Jay Meehan: Getting sidetracked in Provo Canyon
July 19, 2018
"I can see your back porch/If I close my eyes now
I can hear the train tracks/Through the laundry on the line"
~ John Prine
It was a great notion. None of our threesome had hopped the old Denver & Rio Grande branch line that runs down Provo Canyon for many a moon and we thought we were damn well due.
Working on the railroad has a way of taking the grouch right out of you – unless, of course, you’re swinging a 12-pound hammer.”
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Well, actually, "dam" well due, as we would be chugging out along the line formerly known as the "Heber Creeper" to where, back in the day, they choked off the Provo River with compacted soils and such to form Deer Creek Reservoir.
The fact that our tinder-box dry hillsides down along that stretch had been set ablaze due to rumored sparks from a possibly overheated locomotive a few days previous only added to the overall attraction. Come to think of it, we'd probably need a week of so of pretty steady rains to get back to "tinder-box dry."
The fire had spread quickly and was all over the news, having been shoehorned between larger and smaller blazes of varying degrees of import. In these parts during these days, it doesn't take much time at all for a few smoking twigs to grab a higher gear and put nearby ridgelines in their rear view mirror.
It's been a while now since the caboose end of the Heber Creeper business went south and the State of Utah stepped in to save the day by assuming operations, a timeframe during which I hadn't set foot onboard.
Now, back when my digs were diagonally opposite the train yard, I spent much more time nosing through the "rolling stock" and swaying with the rails down canyon. This time, from ticket maids to mechanics, engineers, and conductors, I didn't recognize a soul.
Still a friendly bunch, however. Working on the railroad has a way of taking the grouch right out of you – unless, of course, you're swinging a 12-pound hammer.
Whereas I once coyly responded to queries about how long it took for the trip down to Vivian Park and back as being "five margaritas," we knew this time going in that those days had long passed. The time of year would also probably preclude any sandhill crane sightings.
You still get to check out all the backyards and porches and pastures along the rail route with the usual quorum of dogs, horses, old tractors, barbeques, and, of course, some laundry on the line.
"Talkin' God and baseball with the man with the yard full of rusty cars." That's a Shel Silverstein line that has a way of popping into my head without warning. I think I acquired it from a chunk of Bobby Bare vinyl during my early years of wanton phonograph record hoarding. But, I digress.
You don't want to dally with those thoughts too much, however, lest the sharp reports from the "train robber's" six-shooters give you a start. Out there near the Chalet and the Nordic Olympic venue stop at Soldier Hollow is where their gang holes up prior to walking off with the strongbox.
The manner in which water recedes from the shoreline at the north end of the lake has a way of reminding one of the radical tides at San Felipe on Mexico's Sea of Cortez. The stilted prancing of shorebirds is also a trackside attraction.
When we eased up down near the dam, the outlines of the burn path delineated the scorched earth with precision. Although they wouldn't make the official "100-percent contained" announcement until the following day, if any of the ground cover still busied itself combining with oxygen, it must have been beyond the ridgelines.
They'd installed a new "put in" for inflatable rafts down along that blue-ribbon trout section below the dam since my last time out. The backdrop remains as picturesque as ever as the mostly-wading fly fishermen toss bugs and drift them in the current, making for, as always, quite the post-card setting.
You could do a lot worse with your leisure time than join the general tourist population when the conductor gives the all aboard. Take a few friends and pack a picnic.
It's quite relaxing and a good way to shake the political trail dust from your nerve endings. If that doesn't do it, acquiring a cold quaff in Heber is not a difficult as you've heard.
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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