First, let me clarify this statement: I believe that people have every right to believe what they want to believe. I have no problem with religion so long as people don’t try to talk down to me or evangelize. You can believe in some magical underwear and golden plates that only Joseph Smith saw, if you want to. Hell, Christianity is just as weird with their virgin-birth theory, but whatever. Again, you believe what you want and leave me alone, and we’ll all be okay.
BUT, what I do have an issue with is the Fundamentalist wing of the LDS that still believes in polygamy (FOR men, not women) and even some sects, such as the one Warren Jeffs founded in Hildale, Utah, that believed it was okay to marry 12-year-old girls off to old men. That I have a problem with and after reading Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krauker, I have to say this is one of the scariest, craziest, most disturbed American religion. But the LDS is cleaning up their act, banning polygamy and trying to seem more normal these days, so okay. There are fringe nuts in every religion, I suppose.
Anyway….I left Moab on day 39 and headed south towards Bluff, Utah. I had arranged to stay at an Airbnb for the night. I had no idea what Bluff was like, I just knew it was a mid-point between Moab and Monument Valley. I plan my stops by how many hours I think I can tolerate in the car. Four-five hours is my average, but I can push it to six if I have to. I also try to stop and stretch every few hours while driving. So far, it seems to be working. I am feeling stronger and in less pain, so this makes me very happy.
As I drove along the two-lane highway to Bluff, I passed through small towns. I saw children walking home from school and some people riding ATVs. The towns all looked the same, with the basic Mormon church, square tan brick with one white steeple. Pretty dull, but I suppose efficient.
The red canyons rose and fell along the way and soon I came to a small sign that read “Needles Overlook – Canyonlands.” I pulled off and drove down a narrow road, not know how long it would take. After about 20 minutes of driving thru shrub sage on top of the plateau and dodging the occasional mule deer, I arrived at a lookout. There were about five other cars parked there. I got out and walked over to the edge.
Looking over the steep canyon wall, I saw what I could only imagine the Grand Canyon would look like. I was massive. A huge, deep gorge cut through the earth’s crust, exposing layers upon layers of sediment, minerals, and rock. Hoodoos rose from the bottom of the canyon and the Colorado river was somewhere down there as well.
As I was snapping the requisite photos, I sweet couple from Marquette, Michigan started to chat me up. Well, the wife did. The husband was rather quiet. I told them I had driven thru Marquette and even had lunch at Dunker’s many weeks ago. The wife was so excited that she snapped a photo of me to show her friends. It was funny and sweet.
Back on the road I finally reached Bluff, just as I was reassuring myself that soon I would be out of Utah and not have to deal with the odd practices and beliefs of the Mormon church. But then I drove into Bluff and saw the Bluff Fort. Oh, dear.
This was a reproduction of the old Mormon civilian fort that the early settlers had built to keep them safe from the native population. I was curious and it was free, so I decided to go in before checking into my Airbnb.
As I entered, a sweet faced woman in a settler’s gingham dress eagerly greeted me at the door. She explained the fort in simple terms and invited me to “watch the video” they had in another room. I declined this offer and said I would walk around on my own.
The small log cabins inside the “fort” each had buttons on the door that when pushed had a voice recording that described who had lived there. The museum was pretty impressive for such a small town but the history was pure Mormon revisionist.
They did not shy away from the polygamous past, but in fact seemed proud of it. And their take on the native population of Ute and Navajos were not exactly positive. Their take on this pioneer history skewed towards a bad natives, decent, hard working settlers narrative. I knew better. I toured about and then got out before the nice lady pulled me in to watch the video.
Now, I was getting worried. Was my Airbnb host LDS? If so, would the try to push their faith on me? I gulped.
Before I went to the house, I dropped into the local Navajo restaurant and had a Navajo taco (open faced taco on fry-bread with chile) and, surprisingly, a beer. Beer here in Utah is low alcohol and so my IPA topped out at 4%. The state finally allowed beer to be sold, but they made damned sure it wouldn’t get you drunk.
I then steadied myself and headed over to meet Susan and Charlie at their home that sat directly under the famous Bluff that gave Bluff it’s name. It was a charming log cabin and it turned out that my hosts were not LDS but very nice, educated, retired couple that had worked for the government and in tourism for a time.
They made me feel at home, and the other guests were from Maine, here for a wedding. I relaxed and was able to get a good night’s sleep.
But before I settled down for the night, I drove out to Sand Island on the San Juan river. Nestled near the State Campground was a cliff that ran along the river and here were hundreds of petroglyphs that dated back 300 to 3,000 years ago. Some were mysterious, others quite obvious, like “good fishing ahead.”
I stopped by the local convenience store and bought some supplies and headed back to the house for bed.
The next morning, Charlie made a beautiful breakfast for us and Susan filled my water bottle with the artesian water from her tap. One can only hope that this pure water will remain so, since the Trump administration has now proposed the sell off of land on the near-by Bears Ears National Monument for fracking. How shortsighted and stupid. But Charlie said that so far all their tests for gas were “dusters” and he doubted the fracking would take off. I hope for his sake and all the people who live in Bluff, he is right.
Tomorrow, I exit Utah and head into Arizona. Not sure it will be much better, socially or politically, but at least there will be less Mormon revisionist history.