Jay Meehan: Finding a treasure trove of memories
Although I haven’t owned a boat since Lord Nelson was a two-armed cabin boy, while recently sorting through boxes of old photographs I came upon a bilge-worth of 35 millimeter film images documenting everything from campsites, to rock formations, to multi-generational osprey nests, to ancestral Puebloan ruins to hung over grog mates.
One of the first dealt with a campsite pretty much as far up the San Juan Arm of Lake Powell as lake level allowed during the late ‘80s. Located some 100-miles as the blue heron glides upstream from Wahweap and on Navajo land across from the trailhead to “Johnnie’s Hole,” it proved to be, in the current vernacular, damn dope.
We stayed there one week and if memory serves it only cost me a completely severed rotator cuff — the side effects of which were made whole by a single heroic Percocet in the first-aid kit.
Of lesser note were wounds often associated with the cleaning and filleting of a few stringers worth of fly-rod-hooked striper-bass and a dozen or so stink-bait-seduced catfish. I should mention that if you had cast your fly into the moving “boil” of shad, you hooked a striper. Period.
Abrasions from incredible red rock scrambling and the hauling of petrified rock for the Captain’s garden were worn like the Navy Cross.
Two favorites from the Main Channel: the first shot from lake level looking up at the actual Hole-in-the-Rock that gave its name to the bushwhacked and rock-drilled wagon trail carved out of the wilderness from Parowan to Bluff by a company of true-grit Mormons. And the second, shot from the “Hole” itself gazing back down to the “speck” that was out trusty craft.
Shots of the Escalante canyons were multitudinous — mostly the Everett Ruess stomping grounds of Davis Gulch and, further down, the remaining portions of “Cathedral in the Desert” not drowned by fluctuating lake levels. I remain flushed with guilt over my twenty-year association with the Original Sin of Glen Canyon Dam.
But, if truth be known, I’d still be returning to the fetid reservoir in question if I had a boat and if I had a pony to ride upon its poop deck. Sorry, Lyle Lovett. Equally multitudinous were the adventures we encountered hauling said craft to and from various large waters of the West. Some of them became the stuff of legends.
One that continues to stick to my ribs occurred on just such a trip back from Lake Powell. Unbeknownst to your humble scribe, “O Captain, My Captain” commandeered the Nikon and captured the resultant yard sale when our 14-foot aluminum fishing boat went flying off the roof of the Camry somewhere between Castlegate and Soldier Summit.
As I had been the rigger assigned to properly tie the craft down, you can imagine the “guff” I received through both normal and quite abnormal channels in the aftermath.
And, of course, there was the time I smoked the bearing on the trailer we used to haul the 20-foot hardtop cuddy-cabin Bayliner. That was also on the way back from Lake “Foul” but occurred on the downhill side of the infamous Highway-6 not far from where I had, a few years earlier, bagged a deer with a Silverado out of season.
The aftermaths that tied all three instances of incompetence together and made the time frames difficult to distinguish were the “five-to-life” sentences of “the silent treatment” I received from the Captain for each offense. It also probably took that long for her to get rid of the furrows in her brow.
Each time, I pled Nolo Contendre and gave great meek. It was always easier that way. Not that I wasn’t guilty as sin for each transgression. It’s just that, back then, in our house anyway, there was something cool about throwing yourself on the mercy of the court.
Meanwhile, back at the photo bilge, many museum-worthy prints jostle for attention. There’s this classically nuanced shot of the Bayliner anchored just off our campsite in the Strawberry Narrows that was taken not long after I subjected the lowered Sterndrive to a full speed encounter with an abandoned dam that hunkered just below the surface.
And then there was the armada of watercraft our tribe would annually pull up to Flaming Gorge on or near the July 24 weekend (which we referenced as “Cinco de MoMo”). Folks in Wyoming came to refer to us as the “Mormon Navy.” This must be what they mean by photographic memory.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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I must admit that, although I have felt much love wherever I hung my hat during this life, I never felt more at home in a new cultural environment than on my first trip down that coastline.