Utah: A Love Story

Utah: A Love Story-Zion National Park Courtesy US National Park Service
Zion National Park, Courtesy US National Park Service
“…[A] word of caution: Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out…and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

Ed Abbey penned those words waxing elegiac on a barstool in Hoboken, New Jersey. I read them decades later on yellowed pages in a rain-drenched tent somewhere in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. When the rain stopped and summer ended, I enthusiastically disregarded Abbey’s first cautioning. I jumped into my car and rushed to the desert.

Another decade has passed since then, and Utah has become home as I’ve spent those years heeding Abbey’s instructions: walking and crawling over sandstone, through thornbush and cactus, blazing trails with spots of blood, finding and falling in love with places. The Colorado, the Green, the San Juan; Bears Ears, Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion; the named and nameless places in between—the cloven topography where we slogged through flash flood debris, broke through the ice of slot canyon pools, and howled at the setting sun flashing shades of red we’d never seen. After a time, the trails I blazed no longer led to vistas, but to memories.

It’s not just the canyon country I fell in love with, though. I came for the desert, but I stayed for the mountains. And after walking their well-blazed trails, I shambled down the ones overgrown and choked with disuse; and when those ran out, crawled on hands and knees. And I saw things. More importantly, I found something: perspective—of place and of home—perspective gained from the many secrets divulged by mountains and running waters, red rock amphitheaters and alpine meadows. It has been a great privilege to share the stories of those places with you all. They are my love letters to their secrets. My family is off to find and fall in love with new places, now, but I’ll always be Wild About Utah!

Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service
Additional Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Friend Weller
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling Utah A Love Story

Sources & Additional Reading

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, Ballantine Books (January 1, 1971), https://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Wilderness-Edward-Abbey/dp/0345326490

Boling, Josh, Author Page, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/josh-boling-boling/

    Josh’s Pieces:

  1. Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, Aug 7, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/old-ephraim-the-infamous-northern-utah-grizzly/
  2. Tree Talk, Wild About Utah, Feb 27, 2017 https://wildaboututah.org/tree-talk/
  3. Water-Liquid Life, Wild About Utah, May 23, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/water-liquid-life/
  4. The Urban Ecotone, Wild About Utah, Nov 6, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/urban-ecotone/
  5. Kokanee Salmon in Utah, Wild About Utah, Oct 9, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-salmon-in-utah/
  6. Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/
  7. Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, Dec 10, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-cats/
  8. A Desert’s Paradox, Wild About Utah, Dec 15, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/a-deserts-paradox/
  9. The Language of Ravens, Wild About Utah, Feb 189, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/language-of-ravens/
  10. Wild Children, Wild About Utah, Jan 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-children/
  11. Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Jul 9, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-neoteny/
  12. Josh’s Raven Encounter, Wild About Utah, Jun 11, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/joshs-raven-encounter/
  13. Wilderglyphs, Wild About Utah, Mar 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wilderglyphs/
  14. Hidden in Plain Sight, Wild About Utah, May 14, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/hidden-in-plain-sight/
  15. Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Nov 19, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/greenback-cutthroat-trout/
  16. Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Apr 8, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/explore-utah-biomes/
  17. Josh Explains Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Aug 19, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/josh-explains-wild-neoteny/
  18. A Solstice Vignette, Wild About Utah, Dec 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/a-solstice-vignette/
  19. Beaver Creek Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Feb 25, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-creek-greenback-cutthroat-trout/
  20. The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, Jan 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountains-bison-herd/
  21. The River, Wild About Utah, Jul 15, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-river/
  22. The Bear River’s History and Contributions, Wild About Utah, Jun 10, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-rivers-history-and-contributions/
  23. Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-biomes/
  24. Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, Nov 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/why-i-teach-outside/
  25. Utah’s Desert Paradox, Wild About Utah, Oct 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-desert-paradox/
  26. Rock Art, Wild About Utah, Sep 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rock-art/
  27. You, Too, Can Teach Outside!, Wild About Utah, Apr 20, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/you-too-can-teach-outside/
  28. Brand New Eyes, Wild About Utah, Aug 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/brand-new-eyes/
  29. Snowshoes and Adaptations, Wild About Utah, Feb 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/snowshoes-and-adaptations/
  30. The Henry Mountain Bison, Wild About Utah, Jan 20, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountain-bison/
  31. Imaginary Wanderings, Wild About Utah, Mar 16, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/imaginary-wanderings/
  32. Questions, Wild About Utah, Mar 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/questions/
  33. A New Beginning, Wild About Utah, May 25, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/a-new-beginning/
  34. Karst Topography, Wild About Utah, Nov 23, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/karst-topography/
  35. Wandering Home, Wild About Utah, Oct 19, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wandering-home/
  36. Equinox, or Equilux?, Wild About Utah, Sep 21, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/equinox-or-equilux/
  37. Finding Remoteness, Wild About Utah, Feb 22, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/finding-remoteness/
  38. Utah: A Love Story, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-a-love-story/


