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/

Going In With a Child’s Naturalist Eye

Going In Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Going In
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
In Kathryn Lasky’s picture book “One Beetle Too Many”, we read, “Charles [Darwin] learned the names of everything he collected, for to know the names of these things was important, and it might be the one time when adults would actually listen to a child speak.” As an elementary school teacher, I ponder its message, reflecting on my wilderness experiences enriched by children. In fact, some of my best discovery days have been when I was led by a curious child.

As a Stokes Nature Center camp leader one summer, my focus for the day was on alpine forest plants as we set out on a northern Utah trail. I carried plant presses and field guides, ready to teach how to identify a Douglas fir from a Lodgepole pine and to have them hug quaking aspens blindfolded to discover distinguishing characteristics of each trunk. These youngsters were going to learn every forest fact I could share, I thought, but they quickly taught me the meaning of naturalist John Muir’s quote: “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Black Fly Larvae Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Black Fly Larvae
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Not thirty steps from the trailhead, I witnessed natural inquiry at its best, and it was facilitated by these seven- and eight-year-olds. Few things are as fascinating and magnetizing as running water, and they’d found some. The day before, we’d hiked along Temple Sawmill beaver ponds, scooping up stonefly and midge larvae and designing our own dams, so I was gearing up for another muddy adventure. Instead of sloshing, though, Franny instantly noticed some wiggly black things stuck to the rocks, and the children huddled together around the smooth rocks in the trickle, peering at them with their hand lenses in this impromptu sit spot. “Hey, do you still have that water bug chart?” one asked me. We veered from the day’s alpine plant plan and made friends with what the kids decided, using a macroinvertebrate key, were black fly larvae. They noted the mouth brush filters and abdominal features allowing these critters to anchor to the stones. I would have led them right by, never noticing the rich possibilities of exploring the natural world through a child’s eyes. I am sometimes guilty of tunnel vision without a young companion, only noticing what I know or am expecting to find.

Nathan's Mac & Cheese Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Nathan’s Mac & Cheese
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
That same June I was hiking in the Manti-LaSals with my nephew when he reminded me of the message in another of Muir’s statements, “One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books.” We sat down when he heard the sounds of a woodpecker busy in the treetops, making wisecracks about how it can peck like that and not get a headache. Our sit spot observation led me later to find answers: did you know that woodpeckers have special muscles and extra inner eyelids? I admit that it was Nathan, the hiker without the Utah Master Naturalist certifications, who spotted what looked like macaroni and cheese on the branch as we moved on and proceeded to tell me that he thought it was a fungus, much like a young Darwin who said, “I am a complete millionaire in odd and curious facts.” Next time you go out, take along a child. You’ll be a millionaire, too.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I am wild about Utah.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

EcoSpark. https://www.ecospark.ca/black-fly

Lasky, Kathryn. One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin. Candlewick Press, 2009.https://www.amazon.com/One-Beetle-Too-Many-Extraordinary/dp/0763668435

Mertins, Brian. How to increase curiosity with nature. https://nature-mentor.com/increase-curiosity/

Natural History Museum of Utah. https://nhmu.utah.edu/citizen-science

O’Connor, Mike. Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches? And other bird questions you know you want to ask. Beacon Press, 2007.https://www.amazon.com/Why-Dont-Woodpeckers-Get-Headaches-ebook/dp/B001GQ1TCK/

Stokes Nature Center. http://logannature.org/

Utah State University Extension. Key to Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Life in Utah Ponds and Streams. https://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/macrokey/

Wolfe, Linnie Marsh. John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1938.https://www.amazon.com/John-Mountains-Unpublished-Journals-Muir/dp/0299078841


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


Granddaddy: Oft Have We by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Oft Have We
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Oft have we, my friends and I,
Left cares of home, and work day woes
To find a haven, there cast a fly;
And where we’ll camp–God only knows.

