-welcoming desert oasis, unfed and unwashed. Over the years, for the most part, you have respected Kanab’s wishes and staggered refueling stops in such a manner that the only time you’d hit your brakes was for a red light.
Granted, you achieved a certain smugness concerning your longtime mutually-antagonistic relationship with Kane County, but this latest flap might well bring you back into the fold. The way Kanab locals quickly distanced themselves from their elected officials on the "natural family" issue has precipitated a reconsideration.
These days, more than ever, it is a somewhat easy leap to not judge an electorate solely by the antics of their "leaders." Those that voted them in, of course, bear certain responsibilities but their lack of insight is generally nothing a "mid-course correction" wouldn’t cure.
It remains to be seen, however, if a springtime desert romp might include a brief layover thereabouts for provisions and polite conversation. There obviously remains plenty of time for both the desert drifter and Kanab to once again fall out of favor with each other prior to such an encounter. But, then again, spring is all about rebirth and fresh starts.
So, the possibility of reconciliation, as politically incorrect as it might seem to those currently drooling for retribution, might well be at hand. But, one might ask, from where can these "newbies" claim legitimacy? Where were they when the nobly-parched limped through town with empty coolers and only visions of Page, Ariz. liquor stores to wet their whistle.
The image of a shower in Kanab rather than Wahweap, following a few days tramping the northern base of the Kaibab in search of the 1776 campsite of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition, actually looks pretty good — especially without the smoke from a coal-burning power plant. Touché, K-town! Your old enemies may well be your salvation after all.