Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

The Roads Of My Childhood

There are some roads I can replay in my mind over and over again.  I could probably drive them blindfolded. I know them that well. These are the roads of my childhood.  Growing up in Utah, and exploring in Wyoming and Idaho.  They are imprinted on my mind and my DNA like a salmon swimming upstream to it's birthplace.   They are roads through wide open spaces, with vistas for a hundred miles and fewer than a thousand people.  They are the roads home.
It was bright and sunny with high clouds, and in the 40s when I woke up in Rock Springs this morning, and after checking weather sites on my phone and laptop and determining that it was clear all the way to Salt Lake, I loaded up, plugged in the heated gear, and headed out, glad for the electric blanket as it dropped as low as 35 in Evanston, WY about 100 miles up the road and 1000 feet higher in elevation.  

Unfortunately it was I-80 virtually the whole way.  Fortunately, as it is Memorial Day, traffic was very light.  Western Wyoming, while as sparsely populated as the rest of the state, is a bit more scenic.   A bit.  The freeway is still a long haul with not much to look at except a billboard for Little America every 1/4 mile regular as clockwork.   Little America shows up on the maps, but it's not a town -- it's essentially a very large gas station/truck stop/motel.   It's a creature of the Interstate, especially in the early days when the slog across Wyoming was a long and dreary one and cars weren't as reliable and people needed rest stops.  They advertised heavily (and still do) on billboards and I imagine many a wary parent pulled over just to get the kids to shut up.   I blasted on by on the Interstate, but I decided to exit off and loop through the Bridger Valley a few miles further.  

Wyoming 413 is a short little road, a loop off of 1-80 that runs up the Bridger Valley, through the small towns of Lyman, and Urie and Ft. Bridger, before connecting back to I-80.   Off to the South are the Uinta Mountains of Utah -- the only mountain range to run in an East/West direction.   I spent so much time here as a boy -- fishing with my Father and my family up at "our" spot, a place called China Meadows, on the North slope of the Uinta's.  The access point was a dirt road off of WY-410, which intersects WY-413 at Urie.  Which was, and is basically a gas station crossroads.  Straight ahead are the Uinta mountains.
My Father first came up here when he was in his 20s with friends, and we came back countless times ourselves.  It's not a populated area, and it's not easy to get to, and we generally had the area to ourselves for years.  Before I could drive, riding in the top of the cab-over camper, looking out the front window.  The last time I was up in China Meadows was almost 10 years ago, but I know I could find it to this day without even trying or looking at a map.

Back up on I-80, heading West into Evanston, Wyoming -- the first town in Wyoming after crossing the Utah state line.  As a kid Evanston was magic -- we could buy fireworks up there!   They were legal in Wyoming, not in Utah.  There was a mythical store just inside the line called "Porters Fireworks", and I smiled as I rode past on the freeway.  It's still there, still selling fireworks.  Like a lot of Utah border towns, a major industry is selling things that are "illegal" or frowned upon in Utah -- like fireworks, or liquor, or porn in Wyoming, or lottery tickets in Idaho, and all the sin of Nevada on that side of the state.  It kept Utah "pure", although we all went across those imaginary lines to get it and bring it back.  Utahn's still do it seems.

Across the state line I bump as the pavement changes and the sign says "Welcome to Utah - Life Elevated", and then down into Echo Canyon the freeway and I dip.   Past the red rock cliffs, and the Union Pacific mainline off to the right, the bike and I roll.  I decide to exit off and take the original route before the freeway, which still exists in the lower part of the canyon, crammed between I-80 and the UP.   Where the canyon bends and splits is Echo.  Once again not much here today -- another small stop on the highway that was killed off by the Interstate.
I decide to stick to the old road, with its warning sign "End of State Maintenance".  The road runs along an abandoned UP branch up to the mines at Park City which is now a rail/trail, populated entirely by folks that look like they should be back home in Seattle.  I wander through Coalville and stop for gas and lunch.  I battle a gaggle of bikers for the line at the Sinclair station, and the restaurant and trail lots are full of Subarus and Priuses (or is it Pri-i?).  All over are folks wearing too-tight spandex and peddling bizarre recumbent bikes.   I've left the land of the pickup driving ranch hand, and entered the fringes of the granola eating Prius driving bike rider.   I fight for space on the old road with the clusters of bike riders this holiday, and work my way up past Coalville and Wanship, and am forced to rejoin the Interstate as it climbs up towards Park City.

I can name these exits by heart still -- they roll past me on the bike and I know what to expect and what is coming.   Wanship, Kimball Junction, Snyderville.   I see the Wasatch mountains, and the ski resorts I learned to ski at.  I feel I'm home.  I'm a young man again, driving my parents Chevy Blazer, my Father's Ford Pickup, my own GMC truck, listening to KSOP and drinking a can of warm Coke.
I can rattle off the rest of the exits and landmarks in my mind clear as bell.  Jeremy Ranch, Parley's Summit, and then down the grade to Lambs Canyon,  and Mountain Dell.  Past the dam and reservoir, past the cement plant, and suddenly I'm out of the canyon and swinging on to I-215 and spread out before me is the entire valley of the Great Salt Lake.   I'm home. 

Yes, I live in Seattle, and it is home and has been for nearly 20 years now, and its been nearly 30 years since I left here.  But this city, these mountains, this land, this part of the West is HOME.  It's not just because the family is here still and I'm like the  prodigal son returning. It's imprinted on my DNA.  Long after my parents are dead and gone, and even if the rest of the family moves away, this is still HOME.  It always will be.

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