I have six first cousins, with only one living in the south. We all remain remarkably close despite living thousands of miles apart. This past weekend Mary Lou and I had the opportunity to visit my cousin Martha and her husband, Peter, who have lived in Southern Utah for over 30 years.
It is a strikingly beautiful place. Their home backs up against the border of the Dixie National Forest. The area was settled shortly after the Civil War, but its name has nothing to do with displaced southerners.
The Mormon leader, Joseph Smith, envisioned the area as a place where cotton could be grown “like in Dixie”. Coming from southwest Georgia which is nearly perfect for growing cotton, it is hard to fathom how anyone could have ever thought it would be a fertile place for cotton or anything else.
It is a desert like area with small towns located wherever there might be a water source. Peter and Martha’s home is downstream from a creek that originates up in the mountains at a large spring. It is supplemented by the snowpack that begins not too far up the winding gravel road running by their property.
A short drive quickly results in dropping temperatures. The high temperatures at their home during our visit was 80 degrees, but the quick change in altitude going higher in the mountains would drop it down to 50. Snow had fallen a couple of weeks earlier and was still visible on the various peaks.
The highlight of our visit was a trip over to Zion National Park, with its peaks visible from their home about 35 miles away. We took a back way into the park, one that would never be known by the average tourist.
The road was a single lane that had been blasted into the steep slopes. The double cab pickup truck often seemed perilously close to the edge, often with a sheer drop hundreds of feet at any given point.
Not once did we see a guard rail until we arrived at a main road on the other side of the park hours later. Thankfully, we only passed two other vehicles during our ascent up to the mesa.
There is much more vegetation on the mesas located at the top due to the cooler temperatures. There are springs that provide water allowing cattle to graze. I suppose these are happy cows as they enjoy amazing views in almost every direction.
We stumbled upon a small cemetery located on top of a hill on the mesa. I cannot imagine a more beautiful place to be laid to rest for eternity. There was literally a view in every direction, a 360 degree panorama whose beauty could never be accurately captured in a photograph.
In fact, I doubt any of the dozens of photographs I took did justice to the places we visited. The different colors of the mountains stood in contrast to each other and yet seemed to change right before your eyes as the sun moved across the sky.
I always think about how difficult life must have been for the early settlers that came to this part of the country. It is beautiful to be sure, but also a rugged terrain with the life giving water sparsely located.
Yet thanks to my cousins who were drawn to the area decades ago by their love of the activities the rivers and mountains afforded them, I get to enjoy a place that could not be more different from the place I myself call home.
The highlight of our visits over the years is not the scenery, as beautiful as it is, but rather the non-stop discussions that we have on every subject imaginable. Martha and I started challenging and quizzing each other when we were just toddlers back in Alabama.
There is something special about the fact that 55 years later, the highlight of our visits with these cousins is not the breathtaking views or seemingly endless vistas, but rather the precious time spent with the cousins themselves.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com