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Finding Salvation

I'm spending most of the month of August back in my native homeland of Utah. Staying with my parents, catching up with family. Ironically it was supposed to be an escape from the extreme heat of the desert this time of year, but the day I arrived it was three degrees warmer in Salt Lake City than back home in Desert Hot Springs -- 98 and 95 respectively. Go figure. Since then it's cooled off a bit and has been very pleasant here at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.

But today, being the first Sunday of the month, means it's "Fast Sunday", a day on which people here in Mormonland refrain from eating or drinking from the time they go to bed Saturday night until they finish church on Sunday. "Fasting" is obviously not in my vocabulary. So this morning, knowing there would be no Mom-cooked breakfast and as they headed off to church in search of heaven and eternal salvation, I hopped on Angus for my own version of heaven -- breakfast at the venerable and ancient Silver Fork Lodge, high in the Wasatch Mountains, up "MY" canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon east of Salt Lake City. (If you want to know why it's MY canyon, you can read my post about BCC I wrote back in 2010 http://grgardner.livejournal.com/46526.html )
It actually was  a bit cool as I headed out of the garage and up the hill towards the foot of Mount Olympus and down the road to the Canyon, and traffic was delightfully light. My riding and writing buddy Dwight calls Angeles Crest Highway, (CA-2) "Paradise", well if that's paradise, the roads I traveled today would be Nirvana.  Some 15 miles of twists and turns climbing deeper into the Wasatch Mountains over the course of a 45 minutes brought me to Silver Fork Lodge, an old log and wood structure that predates my birth by more than a few years and has always been a favorite place in the canyon. I've often fantasized about buying this small hotel and restaurant and bar -- a place I've been coming to since high school.

There was already a small crowd eating when I pulled into the parking lot, but I got a nice table outside on the back patio where I could look up at my mountains through the aspen trees, hear the creek burbling down the canyon off the patio, smell the coffee and bacon cooking and enjoy the crisp clean mountain air. Breakfast was a short-stack of their famous sourdough pancakes (from a 50 year old sourdough starter), hashbrowns with cheese and salsa, coffee and ice tea to wash down my bakers-dozen morning vitamin, blood pressure, and cholesterol pill cocktail.

And while the folks and the rest of Mormondom were sitting on hard wooden pews in a stuffy chapel, empty stomachs rumbling during a long sermon, I was finding my salvation high in the Wasatch with an unbeatable breakfast in a truly celestial setting. I know I won't live forever, but when I die, this is where I want to end up. This is where I truly find my salvation, my heaven, my kingdom of glory. A mountain highway on the back of a motorcycle.

But the morning crowd of Prius driving gentile (non-Mormon) yuppie hikers headed up MY canyon started to fill up the waiting area so I decided I'd better make room for them and ambled back out to Angus and headed further up BCC, past the ski resorts -- Solitude and Brighton, around the cirque loop and here I had to make a decision:  Ride back down the canyon and home and Mom's post church Sunday dinner, which today would be parmesan fried chicken, fresh Utah corn on the cob, and a huge pan of Funeral Potatoes, or keep riding for a bit. And since Mormon services last an interminable three hours, I knew I had some time to kill in the church of the canyon so I decided to head on up and over Guardsman Pass and down into Park City.  Swinging back onto the road down I turned and climbed up to Guardsman -- stopping for one last look down MY canyon towards the Salt Lake Valley.
Then over the pass and down into Park City. Back when I was a kid Park City was a sleepy little ski area in a dying mountain mining town. Now it's the uber hip cool resort home of the Sundance Film Festival and one of the largest ski areas in the country. It's crowded and overbuilt -- but still pleasant for the most part. However today there was some sort of event in the town and all the roads thru were blocked and everyone was forced around the town and those attending whatever event it was shuttled in from packed distant parking lots. For me this meant losing my direct way back down to Salt Lake and before I knew it I was headed East out of Park City and found myself on the road towards the small towns of Peoa and Kamas -- places we'd stop and buy worms on fishing trips to the Uinta Mountains when I was a kid. I figured I still had time and decided to see what had changed along this road since I was young.

