I've been home in Salt Lake City for the past few days, I flew down on Wednesday and surprised everyone for my Grandmother's 95th birthday. Unlike Seattle, SLC has been experiencing summer and it's been rather hot since I've been here. Yesterday I rented a motorcycle for a 24 hour period, and got to take my little buddy Ben who happened to be in town as well on a ride. In the process I managed to get more than a bit sunburned. I had to turn the bike back in today so this morning I got up while it was still cool and decided to ride up Big Cottonwood Canyon to escape the heat for a bit, just like the old pioneers did, and let the cool mountain air blow across my burnt arms and douse the flames of the sunburn.Big Cottonwood is my old stomping grounds. I grew up a mile or so from its entrance, I worked in the canyon, played in the canyon, and loved it ever since I was a kid. I really did feel at home this morning. I know every inch of the road, every curve, every bridge, ever sign, and most every building. To me it's very much "home". This is MY canyon, these are MY mountains.
The temperatures were hovering around 80 when I set out up the canyon, starting at the lower end just outside of Holiday at the Cotton Bottom Inn. This bar was old when I was a kid, and the sign looked this way 40 years ago. It's a classic -- I've often told people when they ask me what I want for Christmas "The Cotton Bottom Inn sign". And I'm serious too. As a lover of old neon signs -- working and not -- this would become the center of my living room just the way it is.I could see myself buying this place if I ever had to move back to SLC -- it's one of two places I've fantasized about buying, the other one is a bit further up the canyon. BCC is about 18 miles long from the mouth up to the cirque that forms Brighton ski resort at the top of the canyon, and elevation goes from about 4500 to over 8000 at Brighton's base area. The road twists and turns and follows Big Cottonwood creek all the way up. This morning the air was cool, the sun was shining and there was very little traffic. The road was just as I remembered it. Right at the canyon entrance, just before where SLC gets its water direct from the creek as it has for a hundred years, I passed the old sign telling me/warning me that I'd "Just Crossed the Wasatch Fault". The fault is a major earthquake fault, and as a kid in school we studied it and were told the "Big One" is coming any day and when it does the Salt Lake Valley will drop out from under the mountains and be destroyed. But, after 40+ years , both the fault, and the sign have not moved.The reason I still remember all this is because every year in Elementary School and even Jr. High School, we'd take a field trip to study the geology of BCC, because the canyon provides a wonderful textbook of all sorts of geologic things, and the Forest Service has put signs at about 5 or 6 spots up the canyon -- the fault being the first. I loved this at the time, and I still do. I often felt however that I was the only kid in my school to enjoy the geologic tour. I'm glad it's still there.
On a Saturday morning the canyon is filled with more than a few bicycle riders who want to make this a private "Tour de France" course, but the traffic was so light I didn't mind, but there were more than way too many spandex covered butts peddling up and coasting down. The signs say "Share the Road", but I don't want to share MY road and MY canyon with them. I want to glide into the curves on my motorcycle, feeling the wind and cool air and enjoy MY canyon by myself, not a bunch of Lance Armstong wannabees in too tight clothes.
About four miles up the canyon is a power generating plant that is 115 years old -- the "Stairs Plant". It was one of the first power plants for Salt Lake City, and when you look inside the generator looks almost original -- like something from a old Frankenstein movie. It runs off of the water coming down Big Cottonwood Creek, and is still in use today.I wound up the road, past all the picnic grounds -- at one time or another, either with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, or some sort of church activity I ate and played at every single one of them. This canyon was our playground growing up.
Climbing further, I ride up past the amphitheater at Storm Mountain, over the creek, up through the "S" curve and higher into the mountains. It's all so familiar, nothing has really changed up here -- at least in a terribly significant way. It's all as I remembered it growing up. Except for the yuppies in their Volvo's and their Subaru's -- cars covered with quirky lefty bumper-stickers (in the middle of the reddest state in the Union.) and their floppy hats, shorts and birkenstock hiking sandals -- clustered at the trail heads eating granola and trying to figure out where they are.
For some reason I resent them being here -- in "MY" canyon among "MY" mountains. I hiked these hills, climbed the peaks, 4x4'd up the side canyons, skied every run at the resorts, and crawled over and through the abandoned mining structures. "I'VE" appreciated and loved this canyon and these mountains LONG before they rolled in from North Carolina, or Illinois, or New Jersey or California.
