Every Father’s Day since I’ve been one I’ve been asked what I’d like for the occasion, a smart question that eliminates guessing or mind reading. The benefit to this is I get what I want. This year I wanted to go camping with my son and daughter and they obliged.
The second part to the request was to do so in Huntington Canyon, a place we associate with family history on my father’s side, a place of the summers of his youth where his father worked for the US Forest Service as a Ranger. To get there we drove the most beautiful route in Utah, if not the West, Highway 12.
This was the first time for Chris, a trip long promised and finally delivered. Addie made the trip before on my motorcycle in 2009. Chris being the driving enthusiast he is, was overwhelmed by this remarkable road and its no-less-than-remarakble vistas.
At Henrieville we left Highway 12 to visit Kodachrome Basin, a small State park with amazing geology. We stopped at Chimney Rock for lunch.
From there we got back on 12 and drove through Escalante and on to the vistas that inspire awe at just about every turnout like the one featured in the panorama shot that begins this post, and this taken at The Hogsback.
We drove on to Boulder Mountain with a steady narrative from Chris about how he’d like to carve up this Scenic Byway in his Miata. Insert apple/tree metaphor here.
We made our way to Boulder Mountain and stopped for the views of Mounts Hilers, Pennell and Ellen Peak on the other side of Capitol Reef National Park.
We camped that evening at Oak Creek, a small High Country campground tucked away along a beautiful creek that flows from Oak Creel Reservoir.
We pulled in and found the camp host who met me at the door of his camp trailer with a .308 rifle. Earlier that morning before we hit the road I completed training in dealing with active shooters, part of which I engaged an acting active shooter who shot his way into a classroom, and it was this context that probably drove the expression on my face when I saw our armed host. “I’m goin’ fishin’!” he said, and then chided me about the look on my face.
We found a great spot and set up camp. This was Addie and Chris’ first experience with the roof top tent. They set it up along with the rest of camp while I prepared dinner.
I prepared Chicken Cordon Bleu the night before we left, froze them overnight and cooked them up for dinner along with couscous with fresh basil and string beans. The camp kitchen is nicely dialed in with the extra workspace built into the Montero’s rear door.
We had a cold night at 9,000 feet, a hazard of prepping to camp in 100+ degree weather, but a morning fire, bacon, eggs and toast, with coffee and hot chocolate took the edge off and gave us a good start for the rest of the trip to Huntington.
We left Oak Creek and made our way down Boulder Mountain, stopping for another view.
Highway 12 terminates at Torrey where we picked up 24 through Bicknell and lush ranch lands that caught Addie’s attention. Roads for Chris, fields for Addie. We picked up Highway 72 through Fremont and made our way to a spot where four years previous I made one of my all-time favorite photos, this of Addie, ten years-old, in her motorcycle gear at the summit that overlooks Goblin Valley.
While all I had was my iPhone, we made an attempt to do something similar.
While the focal lengths are different, the feel is the same. If you knew this girl, you’d understand.
Highway 72 ends at I-70 where we picked up Highway 10 to Huntington, and then 31 up Huntington Canyon.
As days and years go by I find some comfort in things thought to be certain, a continuity in an otherwise rapidly changing context of living, and Huntington Canyon had been that for me since my first trip there in 2001. The Young side of our genealogy is as rooted here as anywhere else and this canyon at the Stuart Ranger Station where my father’s family lived during the summers of his adolescence. The ranger station has been the place of family lore and yarns spun by my dad, my uncle Kurt and my aunt Nelda. So it was with some alarm that as we mounted the canyon, it was no longer recognizable.
This time last year the Seeley Fire burnt over forty eight thousand acres up this canyon, touched off by a lightning strike. These images are from coverage of the fire, the first from the Salt Lake Tribune that shows the Stuart station in the background amoung th epines between the two trucks, and the second from The Deseret News that shows the road that goes up Woodward Canyon just to the north of the station.
The fire stripped the hillsides and layered them with ash and soot and when the monsoons rained through, the landscape of Huntington canyon was dramatically changed.
We camped here on a previous trip in 2010. The river swelling with silt and debris jumped 31 and flooded through this site.
And this site where we camped with Addie in 2009,
…now looks like this.
Most disconcerting to me was the vulnerability of the station itself. We visited with the hosts who told us the stories of firefighters working to save the station, even the outhouse, both of which are still there thanks to their efforts.
To have lost these structures would have tragically erased these artifacts that speak to the history of our family, as well as my grandfather’s saddle and photographic artifacts inside the cabin’s visitors’ center.
One of the hosts took us up the mouth of Woodward Canyon where we could see how far the fireline came down.
This part of the canyon has yet to slough off from heavy rains. The trees that are felled were done so at diagonal angles to assist in diverting and dispersing the flow of ash and topsoil when the rains hit.
These catch basins were built to catch debris coming downriver through Woodward Canyon, while allowing the flow of water to continue downstream. This canyon is just above the station’s garage that holds an exhibit that shows the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ work in this area.
So, we wouldn’t be camping in Huntington Canyon, but we left tearfully grateful for the good fight of the smoke jumpers and engine companies that fought to save the Stuart Ranger Station and this wonderful part of our family’s history.
We took 31 up over Miller Flats and descended down to Skyline Drive where we took a dirt road to the Gooseberry campground. Miller was packed full of campers and side-by-sides and dust. Gooseberry had only one campsite occupied and became our choice for the night.
We set up camp among the aspens and relaxed a bit in the peace and quiet of this meadow.
Previous campers had done more than their share of whittling their marks into the trees.
Sirloins and pasta were the evening’s dinner fare.
I caught a shot or two of Addie, backlit by the setting sun exploring the meadow.
And as has become a tradition in posting our dinner views on Cornering Consciousness, this was ours.
We slept a little warmer Saturday night, and Sunday morning we had pancakes.
After breakfast we descended the mountain down to Fairview and then met up with Mindy, Jake and Ashley in Salt Lake and continued our Father’s Day celebration near Fruit Heights with Mindy’s parents and family. We made the long trip home to St. George that night.
I am a spoiled dad.