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Category Archives: Holiday Related

Stranded In Big Cottonwood Canyon: My first date gone awry

The following is a re-working of an article I wrote for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin a few years ago.

Maybe some things are just meant to be—no matter how hard you try to screw them up.

“We’re not too far away from the city, are we?” Meadow asked, veiling the uncertainty in her voice as best she could.  “Nah,” I reassured her, not elaborating that my definition of the term “far” at this particular moment was wildly subjective and that 4.5 miles by foot, in the mountains, at midnight, might be pushing the upper boundary of “not far.”

“Not way far,” I clarified.  What else could I say?

In hindsight, a night hike along what my friends and I referred to as “Certain Death Trail” in Big Cottonwood Canyon might not have been the best idea for a first date.  Especially given the fact that Meadow had just moved to Utah from the utterly flat state of Texas and had never been hiking before.  Somehow these thoughts failed to cross my mind a few days prior, when we met at a gathering of friends and I was arrested by her sultry hazel eyes.

“I’ll take her hiking,” I thought. “Girls dig outdoorsy guys who can take them on awesome hikes.  One look at the city from a canyon and she’ll be mine.”

Turns out my mistake wasn’t driving up the canyon or dragging her on a steep-ish two mile hike.  My slip-up occurred between those two events, but became apparent only after we had returned to trailhead parking lot and I noticed my keys were missing.

Initially, I convinced myself they must have slipped out of my jacket pocket at the overlook near the top. But a return to the top, scouring the mountainside by flashlight along the way, ruled that option out.  Meadow was incredibly patient with the repeat of the hike.

(Miles walked so far: 4)

I didn’t even want to consider the second possibility—that this strapping trail runner who, prior to the second two mile hike was well on his way to getting the girl, had accidentally locked his keys in the trunk of his 1991 Dodge Spirit.

The date, by all logic, was unsalvageable.  It was time for me to suck it up and somehow get this unfortunate girl back to civilization.  It was decision time.

Plan A: Somehow break into my car without shattering the windows and before she starts getting cold.

No dice.

Plan B: Start Walking. Stay upbeat. Avoid mountain lions and potential serial killers offering us rides. Then pick up the pieces of my shattered pride at the bottom.

“Hey, at least it’s downhill,” I told her.  She didn’t seem amused.

We joked about our misfortune, but our guarded laughter dwindled as we rounded curve after curve of quiet mountain road. We walked at least a mile (miles walked to this point: 5) before a normal-looking couple in a pickup offered to drive us to a pay phone (my phone was with my keys in the trunk). The awkward chitchat made the ride seem much longer than it was, but we were glad to be out of the mountains.

“So what are you going to do now?” The driver asked with all the compassion he could muster and still keep a straight face.

“Probably call a friend,” I lied as we climbed out of his cab at a grocery store in the valley, knowing full well that calling a friend would prove even more tragic than locking my keys in my car 4.5 miles up a canyon on a first date. The only thing worse than scaring a girl off is seeing her the next week at Leatherby’s, sharing a Banana Split with your friend that so nobly rescued her from her nightmare first date with you.

No, friends were definitely not an option. I picked up the pay phone and dialed the only person who could look past my idiocy and get me out of this mess. My mom arrived in short order, and we were soon driving back up the canyon with my backup key.

When we retrieved my keys and pulled out of the trailhead parking lot, I looked at the girl I was certain I’d never see again.

“I’m at a loss,” I blabbered, feeling about an inch tall. “I just don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she assured me, hinting that all hope wasn’t lost.. “This will be a great story!”

I agreed, and 14 years and 6 kids later, I still do.

 

Sandstone, Detergent and Train Track Mirages: My Obscure Thanksgiving List

Wife.  Kids.  God.  Country.

Those are givens on any Thanksgiving list, but I’ll save those for the family gathering.  There are countless inconspicuous, even obscure, everyday things that also make me happy.  Here are the first ten that came to mind:

Stuff My Kids Say
Like this from my 7 year old on a recent desert road trip: “Dad, I think I’m having a mirage; there’s no way those train tracks are real!”