Questions: The Architecture of the Brain The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain. Courtesy NIH, NINDS
The Architecture of the Brain
The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.
Courtesy NIH, NINDS

Buttercup, bluebell, dandelion, fern.Questions

Mountain, river, and cascading falls.

Kingfisher, lark, cygnet, heron.

Adder, otter, and newt.

What? Why? How?: my favorite wild words of all.

Each step down the trail is a question. What is beyond that ridge?

Each pause to look, a reflection. Why is this here, and how?

There’s a cognitive reflex we humans have developed over the millennia called ‘instinctive elaboration.’ Basically, when our brains are exposed to a question—whether we’ve asked it ourselves or someone else is asking—every mental resource at our disposable is devoted to formulating an answer, or at least attempting to answer, elaborating on prior knowledge and the evidence in front of us. Our brains are bathed in serotonin in the process, and the mind’s natural instinct is to relax into diligent calculation. An example: “Why do California Condors have bald heads?” Your brain has probably just been hijacked by mental images of one of Utah’s rarest and most unpleasantly beautiful species; and I’m guessing you feel great about it.

Asking questions while exploring the natural world doubles down on this process of cerebral euphoria. Our brains are already hyper aware of our surroundings when engaged with nature. Asking questions about those things with which we are engaged magnifies that awareness—focuses it.

In a dry desert wash, I bent down to pick up what I had just kicked out of the sand. I turned the small chunk of petrified wood over in my hand a couple times, admiring the streaks of color, wondering what elements were there, what organic compounds they had replaced. After several seconds, I dropped it back into the sand and looked up to realize I was in fact several minutes behind my party. They hadn’t realized I’d stopped. I hadn’t realized they’d gone. My mind had been hijacked by questions about colors in the stone.

I carry a small, thin journal with me into the wilds. I write questions in it. Sometimes, I even try to write answers. Mostly, I just get lost in thought.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!Questions
Graphics: Courtesy National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke(NINDS), National Institutes of Health(NIH), US Department of Health & Human Services(DHHS), https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Know-Your-Brain
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J Chase and K.W. Baldwin, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Additional Reading

Hoffeld, David, Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?, The Science of Work, FastCompany, Feb 21, 2017, https://www.fastcompany.com/3068341/want-to-know-what-your-brain-does-when-it-hears-a-question

Cooper, Neil, What Effect Do Questions Have On Our Brain?, Mar 15, 2018, https://medium.com/@mr.neilcooper/what-effect-do-questions-have-on-our-brain-329c37d69948

Finding Remoteness

Finding Remoteness: A remote area in the Bear River Range Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
A remote area in the Bear River Range
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
‘Remote’ is not a characteristic I would assign to the city center, a major metropolis like where I grew up. But I also remember summers spent high in the crown of our old magnolia tree, where my 8 year old self may have begged to differ. There, I found wildness—forgot about time and place and the civilization that occupied them. Finding Remoteness

What does ‘remote’ mean? Take a moment, if you will, and conjure a memory—to the most remote place you’ve ever been. Where are you? Why did that particular place come to mind? Was it the distance from cities and towns? Was it the absence of other people? Was it the darkness? The quiet? What makes a place “remote?”