Oft have we hiked the trail uphill
To see it pass, and again return–
Walked mile on mile, to get the thrill
Of a meadow lake and a creel filled.

Oft round the lake we’ve cast and fussed
And wished it something we might shun;
But something deep inside of us
Just holds us fast till day is done.

Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utahn Alfred Ralph Robbins loved exploring the Grandaddy Basin in northeastern Utah’s High Uintas with a group he called The High Country Boys. He compiled his labeled-and-dated sketches of camp and lake adventures among a sprinkling of black-and-white photographs in a scrapbook spanning the 1920s through the 1960s. They were casting at Governor Lake in 1927 and resting at Pine Island Lake in 1952 with 125 trout strung between the trees. I know they fished Pinto Lake, Trial Lake, Betsy Lake, and just about every lake in the area for 40 years. I know they, outfitted by Defa’s Dude Ranch, even stopped “on top of the world” on their way to Hatchery Lake with Alvis Newton Simpson, Robbins’s son-in-law and my grandfather, because he captured and preserved it.

Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As my father handed down copies of this family fishing scrapbook to his grandchildren, my sons and daughters, after what they called a Fishing-with-Grandpa Simpson Saturday, he included a cover photograph of his Grandaddy Robbins, in his fishing waders, holding five-year-old grandson’s hand. My father added, “I only made one horse pack trip to Grandaddy Basin with Grandpa Robbins, but it was a very eventful week. It stormed one day and we could hear the rocks tumbling down the mountain when the lightning would strike and dislodge them. Another day there was a mayfly hatch as we were fishing one of the lakes. When that happened, the fish would bite on anything that hit the water. The mosquitoes just about ate us alive, and repellant didn’t help much. We saw some fish about three feet long near the rocks on shore, but we couldn’t get them to bite. We caught plenty of other fish and ate fish for supper most days that week.”

Do you have similar memories in the wild with your grandparents recorded somehow? Turning to one of my favorite books, “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,” I read again how Terry Tempest Williams described the memories with her grandmother among avocets, ibises, and western grebes during their outings in Utah’s Great Salt Lake wetlands. Grandmother Mimi shared her birding fascination with her granddaughter Terry along the burrowing owl mounds of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Williams wrote, “It was in 1960, the same year she gave me my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. I know this because I dated their picture. We have come back every year since to pay our respects.”

I’m not a grandmother yet, but I will one day make a trek over Hades Pass again, gaze at the Grandaddy Basin below, and capture nature’s poetry with pen, camera lens, and little hiker hands in mine. Bloggers have technologies today to share instantly with me and the rest of the world their adventures in this Grandaddy Wilderness region. Documenting autobiographical history has evolved from dusty diaries and scrapbooks with black-and-white photographs to today’s digital image- and video-filled blogs in exciting ways that can include the places in Utah you love with the generations you love. Consider it your contribution to history.

Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

I would not miss the Oh’s! and Ah’s!
I’ve seen in Doug’s and Noel’s eyes,
When first they saw Grandaddy Lake
From the summit, in the skies.

They are thrilled I know, and so am I.
They show it in their face;
While I just swallow hard and try
To thank God for this place.

I am Grandaddy Basin poet Alfred Ralph Robbins’s great granddaughter Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Williams, Terry Tempest. 1992. Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place. New York: Vintage Books. https://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Unnatural-History-Family-Place/dp/0679740244

Andersen, Cordell M. The Grandaddies. 2015. http://cordellmandersen.blogspot.com/2015/06/photoessay-backpack-1-2015-grandaddy.html

Wasatch Will. Fern Lake: Chasing Friends in Grandaddy Basin. 2018. https://www.wasatchwill.com/2018/06/fern-lake.html

Delay, Megan and Ali Spackman. Hanging with Sean’s Elk Party in the Uinta’s Grandaddy Basin. 2015. https://whereintheworldaremeganandali.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/hanging-with-seans-elk-party-in-the-uintas-grandaddy-basin/

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah June 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-about-nature-journaling/