As we turn on to Interstate 70 and head west we are quietly absorbed by the red desert landscape floating by. Jacob and Elias watch through the windows entertained by their audio books, Ila quietly sleeping, and Michelle and I are planning our next adventure. Once again we are coasting along at high speeds comfortably watching the inhospitable desert screaming by. I look ahead and see the abrupt walls of the San Rafael Swell that our Freeway will float easily through as if there is nothing there and I am floored by how easily we can cruise around this country. How did this all happen.
In the summer of 1919 while the lessons of “The Great War” aka, World War I, were being considered by the United States and its military a transcontinental convoy of over 300 military personnel left Washington D.C. and arrived in San Francisco, California two months later. On duty on that convoy was Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. It should be no surprise that in 1956 Eisenhower as president was the one with the vision needed to push through the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act – highways reaching coast to coast. Thirty five years and $114 billion after the act was passed the Interstate System was considered complete. Now recognized as one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century the Interstate Building Project is the largest human powered earth moving project on the planet.
Interstate 70 ends in the rural, remote and scenic mountain valleys of Mormon country, and here we merge on to I 15 South. I ask myself, “Didn’t the Mormons want to cut off from the rest of the country?” In popular culture they have been branded as a male dominated polygamous, bigoted religion. What I have found in Utah are very hospitable, friendly people, willing to go way out of their way for you, much more than is common. That said there are certainly sects that practice the old values such as polygamy. The United States government outlawed the practice of polygamy in the Mormon Church in 1890 and The Mormon Church officially abandoned the practice in 1891. Why does that matter so much? I believe that slowly the majority of the Mormons are and have been settling into the positive attributes and motivations of their faith which seems inevitable as they are a part of a larger network like the United States. This could also be attributed to the highways, the infrastructure, and the fact that although many want it differently they are part of something bigger, rather than a secluded radical nation or kingdom in some remote corner of the globe. We rise over another wild mountain pass and through canyons of the Mormon Promised Land and continue our glide towards Zion National Park for our four-day back packing trip.
We have promised the kids another backpacking trip for awhile. The time was now and we needed to craft the perfect trip for our multiaged clan. As Ila is older now she is less interested in being carried for long periods of time and so we needed an itinerary light enough for little feet with opportunities for great adventure. The trip packing was swift and marked a turning point in our family as it was the first backpacking trip in 13 years without diapers – super exciting.
Elias, when reflecting back on the trip explains: “When I first started the backpacking trip I had butterflies in my tummy. It was so fun.” We saddled our packs while Ila searched for the perfect “stick hike” (read:. walking stick) and we were off strolling our two miles in to camp on flat ground hiking next to a dry creek. After about a mile we watched in wonder as this dry creek bed gave birth to a running river due to storms higher up in the mountains. Our careful planning to make sure we had enough water suddenly became irrelevant as the previously dry wash was now the key water and entertainment source for the remainder of the trip.
Elias shared about the first and second campsite:
“We had a big pool with a waterfall running into it. It had big tadpoles in it. I mean big. Jacob and I raced as fast as we could through the creek and sometimes I won. The sand felt so good on our feet. At the next camp we made a Giant dam in the creek, it was really awesome. We could actually walk on the dam and the next day tadpoles started coming to our dam.”
It was a big adventure that will always rest in my mind as one of the freest wild times of the whole year for my kids. Ila and Elias were in the river and covered in mud almost the entire time. I remember seeing the two of them with an almost permanent look of wild and euphoric glee, bouncing on logs, chasing down rodents and insects. At one point Michelle turned to me “Oh my gosh, I think Elias is going feral.” I was reminded of a book I read to Elias at the beginning of the year called Incident on Hawk’s Hill where a little boy growing up on the Canadian Prairie runs away with a badger and over several months learns to live and act exactly like a badger. “Don’t worry Michelle, I think he’ll bounce back” I answer although I wasn’t totally sure.
Zion is a playground and adventure capital for some of the most scenic terrain in the United States. Big Wall climbing is popular on the Kayenta formation and Navajo Sandstone giving rise to the highest sandstone cliffs in the world. Canyoneering is famous in the Virgin River Gorge and countless locations around the park. On this visit, the mighty walls just acted as dramatic back drop. For us Zion was where we were able to keep our promise to our kids and ourselves on what this year was all about, connecting with each other, connecting with ourselves and connecting with nature.
When we arrived back at our hot car on the side of the busy road when the trip was through we got to work organizing. I became impressed with the kids. None of us needed to talk; I didn’t need to give directions. We all worked to blend our life from the last few days out of our packs and back into our lives of the past year and into our car. We settle back into our seats and Elias lets out a big sigh and says, “That was the best time I’ve ever had in my life.” I look at Michelle and say quietly with a shrug, “Maybe he is feral.”