This question has been tumbling around in my head for a while. So, naturally, I took to the internet for answers. A definition: ‘remote’—an adjective—“(of a place) situated far from the main centers of population; distant.” Seems straightforward at first, but the quality of remoteness is open for interpretation. I might argue, for instance, that Lhasa—the Tibetan capital of almost half a million people—is far more remote than the most isolated corner of Utah’s redrock labyrinth. Perhaps that’s an apples to oranges comparison, though.

Bear-shaped remote region in the Bear River Range Data and Photo Credit: Hunter Baldridge
Bear-shaped remote region
in the Bear River Range
Data and Photo Credit: Hunter Baldridge
The Means family from Florida is trying to quantify remoteness and document the most remote place in all 50 states. Project Remote, they call it, defines remoteness as “the point that is the farthest straight-line distance from a road or city [or] town.” According to the Means family, Utah’s most remote location is deep in the High Uintas Wilderness–9.5 miles from the nearest road; a two-day trek from the closest trailhead.

Project Remote inspired me. Their definition seemed reasonable enough, but I was curious about whittling down the parameters of ‘remoteness.’ I wanted to identify the most remote location in Cache County, where I live; so, I reached out to USU Geographic Information Systems instructor, Shannon Belmont, who has been working on this question with her students for several years. As it turns out, the general consensus from Belmont’s class projects produced a fittingly bear shaped swathe of canyons and peaks in the high country of the Bear River Range as the most remote region in the county. There were dozens of other definitions offered through Belmont’s project, of course.

‘Remote’ seems a relative term—relative to the perspective of a traveler and their perceived distance or isolation from the center of whatever world is familiar. When avalanche danger in my home range subsides, I’ll click boots into skis and plow my way to the heart of that bear-shaped expanse of peaks and canyons, trying to find what ‘remote’ means there. Then, perhaps I’ll redefine the word entirely— changing it by season, mode of transport, or state of mind. Until then, maybe I’ll find an old tree to get lost in.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!Defining Remote
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Uintas Graphic: Courtesy Josh Boling & Hunter Baldridge, Copyright © Hunter Baldridge
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J Chase and K.W. Baldwin, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading


Project Remote, https://www.projectremote.com/

Utah’s Remote Spot in the High Unitas, Project Remote, October 3, 2019, https://www.projectremote.com/blog/utah-remote-spot/

Belmont, Shannon, Final Project – Identifying the most remote location in Cache County, GEOG/WILD1800, SJ & Jessie Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, https://wildaboututah.org/wp-content/uploads/boling.josh_.GW1800_Final_Project_RemoteLocation.pdf

Karst Topography

Karst Topography: Entrance to a Karst Cave Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Entrance to a Karst Cave
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Rivers run beneath these hills, carving winding caverns through ancient stone, plumbing a subterranean watershed—a second topography, ever changing. What little we’ve seen must lead further in, places mythology might only describe.

Karst topography’ refers to landscapes cleaved apart by the leaching of water through a soluble bedrock layer comprised of carbonate-rich rocks like the limestone and dolomite found throughout Utah’s mountains or the evaporate-type gypsum and rock salt layers found in Utah’s redrock country. Over time, this erosion by surface and groundwater creates pinnacles, rippling fissures, gaping sinkholes, or springs on the surface—deep caverns, plummeting vertical shafts, and winding tunnels through which entire rivers can flow below.

We floated one such river once, in complete darkness, guided only by a subtle current and the voice of our local guide. He said he was of Mayan descent, so we listened closely when he relayed stories of Chaac, the Mayan god of rain responsible for the generous flow of water through the caverns we explored. Indeed, it is within these same caverns that he dwells, we were told. Further north, in Mexico and the desert southwest, it’s Tlaloc, the goggle-eyed Aztecan deity that controls the rain. He, too, is supposed to reside within the body of the earth.

Karst Cave Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Karst Cave
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
There’s no mythology I’m aware of for my little corner of the globe. So, scientists and explorers alike descend into the karstic caves of northern Utah to see what they might learn. “Utah is unique,” one such explorer told me, “with some of the most difficult caves that exist in the world, then some of the most spectacular, and some of the most benign.” Intrigued, I set out to see what I could find in my own back yard. Ribs of bleached limestone called karrens spread across a plateau like a washboard road, sinkholes that occupy the better part of an entire meadow, blind valleys sunken into a void in the bedrock, innumerable unnamed springs, and a small, non-descript cavity in the crust—the thing I had really been looking for this whole time.