Towards the end of the canyon it sort of levels off for a bit. The canyon changes from a river carved one to a glacier carved one. I remember from my elementary school days and the Forest Service geology tour sign describing where two pre-historic glaciers jammed against each other here and stopped their downward progression, thus making the lower canyon river carved. The sign is still there -- lost among the Priuses, Volvos and Subarus. Do any of these folks bother to read it anymore? -- bother to look over their shoulder at the two canyons coming together, and marvel at how it came to be? Somehow I doubt it.
This is where MY canyon gets very pretty -- it's my favorite stretch. The air is cool -- in the 70s -- and scented with the smell of pine and the fresh creek water. I roll past the Spruces campground -- where we camped with church groups countless times, and past the side glacier canyon at the top of which is an old mining settlement, and where my trusty GMC 4x4 died and I had to walk all the way out.
Another mile or so up is the other business I'd buy in a heartbeat. The Silver Fork Lodge. This old log hotel has been around since at least the 1920s, and serves the best breakfast in MY mountains. Yuppies drive up from the valley to have it and the line out the door today was long. When I was in High School, it wasn't so popular, or so crowded and only the locals and the Canyon Patrol cops ate there. There are about 10 rooms above the restaurant, and it's still one of the few places to stay in the canyon. I watch for it to go on the market and fantasize. The cabins and homes around Silver Fork and Brighton are where I'd move should life require me to return permanently to SLC.
On up the Canyon I ride -- past the newer condos and homes around Solitude, where in 1981 I lied about my age and got a job tending bar and managing a small country store. This is back when the resort had 4 old clunky lifts and wasn't much. Intrawest -- the giant that owns Whistler bought it 10 years ago and turned it into a mini-Whistler village and put in high-speed lifts, and then lost their shirt. The hill isn't big enough for those amenities. The old "A" frame bar where I worked is still there, buried among a slew of condos and used for something else now, but I remember many a day enjoying the ski pass that came with the job, making Khalua pies out of snow, and selling mini-bottles of Jack Daniels way back before Utah modernized liquor sales for the 2002 Olympics.
The canyon tops out at the cirque that forms the small town of Brighton. I stopped at the Brighton Store that sits at the start of the loop around the cirque, had a tea and cookie and looked up at Mt. Millicent and breathed deep the fresh cool air. On the tables out side were a typical non-native yuppie couple drinking wine by their Volvo, wearing matching floppy hats, with toothpick legs sticking out of their REI shorts.
They had no idea I'm sure, that they were sitting in front of a log structure that was built in the 1930s and has stood through many a winter snow storm, guarded by the peaks around the cirque -- it's pay phone one of only a handful in the canyon in the days before cell phones, and where I'd call down to home to get a ride if the truck broke down or I was stranded for the night because of the snow. They didn't see the old 1940's map of Brighton ski resort, with it's three lifts back then, or the photo of the 1960s station wagon buried by an avalanche that hang in the lobby of the store. They didn't know that I learned to ski here on a 10 ride pass that was punched by hand by a liftie with a hole punch back in 1973.
I rode around the loop of the cirque on the one-way road, past the small Mormon church that marks the site where the early pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley spent a few days in July to escape the heat their second year in the valley. Many of the old cabins are still here -- as weathered and ragged as they were when I was a kid thirty five years ago. In the winter the road dead-ends here, but in summer when the snow is gone there is a dirt road over Guardsman Pass and into Park City.
I headed back down the canyon -- behind a diesel Saab convertible with its top down, black smelly smoke coming from the tailpipe above a "Coexist" bumper sticker. I passed them at my earliest opportunity and came around a curve to see the entire upper canyon open up before me. THIS is the veiw. I pulled off the side of the road to admire it and take it all in -- as unchanged as it was 100 years ago. I didn't want to leave.
The Saab soon passed me and brought me back to reality, so I motored on down the canyon -- passing them as they turned into MY Silver Fork Lodge. These folks were in MY home, and I didn't invite them. I'm selfish -- I don't want to share MY canyon and MY mountains with just anyone. I feel at home here - something I don't often feel. I could stay forever in MY canyon. Maybe I will.
I am here for Grandma's 95th birthday. My own mother is 75. We spent more than a few moments talking about death and such this trip. I guess its what you do when you get older. I don't like it, but I'm prepared. I stopped by my Father's grave last night -- somehow my internal GPS took me right there, it was weird. My Mother shows me the "file cabinet" she and Ron will be interred in. Me -- my will says cremate me and scatter my ashes from the back of a ferry going across Puget Sound. When I get home I'm changing that. I want to be scatted among the pines, the creek, and along the roadside in MY canyon and among MY mountains. Let my ashes blow in the canyon breeze, past the Silver Fork and Cotton Bottom, past the picnic grounds and the power plant. I'm at home here. This is my canyon.