Alas, there were a lot of changes -- sadly none for the better, and all having to do with the influx of people moving to Utah in the years since I left. I guess its true, you can never go home again.  In Kamas there was a sign for UT-150 and Mirror Lake, high in the Uinta Mountains. The sign said 43 miles. I said, "what the heck".  I turned off and headed into the Uinta's, curving and turning along the upper Provo River, higher and higher, past campgrounds I'd stayed at as a kid with my family, where I'd learned to ride a motorcycle for the first time back when I was 12 or so.

The road climbs and twists up towards Bald Mountain Pass, a serene spot in the Uintas that was one of the last places I visited before I left Utah back in 1984 and headed to Phoenix. I wanted to do a panoramic picture at sunrise and sunset of one of the places I loved and to remind me of home when I left. I got up before dawn one morning and drove up to do my sunrise panorama at the top of Bald Mountain Pass, facing West down the Provo River and towards the Wasatch.
I took about 20 photos, my camera mounted on a tripod, each one a couple of degrees apart. Then I drove back down to Provo and went to school all day, and then drove back up at sunset to shoot Eastwards towards Hayden Peak and down the Duchesne River, taking 20 or so photos the same as in the morning.
When they were developed I pasted them, overlapping them into two 180 degree panoramas and had them framed.  The West facing one I still have and is in my office today -- the East facing one I gave to my father, and I don't know what happened to it. In the pre-digital age they were shot on good old fashioned 35mm film and I've long since lost the negatives in the ensuing 34 years. At least the view and the mountains haven't changed.

By now the folks were headed home from church, but I wasn't ready to head back. A quick text to Mom saying "Its too nice to quit riding, so eat without me, sorry" and I was on my way. Bald Mountain Pass is at an elevation of 10,700 feet, on one side the water flows down towards the Provo River, into Utah Lake, then up the Jordan River to the Great Salt Lake where it eventually evaporates. On the other side, the water runs down the Duchesne River, which flows into the Green, which flows into the Colorado and eventually all the way to the Pacific. Or perhaps it ends in my faucet in the Desert, as the water that I get at my home is pumped out of an underground aquifer that is fed by water from the Colorado River Aqueduct, an engineering marvel that pumps water from the Colorado River, across the Mojave desert to provide drinking water to Southern California. The desert communities get a share of this water which flows out of the aqueduct a few miles from my house into giant percolation ponds that replenish the underground aquifer under the Coachella Valley. It's nice, and a bit touching, to think that the water I drink at one time started as snowmelt high in the mountains of my homeland somewhere near this spot.
I get a text back from Mom saying: "Don't worry, we aren't waiting we are starving", which is the usual response following a Mormon Fast Sunday. The road turned North towards Wyoming as I dropped down the pass, and soon I was out of the mountains and into the high plains of the Cowboy State headed towards Evanston.
Flying past ranches and hay fields and oil pumps in this corner of the rectangle shape of Wyoming that keeps Utah from being a similar square shaped state, I pass more than a few abandoned homesteads and ranches. Past the roads leading to my old stomping grounds --  to towns like Urie and Robertson and Burnt Fork. This is harsh country here, especially in the winter, but to me it's home.
In Evanston I am forced to jump onto Interstate 80 for a few miles until I can drop onto the old remnants of US-30 for a few miles, following the original transcontinental railroad down Echo Canyon, before I get back onto I-80 and roar past Wanship and Coalville and Park City again, then down Parley's Canyon and into the valley. Roads I've ridden and driven countless times in my nearly 56 years on earth -- roads I could drive with my eyes closed but I don't because you enjoy them so much -- like a favorite TV show or movie that you've seen a thousand times and know all the words too and watch over and over again because you love them so much.

I rumbled into the driveway about three hours past dinner time -- some 250 miles under my feet, my face and arms sunburned. The folks are on the couch watching TV and there's a plate of chicken, funeral potatoes, and fresh corn waiting for me on the dining room table. Having not eaten since my breakfast at Silver Fork, I too break my Fast Sunday fast, having found my own personal salvation on Angus riding the roads of my youth in the Wasatch and Uintas. Faithful Mormons hope that their efforts will lead them when they die to the Celestial Kingdom.  Me, I've found my Celestial Kingdom here on earth -- high in these mountains where I grew up. When I die, THIS is where I want to come. I hope I do.

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