Lyn and I gave a talk about barbed wire last night at Robber’s Roost in Torrey, Utah, invited by the Entrada Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting science, humanities, and arts in the region. Frank McEntire, a remarkable Utah sculptor, was our host. As a thank you for our lecture he gave us a windmill made of sections of “Brink Flat” barbed ribbon. Frank got it from the estate of a friend and figured we would love it. We do.
On the way home we drove through the little town of Freemont and up onto 1000 Lake Mountain. At the top we stopped at the trailhead of the Great Western Trail. Here is the scene at the trailhead:
And here is the territory dropping off toward Capitol Reef that Sam Rushforth and I rode our mountain bikes through that day in October 20 years ago.
In case you haven’t read our book Wild Rides & Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes (Torrey House Press), here is an account of the epic ride.
16 October, Great Western Trail, Thousand Lakes Mountain
It’s just before noon and Nancy is driving us through Bicknell and then north through Fremont. Alfalfa fields are lit by a brilliant sun, which makes the white slashes across the green grass all the more shocking: gangly big-wheeled irrigation pipes are rimed with gleaming white ice. Hogan Pass is high and exposed and windy. We leave the car reluctantly to assemble our bikes, pull on our gloves and draw our hoods tight amidst blowing ice crystals.
“You’re making a big mistake,” Nancy says while surreptitiously tucking a bag of cheese curd into Sam’s camelback (after having convinced him to add a bag of sunflower kernels and an emergency blanket).
“No question about it,” Sam agrees.
We wave good-by and head south on the Great Western Trail. Just below the pass we stop to adjust our packs. A moving shadow draws our gazes upward to where a big bird banks and sweeps and quarters into the wind, its white tail flared and white head brilliant against a black body. It’s a bald eagle! (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). “Haliaeetos,” I discover later, is the Latin for sea-eagle or osprey. “Leuco” is Greek for white, light, bright and is related to lux, luna, light, lightning, lumen, luster. “Leucocephalus”—white head.
“It’s a good omen,” I tell Sam.
“A good omen, my ass,” he replies cheerfully.
We pedal south on a rough jeep road. The mountain ridge rises abruptly to the west. To the east, 3500 feet below us, stand the buttes and spires and grotesque protuberances of Cathedral Valley. Sam points out Factory Butte at the north end of the Henry Mountains, whose peaks are half-veiled by dirty air, courtesy of coal-burning power plants. We skirt the western edge of the mountain through sage scorched by a recent fire. A flock of mountain bluebirds (Sialia currocoides) rises and falls among the sage. The trail leads us down a steep jeep track into a grassy valley. Around one turn we come face-to-face with a corpulent elk hunter sitting on a rock next to his four-wheeler.
“Sorry,” I say, screeching to a surprised halt. “Didn’t mean to screw up your hunt.”
He answers with a hateful stare.
“Lardass,” I mutter as we descend into the valley, shooting down the trail faster than I would have had my mind been on the mechanics of the descent. I hit the ground hard when my front tire slides across a steep incline, pulling the bike out from under me. I glance back quickly to see if the hunter can see me. He can’t. I feel a little better.
“Hell,” Sam says, riding up, “you do that on purpose?”
We hear motors. Two orange-clad elk hunters follow the trail out of the trees. They stop in front of us, a burley, burrheaded 45-year-old man and his father. We exchange pleasantries, about how cold it is, about how riding a bike at least kept your blood running, about the elk they have seen this morning.
“Where are you coming from?” the younger man asks.
“Hogan’s Pass,” Sam answers.
They are surprised.
“Where you headed?”
“Torrey? You’re riding to Torrey!”
We’ve never ridden this trail. Now we’re a bit spooked.
We forge on, pushing some, riding some, tiring rapidly, awed and sustained by the magnificent Water Pocket Fold stretching away to the south and by the fantastically colored Capital Reef now below us.
There is the final sudden trail down from 9000 to 7000 feet, what I begin to call the Great Western Chute as the tendons on the sides of my knees begin to scream. Then the ride out between white and red Navajo Sandstone walls, along Sand Creek on a road so drifted with red sand that we fishtail our tired asses down into Torrey, where we call Nancy and wait in gathering dusk for a blessed ride home.