Well-Situated Sanpete
Gateway to Scenic Splendors of the World

 

By Randall Thatcher

Nov. 9, 2017

 

Convincing friends from faraway places to come visit us here in lovely Sanpete is usually not a difficult proposition. But, for the more reluctant, I tend to sweeten the proposal with two further inducements: First, I offer to make them waffles every morning; and second, I casually mention the fact that we are less than a three-hour drive from some of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots on earth.

After overhearing me repeat this alluring fact to an out-of-state friend during a phone call last week, my wife took the opportunity to repeat to me my own words—that we are, indeed, closely situated to such singularly stunning places as Cedar Breaks, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Bryce and Zion—and it shouldn’t require out of town guests to promptly to go see them.

So convincing were her blandishments that we impulsively tossed our camping gear into the back of the car and were soon motoring merrily down scenic U.S. 89.

As we rolled along through the pastoral farmlands of south Sanpete and Sevier counties, we considered our many tantalizing options, resolving finally upon a several-days’ adventure in Capitol Reef National Park.

Less than three hours later, we were pitching our tent in the Cedar Mesa Campground, inside the park, and preparing for an exploratory evening hike into Red Canyon.

The next day brought an eye-popping drive up and over the fabled—and still unpaved—Burr Trail Switchbacks (not quite as vexing to us, in our little subcompact car, as it must have been to early stagecoach passengers, but somewhat hair-raising, nonetheless.)

We hiked the Lower Muley Twist Canyon, ambling through its labyrinth of rock walls and cottonwoods aflame with autumn color, before looping back to the car to continue along the famous Burr Trail. The surprising scenery along this stretch of rough, unimproved road more than makes up for its tooth-rattling ruts and washboards. Even when these bone-jarring obstacles finally give way to blissfully smooth and welcome pavement, the scenery only intensified, as Burr Trail turned into legendary Highway 12.

Search the internet for the ten most scenic roads in America, and on any list that comes up you’ll likely find “All-American Road,” also known as “Scenic Byway 12,” which ushers lucky motorists through stunning orange and red canyons, silt cliffs, and plateaus covered with forests of pine, fir and spruce, with a national park at either end, and historic pioneer communities along the way.

One of these communities is the “unspoiled and untamed” town of Boulder (though tame enough to offer the passing sojourner a cheeseburger and fries).

Then more of Highway 12, until I began to think I could not possibly absorb any more grandeur. Turns out, however, that I could—and did.

Having passed the point of no return on this particular route, we determined to complete a scenic loop known as the “Patchwork Parkway” (named after a group of pioneers who, trying to get to Parowan from Panguitch in order to get supplies to save the town during its first winter after a failed crop from the summer before, were able to traverse deep mountain snows only by placing quilts under their feet so they could walk without sinking into the snow).

At Cedar Breaks National Monument we reached the lofty elevation of 10,567 feet, making it one of the highest paved roads in the state.

Metal Shop Miracle
A life lesson in the form of a metal riveting hammer

 

Randal B. Thatcher

Columnist

2-16-2017

 

 

It’s been decades now, but the memory is still as vivid as if it had happened yesterday: When the least likely, least confident, least capable boy in that year’s 8th grade metal shop, was awarded the only perfect score in the entire class for the most challenging assignment of the semester: A metal riveting hammer: eight inches in length, with a four inch handle, and a head exactly three inches long, and a half-inch by half-inch square.

So, what, exactly, were the odds, that this same kid, who’d turned in the worst sheet-metal lock-box in the whole class, would somehow score the only perfect 75-points on the more difficult hammer assignment?  Well, probably somewhere close to zero.

And yet, as far-fetched, and as visibly improbable as it surely must’ve seemed at the time, it actually happened.

The metal shop gods must’ve been smiling on the day I nervously drilled holes into both the handle and head.  And I guess they were still smiling the next day when I tentatively took the tap in hand to cut screw threads down into both holes, and then the die to cut external threads onto either end of my connecting shaft.

So far, so good.  But this was not the miracle.

When I eventually screwed the three parts of my hammer together, and discovered that they actually fit, I was amazed.  But this was still not the miracle.

The miracle began the day I took my hammer home to show dad how it was coming along.  He held it gently in his hands–those big, strong, skilled hands, that could build seemingly anything.

He studied it for a full minute, but said nothing.

I wondered if he was disappointed.  I knew my hammer wasn’t abjectly awful–certainly not the debacle that the lock-box had been.  But I couldn’t help trying to discern whether that consummate craftsman might not be feeling that his own progeny somehow failed to measure up.

After he’d inspected it, dad laid my little hammer down on the kitchen counter, where it remained until after dinner.

Clearing the table, and thinking there was nothing more to be said about the hammer, I picked it up and began tucking this very mediocre, and not-quite-finished thing, back into my book-bag.

And that’s when dad finally spoke.  “Bring your hammer downstairs to the shop.”

Dad’s basement workshop was a place of wonder to my 13-year old mind; a place where he made incomprehensible–almost magical–things happened on a regular basis.

Rummaging through several cluttered drawers, he produced a sheet of very fine sandpaper, some steel-wool, several lengths of emery-cloth, and, surprisingly, a crimped, old tube of toothpaste.

Wrapping my hammer carefully in cloth to protect it, he placed it between the jaws of a vise and tightened it.  Then he showed me how to painstakingly polish metal.  He told me I’d need to work every millimeter of that hammer, going over it again and again, first with the fine-grit sandpaper, then the steel-wool, the emery-cloth, and finally, the toothpaste, before one final buffing.  He said it would take a lot of time and a lot of “elbow grease,” but that the final result would be worth it.

