Hell’s Backbone

I came to southern Utah for first time in the late 80’s, a few years after I met Bill. He’d been here before and wanted to share it with me. That trip was in May. I remember calling Mom from a pay phone and wishing her a happy Mothers’ Day and to tell her about what I was seeing. It was hot. When we were in Zion National Park, the temps reached 114 degrees. We stayed cool by hiking the Narrows on the Virgin River. It was a delicious and challenging hike:  four miles in, four back, in the water, the canyon walls rising on either side of us. On that trip, we went to Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Monument Valley. I fell in love with the desert southwest. I fell more deeply in love with Bill. We traveled well together. He did silly things on hikes that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t walk. We had a great fight in a wild rainstorm in Monument Valley. We made up in a desolate campground. I made campfire burritos and he thought I was pretty wonderful.

We’ve been back to this part of the country eight times since. In the rain and snow and wind and sun. We’ve come alone and we’ve come with friends. There are six National Parks within a small distance, straddling southern Utah and northern Arizona, plus Monument Valley and Lake Powell and places that haven’t made it to being a park or monument because there is just so much that is magical here. My steady love for this place has marched alongside my steady love for Bill.

Some people ask why we keep coming down here and, on this trip, I figured out why. It’s the same reason our relationship keeps on going. It’s the combination of the familiar and the new. It’s the willingness to keep coming here because we know we’ll have a new experience each time. If we’re willing to look, to try, to take a new road, even one that isn’t well marked and we don’t know where it leads. On this trip, after almost 24 years, we knew the familiar places. So we’ve taken back roads and discovered things we never knew were here.

One afternoon near Boulder, we saw a small sign, one that didn’t promise anything more than that we’d arrive at Hell’s Backbone in 13 miles. We turned left, we followed a gravel road. Sunshine turned to clouds, then to a downpour. We followed the road. We kept going up and up and up; the clouds were low around us, water pooled on the road and we made a careful passing. We reached the top. The rain was still coming hard so we waited in the car and watched the clouds move, rain streaked the windows and we listened to it muddle the roof.  We thought about turning around and going back. But we agreed. We would wait. We had time.

The storm passed.

When things cleared, we got out and walked a ways up to the narrowest of bridges. We saw this hidden place: it’s deep terrain of color, sharp outcroppings and slick stone. Harsh and devastatingly beautiful. This picture doesn’t begin to tell the power of this place, doesn’t do it a bit of justice. You have to come here to know it. But I’m putting the picture up anyway. You may have been here, or you can imagine. We stood side-by-side as the fog cleared and more and more of the canyon opened. We listened to the water pour from a fall that only comes when it rains.

P.S. There’s a resaurant called Hell’s Backbone Grill. It’s in the town of Boulder and the food there will blow your mind!

Leave a Reply