Homecoming
October 8th, 2009

You CAN go home again, but don’t expect anything to be the same as you left it. On a recent visit to the place where I grew up, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. That’s two literary allusions in two sentences, and I don’t know why I know that—because, trust me, no one I knew in Price, Utah, was familiar with the works of Thomas Wolfe or Robert Heinlein. Heck, a lot of us couldn’t find the public library!

Mostly what we did in the Fifties was drive up and down Main Street in search of “action.” There’s still a lot of that going on, even though Cook’s Velvet Freeze has been replaced by a McDonald’s and the Milky Way Malt Shoppe has morphed into a dental office. Scarty’s Auto Paint and Body Shop is now a church, and I can’t help wondering if, during Easter Services, the minister makes dramatic use of the hydraulic lift.

Purpose of my visit was to meet and greet visitors to my photo exhibit, currently on display at Gallery East at the College of Eastern Utah—what in my day was known as Carbon College. I hardly recognized the place. Every building on campus has been torn down and replaced except the one where my father once taught woodworking, which today houses Gallery East. Along one wall of my dad’s shop was a sign that read WORK WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING WELL.Sam_at_Gallery_East_2

I’m not much of a woodworker, but I hope that in some small way my photographs reflect well on my father’s credo.

Accompanying me was my friend and fellow photographer Sam Hipkins from Capitola, California. Following the reception, the two of us lit out for the boondocks.

“You are so lucky to have grown up here,” Sam exclaimed as we stood on the rim of The Wedge, also known as The Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael River.

I WAS lucky! But in those days we didn’t realize how fortunate we were to be surrounded by miles and miles of open land and spectacular scenery. Time was when my redneck friends and I could horse around for days at The Wedge and not see another human the whole time. For one thing, it was hard to get to. There were no signs pointing the way and the roads were rough. We traveled in vehicles that were unsuitable for street use, let alone the back country.Wedge_Boys

From The Wedge, Sam and I made our way down Buckhorn Draw, once a favored escape route for the Wild Bunch en route to their red rock hideout at Robbers Roost. After crossing the San Rafael River we turned southward, following the spine of the Swell, across the Head of the Sinbad, past Temple Mountain and down to Goblin Valley, where in the summer of 1962 I camped for three days without encountering a single soul or footprint. Today there are many souls and many footprints, an observation deck, paved parking lot and a ranger’s station where you have to pay an entrance fee in order to see what I once saw for free.

The following day we found ourselves on the outskirts of Green River, searching for an attraction I was fairly certain hadn’t yet been turned into a national park. Crystal Geyser came about when an exploratory well was drilled in 1935. Instead of oil, the drillers struck carbon dioxide and water, which mix to form a fizzy lifting drink that bubbles and burbles and occasionally erupts as high as forty meters into the sky. When we pulled up, the geyser was bubbling, and confidence was high that it was on the verge of erupting.

We joined a family of four, who informed us the bubbling had commenced five minutes earlier. The six of us stood at attention as the bubbling steadily increased. Then came burbling. By and by the water level began to rise—up a short standpipe that has been thoughfully perforated here and there with bullet holes, allowing us to gauge the column’s upward progress. Then, to our great disappointment, the burbling and bubbling ceased and the column retreated. By this time we had been joined by four boatmen who had clambered up the bank from the Green River and a most friendly dog, a white Labrador that had appeared out of nowhere.

“Is this your dog?” we asked the boatmen. “No. We thought it was yours.”

I checked the dog’s collar. On it was attached a bone-shaped tag that read:

MY NAME IS BONES. I LIVE NEAR CRYSTAL GEYSER

Bones went from person to person, greeting each in turn as it was his job, which perhaps it is. When a posse of dirt bikers and quad runners appeared, Bones’s tail began to wag even more enthusiastically. Meantime, the so-called geyser had become a listless puddle. No amount of coaxing, no amount of begging, no amount of tossed Mentos could bring it back to life.

Sam and I decided to move on. Crystal Geyser isn’t Old Faithful, and until such time as the Park Service can figure out a way to make it erupt at regular intervals, I’m confident it will never become a fee-worthy tourist attraction. For now, it’s just a good excuse to venture off the pavement or put ashore. Be sure to pack a lunch and don’t forget to take a biscuit for Bones, your friendly canine host who according to his dog tag lives somewhere in the neighborhood.crystal_geyser_2

-Richard Menzies