Staircase to Heaven, Part 5: Words

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park

I have been putting off writing this post about the Grand Staircase.  Photos are easy, but sometimes words are hard for me.

This morning I have Windexed the living room table (where we leave smears when we eat in front of the TV). I’ve washed a load of clothes and I am about ready to put them into the dryer. I’ve put two applesauce cakes in the oven (from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book ). I feel comfortable and happily domestic.  Even so, somewhere inside, I am afraid that the despoilers of the land will win this battle of the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears and the others. I am sad and angry because I don’t think my words or photos can change the minds of those ones. I will try the words anyhow.

Three days later: My words still haven’t found their way to the computer. I sit in my living room chair. Through my window, I watch the winter silver Potomac flow in the distance.  Like most people I know, my heart weeps and my mind hurts.  More hate, more racism, more lies spew from our country’s White House. So many things to grieve about and to fight for, where should I begin?

I know. I look around our room and I see the huge blue and pink(ish) map: “The Colorado Plateau and Its Drainage.”  Tom bought the map for me about 18 years ago, when I briefly had a job with an office and benefits. To the left of the map are two bookcases, a Navajo rug, and a poster of Zion National Park, “Celebrating a Century of Sanctuary 1909-2009.”  On the walls closer to me are the Thomas Moran print of Indian Gardens from our friend Laura, a painting of Hopi basket designs by our friend Sally, and many other talismans.  Enough for now: Like a movie, the sun just broke through the clouds a tiny bit.  I will try my words again.

our living room, 1.13.18

our living room, 1.13.18

Now, it looks like I have too many words. Here are some more. I will stop soon.

1958 (?) I saw it on Mickey Mouse Club, I think.

I felt sad when I saw and heard a piece on TV about a river that was going to be dammed and a canyon that would disappear. I saw a fabulous rock called Rainbow Bridge. I felt sad until the feelings were buried.  Only decades later, I uncovered this memory and realized I had loved this land of the Colorado River Plateau 12 years before I ever even saw it.

Glen Canyon

The Glen Canyon Archeological Survey, Part 1, May 1959

1970 (My spring and summer in Zion National Park)

  • One of my Mormon friends, told me that if one prayed earnestly—some lines from The Book of Alma in The Book of Mormon—one would hear a response from God. I remember trying this praying somewhere up the canyon side not far from Emerald Pools. I thought I prayed earnestly, but I heard nothing. Well, I heard something. It was the tranquility, power, and beauty emanating from the land, sky, and water. Then, and, onward through the years, I became increasingly comfortable with my being a secular humanist nature-lover.*
  • After hours of walking, my coworker and friend Pat and I finally came across the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. At least one source says the park is 12 miles from Highway 89 to the dunes. No wonder it seemed so long to us tenderfoots. After Pat and I clambered around on the dunes, we settled down for the night. We had trouble opening up the can of peaches we brought, and I think we finally drank the juice through the little opening we had somehow managed to make. I don’t remember what else we ate or tried to eat. One more thing we didn’t know about the desert—at least at 6000 feet elevation in April—was that it was cold. Because we were freezing, we were wakeful through the night. We shivered all night inside our cheap sleeping bags, but, set down, this set down, I saw the starry sky I have never forgotten. The stars in that desert night sky have been the standard by which I have watched every night sky since and none have surpassed or even matched it. When I read the environmental news, I think maybe our atmosphere is now sufficiently polluted that no one can have the gift again of that starry sky. Magi or no, magic or no, god or no, I thank those stars I was lucky enough to see.*
  • Third person in line on a hike along Taylor Creek in Zion’s Kolob, a rattlesnake warned me. I had never heard the rattle before, but I knew the sound.  I have always tried to be careful.
  • Losing my way on my first hike and wandering to the rock face of the Watchman, The Narrows, West Rim Trail,  and much more.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

1971 (North Rim and environs)

  • Tom and I thought we might go to Page on our day off. I don’t recall why we wanted to go to Page. Page is 123 miles from the North Rim and we had no car, but we weren’t daunted; the North Rim is a long way from everywhere. We were hitchhiking and there wasn’t much traffic. It took hours, but we finally got past Jacob Lake and off the Kaibab Plateau. We were picked up by a young Navajo family and we got to ride in the back of their pickup. It was night by the time we got to Page. It was not much of a town, and all I remember is the crazy lady who was walking around the streets talking to herself. I felt uncomfortable and sad about her. Tom, as he has in such situations since then, just felt a kindly empathy for the woman. I don’t know where or if we slept and I don’t remember how we got back to the rim in time for work the next afternoon, but it was the start of a long journey for us together.*
  • I never made it to Calf Creek Falls. A coworker Ariane and I drove in her Datsun from North Rim toward Boulder, Utah. The water came down in torrents from the fresh falls streaming off the cliffs and from the sky itself. A large boulder fell a car length and a second or two ahead. We survived, unscathed–just.  We turned around and drove to the low bridge that spanned Calf Creek. The flash flood drove the brown water far above the bridge. The rain and then the creek subsided.  We got a room, probably in Escalante. I haven’t gotten back to Calf Creek yet, but I still hope to.

1972 — 2014: Too many years and too many stories

  • I have to stop for now. If I write too many words, I don’t think people want to read them.
  • If I keep thinking of this hike or that story or that friend, my mind lives too much in the past.
  • If I write too much, I worry too much about what is going to happen to our wonderful land.
  • If I stop worrying or writing, I think the the vandals might win. So, I will be back soon.
  • Tomorrow, though, I will contemplate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr, the hero of my youth.


Singletree Campground, Fishlake National Forest

Singletree Campground, Fishlake National Forest

*(adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life, unpublished work © Lynda Terrill, all rights reserved)



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