A Tale of Monumental Misadventure in the Heart of Southern Utah
By Kevin Rouse
Photography by Ross Downard
“Do you guys have any beer?” asked Harries in a pleading voice. Quickly becoming a force of habit rather than a legitimate question, we’d grown accustomed to being answered in the negative in nearly every establishment we frequented. Wishful thinking was definitely an understatement. We were deep in the heart of Mormon country in a state that’s 60-percent Mormon (making it the most religiously homogenous state in the Union) and, unfortunately for us, beer drinking isn’t exactly among the Church of Latter Day Saints’ core tenets. Adding insult to injury, coffee and its life-affirming caffeine is frowned upon as well, taking our chemical deprivation to a whole new level. In a state ranked first for its anti-depressant and painkiller use, we couldn’t help but note the irony of simply trading one buzz for another.
Though while of little to no consolation, at least a bowl of Jello was never too far out of our grasp. Declared the official snack food of Utah in 2001 by then-governor Mike Leavitt (he would later go on to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services in George W.’s first administration) it was the first time I’d heard of such a thing and at least it was good for a few laughs if nothing else.
Thusly resigned to making do with the couple cases of beer we had in our cooler and the barely drinkable, decaffeinated swill that passed for coffee in these parts, one can imagine our surprise as we pulled into the town of Boulder, a seeming oasis of culture and refinement that was hardly anticipated.
Expecting to grab a burger and fries at the Burr Trail Grill as a quick post-ride snack before dinner, we were treated instead to an appetizer of crispy polenta with a caramelized-onion marmalade and goat cheese, topped off with a heavenly balsamic reduction. Add in the fact that they had beer on tap, and a decidedly healthy-looking female serving it, and the whole situation began to take on the feeling of one of those clichéd desert mirage montages.
Later that night at dinner, the surprises continued when we saw the menu at Hell’s Backbone Grill, where we were greeted with a host of organic, farm-to-table offerings and, lo and behold, an honest-to-god wine list. Our second bottle of wine from said list was delivered by none other than the chef-owner of the establishment, who we found out ran the restaurant and associated organic farm according to the Buddhist principles she adopted while cooking for Tibetan spiritual leaders in the Himalayas. Go figure.
An unexpected reprieve, the evening saw us go from eating at a Trailer Life-rated steakhouse in Hanksville to dining at a Zagat-rated organic bistro in one of the most remote towns in the United States—mail was still delivered to Boulder via mule trains up until the 1940s. Rather than question the odds of current circumstances, we simply tacked the evening up in the column of small miracles.
The next two days quickly faded together with those preceding them, melding together into an unlikely mix of experiences that none of us could honestly say we ever expected. Stopping for a few too many beer breaks and photo ops as we meandered along the dirt-brown roads through Zion National Park, our late finish at the southern entrance of the park had us scrambling to get the van loaded and moving back toward Moab.
It was over as abruptly as it had begun. Before I knew it, I was back in the office staring at a computer screen, drowning in fluorescent lighting and wishing for the hot sun and a beer hand-up from the van—never mind the fact that it was 10 o’clock in the morning.
I had quickly grown accustomed to the never-ending allure of the road, its freedom from the clock and the unexpected adventures it held at every turn. Despite the fact that throughout the entirety of the journey we had felt like cultural outlaws in the foreign land of Southern Utah, I couldn’t help but entertain a similar feeling upon my return to the Left Coast—it had been a ride that had powerfully changed my perception of adventure.
And, while it served to reaffirm that proper planning has its place, it also proved that it’s often best limited to making sure the cooler is stocked, expectations are erased and that your outlook is as open as the road ahead.