The Way of the Pioneer

“Oh you’re from Kentucky? That’s different,” the hiker responded. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this at first, but really I understood exactly what he meant. It happens to me all the time when I travel. “I’ve never met any visitors from Kentucky” a few rangers have told me before. Having lived many places, I don’t always claim I am from Kentucky, but when I do, it always summons an interesting response. Among the responses is often, “You don’t sound like you are from Kentucky.” This is true, because I am not, nor ever will be,  a true Kentuckian. I was born in Chicago and raised primarily in Massachusetts. However, my family roots run deep in the fertile soil of Illinois.

Despite not originating in Kentucky, I am quick to defend Kentucky within reason on many accounts, but I cannot deny that on large, many Kentuckians are not known for venturing out, and if they do it’s usually to the same few places. On top of that, Capitol Reef is really venturing out- the most remote National Park I had been to thus far.

I came upon this hiker and his wife who inquired where I was from, coming out of the Pioneer Register. The Pioneer Register is a slot canyon graffitied by carvings of pioneers and their dates of passage, dating back to the  early 1800s. The Pioneer Register is an incredible place because of hundreds of names of people who passed through the narrow canyon. It’s also fascinating to consider how they were traveling on stage coach, over rough rocky terrain in the desert heat, squeezing their way through rock walls. I’d want to reach out to them and say, don’t lose heart, you are almost to Fruita.

Walking through the canyon, I imagined the fear of flash floods must have been very real for the pioneers. There would have been no escape from flood waters down here, and flash floods truly do come unexpectedly. In Utah, where much of the ground is hard rock, water is not absorbed into the ground, instead it moves and can travel from a stormy location to a place where the weather is blissfully fair. These pioneer would have had no warning of flash floods.

Looking up and marveling at the extensive register of names I noticed how some people chose to carve their names in beautiful cursive. Others had left their names carved into the wall by series of bullet holes. It would be painful to imagine how loud it must  have been, with the sound of the gun echoing off the canyon walls. An aspect that makes this location all the more interesting is that it is unmarked. It’s not behind a fence or protected in glass. It’s just there, exposed on the canyon walls, and you can walk right up to, and walk through the canyon, seeing the same views and experiencing the same journey as these brave pioneers.

This was around mid day of my first day in Capitol Reef. I had just previously hiked up to Cassidy Arch, but now was down on the low lands. This couple I came upon asked me to take their picture inside a hollowed out hole in the canyon wall. I too asked for them to take my picture, but it didn’t come out well. I am particular about my photos and my artistic eye is not always pleased when another attempts to capture my vision. We got to talking and these people told me they were from California. They had been to Death Valley, and the wife was wearing a Death Valley shirt. I took notice because that is my favorite National Park. Inquiring about what I do for work, we eventually got on the topic of Mexico City. “What’s that neighborhood in the city, that’s very beautiful with the home of Frida Kahlo?” The man asked. “Coyoacan!” I exclaimed. Of course! The topic of Mexico City is also one of my favorites. I’ve spent a lot a time there as a student and also on various vacations. The husband advised that if I loved Mexico City  I would love visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina. It just so happened to be one place I was already interested in visiting.

Upon bidding farewell to the couple, I returned to my car and the adventurous dirt road back to Fruita.  I had completed my hiking agenda for the day, was tired and just wanted to rest in my little desert oasis. I had new appreciation for Fruita, having been to the Pioneer Register and trying to put myself in the perspective of the pioneers. Fruita would have been, in some ways, a paradise, with  trees providing shade, the Fremont River flowing nearby, orchards of fruit, and villagers to accommodate. Despite the excitement Fruita may have been to pioneers, at my campsite, I found myself bored, which is a very rare occurrence for myself. It was too late and I was to tired to begin another hike. I had studied the park map, read the newsletter, and didn’t know what else to do. I recollected my experience in Saguaro and wrote a brief poem. After lying restless in my tent, craving some relief from the valley heat, not knowing what to do with myself, I realized what was missing in my life- a book. I needed a book. I wanted to read. Reading in relaxing, distracts from the discomforts, in this case heat around me, and put me in a place of peace. But I had nothing left to read, except I recalled I had my novel in the works saved on my Chromebook. I fired up the machine and started reading my own work. At this point I had twenty five pages written of the novel.

Despite its comfort, reading didn’t last long, as hunger was nudging me to start the fire and eat some food. I got out of my tent, started a fire and heated a can of chicken noodle soup. In the heat of the valley, soup was not the most enjoyable of meals, and all my water supply had turned hot, from the day’s sun. Also, during my meal, flies started to pester me to the point of irritability- the annoying buzz and humming around my ears, the occasional attempts to dart at my eyes. These little flies were not my friends. I didn’t want to spend all evening in my tent, so I figured if I climbed up to a higher elevation, I might escape them. They seemed to thrive among the greenery and water of the Fruita valley. So, I filled up a  hydration pack, threw on a long sleeve shirt- anticipating the weather to cool down soon, walked across the road to a trailhead, and took a very short hike halfway up a trail leading to the plateau above. I was very tired, my legs feeling weighted. I sat down, rested, and looked down into Fruita at the campground and an old barn next to a small field for horses. It was scenic and picturesque but despite my attempt to escape, the flies followed me. Heat, wasn’t so much the problem, but the dryness, thirst for cold water,  mixed with the pestering  flies, made me into a highly irritable creature. I realized the remedy I really needed was a good night’s sleep. I had not caught up on any of the time lost after skipping over two time zones. I hiked down to my tent, brushed and flossed my teeth in the campground bathroom (because dental hygiene is never compromised when I camp) and checked into my tent for the night. I read over the poem I wrote about Saguaro as well as a few from previous summers, and I fell asleep.

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Read the previous entry “Utah, My Love,” here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/utah-my-love

Read the next entry “Coming Back to Life,” here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2017/11/06/coming-back-to-life

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