Monday, April 27, 2009

Living Rural and Loving It!

Annette and I are recent 'moved in' residents of Southern Utah (April 2008). It's a beautiful place; we are surrounded by gorgeous landscapes. We have mountains, towering red rock cliffs, sandstone hoodoos and fins, arches, natural bridges, slickrock, mountain lakes, the Fremont River, bristlecone pines, 'quakey' aspen groves, lower desert areas, slot canyons, waterfalls and much, much more.

We live in Wayne County with about 26 hundred other full-time residents. We see mule deer, elk, wild turkey, bighorn sheep, marmots, and have noticed the track of a cougar around the front yard a time or two. There are also bears and bobcats in the neighborhood. That's about as rural as one can get in the lower 48! Well except for Loving County, Texas with their population of 67 people. Loving County has 677 square miles; Wayne County has 2,460. Still Loving County has the lowest population density in the entire United States. Population density there is close to zero per square mile while here in Wayne Co. it's 1 person per square mile (2nd lowest in Utah; neighboring Garfield County's is .9).

The main reason that Wayne County has so few residents is that only a little over three percent of the land is privately owned; all the rest is state or federal government lands - - BLM, national forest, or state and national parks. The lands are all part of the colorful Colorado Plateau geographical province. A good part of Capitol Reef National Park and a portion of Canyonlands National Park are inside Wayne County. Originating on Fish Lake Mountain to the north, the Fremont River flows south into the County and then curves east to join the Dirty Devil, which is a tributary of the Green River. The Green River forms the County's eastern border. Wayne County also has a big portion of Fishlake National Forest.

The County seat in Wayne Co. is Loa with about 525 people living there. The town's name is derived from the Hawaiian mountain Mauna Loa; the lofty title means high, large and powerful. The other towns within the County are Bicknell, Fremont, Lyman, Teasdale, Torrey, Caineville, and Hanksville. Caineville is more of a community these days; but does have a motel and the Mesa Farm Market (produce / bakery). Other than Loa and the few people that live in Caineville, town sizes here range in population from about 200 to around 350 people.

One thing that holds these rural communities together is that everyone helps out - not just in one way but in varied ways. It's not uncommon to find people serving their communities in different roles. There are volunteer fire-persons, emergency medical technicians, and search and rescue squad members, etc. People show up to help out on community 'clean up' days, stop to help someone with a vehicle broke-down on the road, contribute to worthy local causes - - leaders help coordinate events, and the rest help out wherever we can.

Did I mention that there is not one traffic light in the County? Two major highways serve the area; Route 24 and Highway 12 - - the latter is one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. Spring through Fall, motorcycle tour groups frequent the roads along with the usual contingent of bikers, cars and RVs.

It's a gorgeous land between other enticing lands. Within a few hours drive from our Boulder Mountain home, we can explore the Henry Mountains (last explored peaks in continental U.S.) and the vast expanses of the San Rafael Swell, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Lake Powell, and southern Utah's sweep of other national parks and monuments - - Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Staircase Escalante, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and Zion. It's no small wonder that neighbors in nearby states in the Southwest often visit southern Utah for mountain biking, camping, hiking, hunting, fishing and even skiing at Brian Head Resort near Cedar City.

The Navajo called this area the "land of the sleeping rainbow." Early residents of the area, Ephraim Pectol and Joseph Hickman, promoted it as the "Wayne Wonderland." This land of mountains, forests, sandstone, and desert contains an ancient foundation of igneous and metamorphic rocks that later were covered by sediments and shifted by the sliding of tectonic plates and then for eons was mainly shaped by large-scale water erosion to create this wonderland that is relatively undiscovered by the rest of the country. It is an area that is popular with international travelers, and you are as likely to encounter friendly European and Japanese tourists as flatlanders from back east.
For full-time residents of southern Utah, this is also a 'land between' - - between here and any number of other memorable locations. This is a part of the Grand Circle tour. By applying the phrase a land between, I mean that we are surrounded by almost unending opportunities for exploration and travel. On the northern edge of the state, we have both the soaring Watsatch and Uinta Mountain ranges.

Consider a day's drive in almost any direction - - that can take one to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Or you can be visiting the Four Corners region, Mesa Verde National Park, and the Teleuride and Durango, CO regions or be in Taos and Santa Fe or visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. To the south, you can easily reach Monument Valley , Canyon de Chelly National Monument or the Grand Canyon National Park, all three in Arizona. It's less than a day southwest to reach Las Vegas, NV or Death Valley National Park. To the west is the Great Basin National Park. And in about the same 8 or 9 hrs., one can reach Jackson, Wyoming and nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

So . . . back to living here on Boulder Mountain. What makes that so unique and appealing?
One: It has to be the closeness to our natural environment; living and being outdoors, and for us - - hiking, camping, and backroading.
Two: The unique, rich community with people who ranch, work in the forest or the parks, builders, construction workers, and craftsmen. Persons who work in the businesses, restaurants, motels and lodges, bed & breakfasts along with residents who are photographers, writers, painters, potters, musicians, philosophers, and other artisans and craftspersons - truly an eclectic mix.
Three: The seasonal mix of quiet, natural sounds of Winter mixed with the bustle of the tourist seasons.
Four: Attending local events that include the Entrada Institute, Apple Days in Torrey (July 4th), the Bicknell International Film Festival, Torrey Music Festival, Women's Redrock Music Festival, and the Wayne County Fair (August).
Five: Opportunities to see, photograph and experience wildlife and nature.
Six: Buying local produce and products that include beef and mutton / lamb as well as bread and fresh garden vegetables.
Seven: The state and national parks, the national forest, and BLM public lands - - all that space and it's easy to find your own quiet spots.
Eight: Beautiful high mountain landscapes that encompass subalpine (pinyon & juniper) and alpine forests (Ponderosa pine, Douglas Fir, and Quaking Aspens), lakes (more than seventy on Boulder Mountain alone) and streams.
Nine: Beautiful sandstone strata and forms plus the nearby lower desert regions. It's usually ten degrees warmer about twenty minutes away from the house.
Ten: Capitol Reef National Park has the largest orchards in the park system; that means fresh, delicious, pick-them-yourself fruit including cherries, apricots, apples, peaches, and pears. There is nothing finer!

Beautiful country, great neighbors, good people make for an outstanding community. We are lucky to call it home.

Listen to John Mellencamp's song 'Small Town' at YouTube.