I just spent eight days driving thought Utah, NV, AZ and Colorado. The destination was the Contemporary Art Museum in Boulder, Colorado where I went to install “Tapestry X,” an installation or 8 tapestries based on the CMYK primary colors. I decided to do a little research for my Great Basin Interview project while I was out there. I was excited because this was my first opportunity to see the Eastern edge of the Basin.
The first night I camped above Zion National Park by the Kolob Reservoir on the advice of the park ranger. The campgrounds in park were saturated with travelers. In fact there were so many people at Zion that Satruday I felt like I was in a NYC subway station at rush hour! So, after driving all day from Los Angeles and losing precious daylight I had a brief conversation with the ranger at the back country desk and then hightailed out of there. The road to the reservoir was breathtaking and a fairly steep accent. It meandered in and out of the Park, first along the North Creek tributary to the Virgin River and then climbing the ridge that overlooked eroded red canyons galore. It continued into grassy meadows (outside the park) with very happy looking cows grazing and kept climbing through shrub pines and finally into Aspen groves that were bursting in bright yellow fall color. I camped in an Aspen grove on the edge of the water and woke at dawn.
Although the resevoir was beautiful, it too populated with fisherman for my taste. They drove their trucks in and out all night, which of course sounded like they were going to drive right through my tent! It was noisy. Utah rednecks. I’m not sure the lower campgrounds in the park would have been much quieter. But the Lava Point campground was a nice spot in a Ponderosa grove that I might give try if I ever go back that way…How many times do you say “I’ve got to come back here,” and then you don’t go back for 20 years? Well, that is what I said about Utah 20 years ago when I saw it for the first time.
The following day I chose to drive along the back roads behind the meadow down into Cedar City and the Great big empty Basin–mostly in honor of my interview project , but also to get away from the crowds in the Park. I only saw only one other truck on drive over Cedar Mountain to the I 15. The dirt road was very well maintained and it cut though more high meadows and Aspen groves, Pondersa and ranch country. My adventure began here, on this perfectly empty Sunday morning, on an unknown road between a national park and nowhere. After and hour or so I made the steep decent into Cedar City to ear breakfast. Then I headed North through the silvery blue-green flat Sevier Valley, so happy to be out to the Mojave and hugging the mountains.
The interstate was a mostly empty, except for a few trucks and lonely travelers heading to Salt Lake City doing 80mph! And the road got even sparser as I climbed onto the 70. I felt silly climbing back into the mountains that I left earlier in the day. But the point of this zigzag was to visit the Freemont Indian State Park, where I arrived at noon, fully dazed and windblown from light and heat and speeding along at 80 on the highway. Honestly, it takes every bit of reason and strength I’ve got, to chart a course on the open road and then stick to it.
The Park was established in the late 1980’s. When they were building the I 70–the goal was to join with the I 15–they ran across a large Freemont dwelling smack in the middle of where the Interstate was slated to go. The highway department halted, and archeologists came out from Brigham Young and excavated about 20 sites along Clear Creek all a just few miles into the main pass that connects the Great Basin to the Colorado Plateau. The so-called Freemont people are the ancestors of the Paiutes. They traded without he Anasazi and lived in pit houses that were (sadly) demonstrated in the parks reproduction. The pit houses looked a lot like Dine, Hogan houses to me…. I took a hike around the site. The main houses had been destroyed by the freeway construction which cut right through the middle of the village. The museum they built to preserve the objects that the archeologists found was small, but nice, with a figurative remakes of a Freemont woman, a pit house diorama, cool sandals, atlatls, pottery etc.. I watched the information film about the whole excavation affair inside the museum. According to the film the Hopi recognize the Freemont’s as their ancestors, and the Navajo also. At least one sacred sites was razed to build the interstate, and there is an atlatl-throwing contest at the campground every year. I bought a book about the archeological dig and headed outside.
I meandered around the park and found the spot where the Hopi man in the film says that their emergence must have been. The wavy lines of the petroglyph at the site indicated this. A snake slithered right by my feet as I walked up to a very impressive rock that overlooked the road–a peaceful peaceful spot. Maybe the wavy line meant “snakes live here.” There was a PBA (patterned body anthropomorph) under the wavy lines. This figure is one way they link the Freemont’s across the Basin. I tried to imagine the village before the road cut though, before the whizzing of trucks on the highway, and I could not. But the air was still and quiet, even hot. I felt pretty grand sitting across from the glyph and looking out across the valley, almost far enough from the big city. I did not go into the canyons to look for more petroglyphs although there were surely many more. I’m happy to see one or two. As I walked along the back of the ridge where there was a row of cliffs made of white calcium mixed with red earth. Perhaps there was clay here. It was a sheltered spot, not exactly a meadow but an open areas with large table like rocks and shrubby pinyons which provided shade. An image of people working came to me: Pottery, petroglyphs, performances. The place made me think of work AND play.
Then I went back to the truck. I wanted to try another of the many walks along the creek described in the video. I decide on the trail that led to the cave of “1000 hands.” It followed a beautiful creek for a while and then doubled back which frightened me for some reason. I felt torn about heading on to Moab, which I wanted to reach by late afternoon, and going on to the cave. But the creek coaxed me along. I felt like I was a child again, exploring the creeks where I grew up in Virginia. I dipped my hands into the cool water and splashed my face. The cool mountain water was very refreshing. When I got to the cave I had the distinct impression that the hand prints were female. Perhaps it was a place for birthing children. It looked like there were only about 40 hands to me. Were there really 1000 hands that I couldn’t see?
I find it ironic that I’ll have to read the Department of Transportation’s report on the Clear Creek excavation if I want the “full report,” ie. more information than my book by Janetski. The destroyers are also the preservers. What if I want an entirely different sort of information about the Freemont people? I want to know how the women gave birth for instance. That is surely not in the DoP report. I want the hear the oldest myth the one you can only remember part of…
When I asked the lady in the gift store “Why didn’t they just move the road?”
She replied, somewhat avoiding my question: “Looters would have come and stolen everything. This place it so remote. It would be impossible to protect the site from scavengers.”
I had to agree with her about the remoteness.