And it did take time–many hours spent down in that basement shop, after school, sanding and rubbing and polishing and buffing, until fingers throbbed and arms ached.

Dad would come down periodically to check on my progress.  And finally, on the Saturday afternoon before the Monday when the hammer assignment was due, he nodded his approval.

No metal shop student ever turned in an assignment with more pride than I did on that Monday morning.  My hammer positively gleamed!  The shop teacher expelled a whistle of admiration as he took it from me, unable to hide his surprise at this impressive result from his least likely student.

And you already know the result: 75 points out of a possible 75; the only perfect score in the class.

And when some of my resentfully dumbfounded classmates pointed out that my hammer was not perfect in every observable detail, our teacher told them that it’s brilliantly polished finish more than made up for any minor imperfections.

It was a rare moment of triumph for a bookish, insecure 8th grader, and one he would never forget.

I still have that old riveting hammer.  I always will.  Because it reminds me of a lesson my dad taught me all those many years ago.  A lesson, not just about how to polish metal, or how to score a perfect 75 on a challenging assignment, but a lesson about life: that the little details matter; and that what can sometimes feel like tediously thankless and painstaking work–rubbing out scratches and tiny blemishes from an imperfect surface–will eventually yield a surprisingly beautiful and satisfying result.

Which, in the final analysis, will prove to have been more than worth the effort.

Thank you, dad, for teaching me this lesson.  It has helped to guide my life ever since.

Columnist Randal B. Thatcher

Columnist Randal B. Thatcher

 

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Heading up into the hills… my first real hunt

 

By Randal B. Thatcher

 

After four years of living in this lovely, high-mountain valley of ours, and having had so many horizon-broadening “country” experiences during that time, I wasn’t sure how many of these experiential “firsts” were still left for me to assimilate. But then came autumn and hunting season, and yet another first-ever exploit that I would not likely have had if I’d never moved here.

My alarm jarred me rudely awake at what is, for me, the rarely conscious hour of 4 a.m. (or what my avid hunter-friends refer to as “O Dark Hundred”).

Pulling on the thickest and warmest clothes I’d worn in several months, and slinging on a backpack crammed with water-bottles and granola-bars, I headed out the door and into the chilly darkness to await the Ford F-150 pickup truck that would usher me up into the burgeoning autumnal colors of the Manti-La Sal Mountains (once we could finally see anything at all, that is).

I wondered, first, why we’d needed to get such a preposterously early and pitch-dark start to our Fairview safari. But, one hour later, standing in the predawn gloom of the forest, amid the shadowy giants of fir and pine, I listened with rapt awe to the eerie, ethereal echoes of dozens of bull-elk, as they ‘bugled’ all around me, and answered my own question.

Second, I wondered if, when faced with that fateful moment of finding one of those majestic animals within my cross-hairs, I’d be able to actually pull the trigger. This internal conundrum was easily solved by no one in our hunting party allowing me anywhere near any of the three high-powered rifles they’d brought with them.

I was relegated, once dawn had broken, to spotting nearby elk by peering through a friend’s camouflaged binoculars (which, since I couldn’t actually fire a gun, helped me to feel I was making my own small contribution to our collective hunting effort).

And I did spot some elk—quite a few of them. Shots were fired. And the reverberating report of the very first rifle-shot was so startlingly and unexpectedly loud that my feet involuntarily left the ground at the exact moment that a flock of birds sprang en masse into the sky overhead.

It was all more thrilling than I’d imagined: being part of a real hunting party with formidable-looking guns and shiny, brass, rifle cartridges, and all of us wearing our requisite orange caps and vests—I was actually hunting!

As the sun rose higher into the morning sky, I was told our chances of success would continue to decline with each missed shot and passing hour.

So, it was with a palpable excitement that I peered through the binoculars to witness what I thought was an elk falling to the ground after another deafening explosion from a friend’s steadily aimed rifle.

“Yes or no?” He called to me. “Yes… YES!”

At those words—my own overwrought exclamations—we drove the truck as near the spot as possible, then hiked in an ever-expanding circle around the area where I thought the animal had fallen.

After a solid hour of exhaustive (and exhausting) searching, however, my companions’ confidence in what I was so certain I’d seen began to wane.

Relieved of my spotting duties (having sheepishly relinquished the binoculars), the hunt continued. More shots were fired, succeeding only in scaring more birds into the air.

By 1 p.m., even my own optimistic hopes were beginning to ebb as the promising sounds of nearby bugling elk faded, and our whispered deliberations of which way we might go to stalk this herd or that were becoming louder and more distracted by discussions of our impending cheeseburger luncheon down in the valley.

And that’s how it ended: over cheeseburgers and fries; talk of the one that got away; good-natured ribbing of the guy who was so sure of what he’d seen through the binoculars, and of the next hunt, and of that big, elusive buck we were all convinced we’d bag the next time out.

I don’t know how likely it is that I’ll even be invited on that next expedition (for reasons already mentioned); but for that day, even if only for that one time, I got to feel part of a real hunt.

And the next time I happen to find myself with a group of local sportsmen all waxing rhapsodic about their most recent hunt and of that unmistakable sound of surrounding bull-elk all bugling majestically out there in the wild, I can finally smile a broad and sagely smile while adding my own knowing nod.

 

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