Summer doesn’t appear to be going away any day soon, so I figured it was as good a time as any to saddle up Yellow Peril and hit the road. I headed east over the Wasatch Mountains, past Park City to Heber Valley, which is vastly changed since the idyllic summers I spent there back in the late Nineteen Sixties. There are more houses, more people, strip malls, supermarkets, upscale eateries and not so upscale eateries—including a McDonald’s where on the big screen above my table Mormon apostle Dallin Oaks was delivering an inspirational talk in an oleaginous cadence vaguely reminiscent of W. C. Fields. Yes, now I remember: EVERYBODY in this part of the world is a Latter-day Saint.
Which is not to say there are no backsliders. One in particular I recall is Loren Keele, who was a regular at the Homestead swimming pool where I once worked as a lifeguard. A lumbering land mammal, Loren was surprisingly agile in the water—in fact, a pretty good all-round athlete. I began wondering whether he might still be alive.
Loren lived out of town on U.S. 40, in an out-of-the-way motel he inherited following his mother’s death. Picture if you will a certain Alfred Hitchcock thriller, if the Norman Bates character were played by, say, Edward G. Robinson.
Said motel is a bit more run-down than I remembered it. The plywood office door was bolted shut, but presently the proprietor appeared in the service window, armed with a fly swatter. He bore no resemblance whatsoever to Anthony Perkins.
Not until I showed him a picture I’d taken of him in 1967 did Loren remember who I was—the guy who lived in a little cabin on Snake Creek and who took a lot of pictures. “It’s good that you’ve kept up with that,” he said.
“Nice to know you’re still in the hospitality business,” said I.
From there the conversation veered into crime and punishment, drugs, golf, cats, table tennis, and politics. I learned that Loren is planning to vote for Mitt Romney, in large part because at the recent Freedom Festival in Provo, Mitt shook Loren’s hand and thanked him “for his service.” For Loren Keele, innkeeper since 1961, it was a first.
I continued east on U.S. 40, which once upon a time was the main road linking Salt Lake City with Denver. Nowadays most travelers, heeding the advice of the Automobile Association of America, take I-80 to the north. If not for all the heavy trucks heading to and from the Uinta Basin oil patch, I’d have had the highway pretty much to myself.
At Myton, I turned south onto what is billed as a scenic byway, but in fact is the most treacherous road I’ve ever motorcycled. Perhaps I should have heeded the sign: ROAD MAY BE IMPASSABLE AT TIMES. However, at the time I was thinking it would only be impassable after a thunderstorm. I take care NEVER to venture off pavement whenever there are dark clouds in the sky, but what I didn’t factor into the equation was a certain water truck belonging to the W.W.Clyde Construction Company.
Did you ever see the Spielberg film “Duel?” In it, a mild-mannered motorist played by Dennis Weaver is menaced by a tanker truck along some semi-deserted Southwestern highway. Well, that pretty much describes the drama that unfolded between this damned watering truck and myself—a deadly pas de deux that continued off and on for the next seventy-or–so miles. It didn’t help that the watering truck was joined from time to time with bulldozers, road graders, dump trucks, backhoes, and trenchers. No sooner would a section of road be plowed up than the watering truck would hose it down. Good luck maneuvering a somewhat top-heavy, 500-pound motorcycle through the bumpy, slippery goo!
From time to time I would pull off the road to collect my breath and admire the scenery. Nine Mile Canyon is a fascinating place, with abundant Anasazi rock art and pre-Columbian cliff dwellings. Back in the Fifties our scout troop paid a visit to a Nine Mile rancher by the name of Dave Nordell, who was something of a freelance archaeologist. Among other artifacts, Nordell had half a dozen mummies in his cabin! Needless to say, we scouts elected to spend the night in our pup tents.
Before the D&RGW railroad was laid, the Nine Mile Canyon trail was pretty much the only way to haul freight between Castle Valley and the Uinta Basin. Along the way were a few watering holes and way stations, including the Preston Nutter Ranch, where peacocks mingled among the cattle and cowboys never watched television or even listened to the radio, because no signals could penetrate the Book Cliff escarpment that runs all the way from Helper, Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado. Anyone who lived this far from town had to make do with whatever was at hand. And now the old cabins are falling down, the abandoned machinery well on its way to becoming ancient artifacts of a bygone era.
Late in the afternoon I finally got to Wellington, where I checked into the first motel I saw. Slept like a babe until four a.m. Nothing to do in Wellington at that time of day but stare glassily at television infomercials advertising elixirs guaranteed to burn fat, grow hair and restore sexual potency. And if that’s not enough, who should I see but the erstwhile discredited televangelist humbug Peter Popoff!
Are you hopelessly in debt? Well, all you have to do is dial the number on the screen and Pastor Popoff will send you some magic water. Baptize those troublesome bills and presto! Supernatural intervention will miraculously pay them off and replenish your bank account. The ultimate in trickle-down economics!