Main Drain is Utah’s deepest and the nation’s 11th-deepest cave. It’s also wildly difficult and dangerous to navigate, yet absolutely critical to explore for the sake of furthering scientific understanding. I talked to Larry Spangler of the US Geological Survey in Salt Lake City about the significance of karst landscapes like Main Drain. “The caves that are developed in these terrains,” Spangler says, “are…valuable sources of information in regard to changes in climate and landscape evolution over time.” The chemistries of these caves are unique to their environment, and analysis of mineral deposits within the caves can provide insights into how average surface temperatures have changed over time and how wet or dry the landscape above was in any given period. Karst caves can reveal climate data for specific locales that may help us predict how a warming planet might affect our local ecosystems.

The water that flows through Main Drain and other cave systems like it in the form of snowmelt and subterranean streams carves its way vertically and horizontally through layers of bedrock hundreds of millions of years old—providing researchers a literal inside look at the formation of mountains. And as a map of these subterranean watersheds begins to come together, we gain a better understanding of the hydrology of an area and its effects on water quality.

When I spoke to Spangler, he wanted to make it very clear just how sensitive these karst landscapes are to surface activities, for the health of ecosystems and the integrity of watersheds, of course, but also for the health of human communities. The US Geological Survey estimates that as much as a quarter of the world’s population depends on karst landscapes for their water supply. The city of Logan, where my family and I live, sources its water from one of the larger karst springs in the area. The people are drinking straight from the mountain.

Rivers run beneath these hills, and through us as well.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Author’s note: Caves and other karst features are inherently dangerous. You should never enter a cave or other karst feature without the appropriate training, gear, and an experienced person(s) to accompany you.

Shurtz, David K & Shurtz, Ryan K, The Discovery, Exploration of, and Sufferings withing Utah’s Main Drain Cave, Utah Grottos, April 2005 https://www.jonjasper.com/TonyGrove/MainDrainCave-NSSApril2005.pdf

Haydock, Adam, Cave Dive Operations in Main Drain Cave, Utah, https://www.even-further.com/dive-expedition-in-main-drain-utah

Caving Main Drain Cave, Logan Canyon, Utah, Outdoor Activities, The Dye Clan, August 31, 2013, https://dyeclan.com/outdooractivities/caving/?id=334

Main Drain Cave, Utah Caving, February 14, 2014, https://utahcaving.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/main-drain-cave/

Karst Topography Paper Model (Learning Activity, Grade Level: 9-12), National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/karst-topography-model.htm
Karst Topography Paper Model Background
Soto, Limaris R.(modified by), After: Alpha, Tau Rho, Galloway, John P, and Tinsley III, John C., Karst (U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 97-536-A), Topography Paper Model, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/upload/Karst-Topography-Model-_Written-Section_508c.pdf (formerly: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/upload/Final-Karst-Topography-Model-_Written-Section_5-14-2014.pdf)

Weary, David J. and Doctor, Daniel H., Karst in the United States: A Digital Map Compilation and Database, Open-File Report 2014–1156, U.S. Geological Survey(USGS), https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2014/1156/pdf/of2014-1156.pdf

Lawrence, Lawrence E., Delineation of Recharge Areas for Karst Springs in Logan Canyon, Bear River Range, Northern Utah, U.S. Geological Survey/The Pennsylvania State University, https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Francis, George Gregory, Stratigraphy and Environmental Analysis of the Swan Peak Formation and Eureka Quartzite, Northern Utah, (1972). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1684 https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2683&context=etd

Morgan, Susan K., Geologic Tours of Northern Utah, Miscellaneous Publications, 92-1, Utah Geological Survey, Adivision of Utah Department of Natural Resources, (1992), https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-92-1.pdf

Connecting Caves, Karst Landscapes and Climate Around the World, Circle of Blue, January 18, 2010, https://www.circleofblue.org/2010/world/connecting-caves-karst-landscapes-and-climate-around-the-world/

Bahr, Kirsten, “Structural and Lithological Influences on the Tony Grove Alpine Karst System, Bear River Range, North Central Utah” (2016). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 5015. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6053&context=etd