Stuff Steve Friedman Writes
Like this piece about wilderness survival, or this one about a folding bike.

Cherry Coke Zero (ice cold, of course)
The pleasure of Real Cherry Coke but without the sugar, the guiltlessness of Coke Zero, but without the weird peppery taste.

The Plants Outside My Office Window At Work
That took root in a concrete nook and remain defiantly lush and green all winter.  I keep meaning to ask somebody what they are.

Entrada Sandstone
The stuff natural arches are made of. Naturalist Edward Abbey said it best when he described the Moab area’s most famous landmark, Delicate Arch, as “an illogical geologic freak, a happening— a something that happened and will never happen quite that way again, a frame more significant than its picture, a simple monolith eaten away by weather and time and soon to disintegrate into a chaos of falling rock.”

This song by Matisyahu
That makes me want to scramble up a wall of Entrada sandstone.

Redeye Flights
Being really tired makes the prospect of a 5 hour flight much less daunting.  Chatty Patty is too bushed to make small talk, and I can be in downtown Manhattan before rush hour.

Beach Boys Session Recordings
Have Surfin’ USA and Kokomo become a little stale for you?  Spotify the Smile and Pet Sounds Sessions to enjoy hours of backing tracks, isolated vocals, and scrubbed takes of some of the greatest Beach Boys tunes.

Netflix
The Missus and I were too busy to catch shows like Heroes and Prison Break during their TV runs a few years ago.  We’re even busier now, but when we do snag an hour of couch time, nothing beats no commercials and no wait between episodes.  I can almost forgive them for those incessant online pop-under ads.  Almost.

The Off-Brand Laundry Detergent We’re Currently Using
The scent of which reminds me of the the bug repellent Mom used to to slather us with on summer camping trips to the Manti-LaSal National Forest, just before sunset.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 
 

Some Halloweentime Reading

Halloween is once again upon us, so here are a few spooky stories from the archives to get you in the spirit!

Ghosts in the desert? Past and paranormal meet in Old River Bed

Ghosts of Mercur Cemetery don’t reveal themselves easily

Spring Canyon Spooks: In search of the White Lady

‘There’s a body in there!’

Saltair’s spooky side shines in “Carnival of Souls”

 

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Christmas tune of the day: TobyMac

Count me among the many music fans who don’t naturally associate urban hip-hop with Christian music.  In theory, it just ain’t right.  But in practice– at least when it comes to the artist known as TobyMac– it’s a marriage made in heaven.

Here’s my thing with music:  There are certain genres I tend to write off altogether.  Three of them happen to be urban (I lean rural), hip-hop (meh), and Christian (a bit cheesy for my taste).  But good music is good music.  If you dig an uber-modern sound but cringe at modern lyrics, you’ll love TobyMac.  His stuff is clean and uplifting, yet perfectly blastable on the car stereo.

Weird, huh?  Now that you’re curious, check out his new Christmas tune.  “Christmas This Year” folds both the fun and spiritual aspects of the holiday into a bright, catchy track.  This tune will stick in your head, but the great thing is you’ll want it there.

TobyMac – “Christmas This Year”

 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2010 in Holiday Related, Music

 

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Christmas tune of the day: Elvis’ anachronistic duet with Amy Grant

I’ve been a casual Elvis fan ever since Disney’s Lilo & Stitch movie introduced me to him several years ago and .  Since then I’ve noticed a trend of revisiting and releasing reworked versions his original work.  I really liked Viva ELVIS, a collection of re-imagined favorites that was released this fall.

Today’s Christmas Tune comes from 2008′s Elvis Presley Christmas Duets, which splices the voices of modern country/gospel artists into classic Elvis holiday tunes.  The result is a mostly seamless marriage of old and new.  My favorite track here– and the one that sounds most like a genuine duet– is White Christmas with Amy Grant.

Unlike some of the other singers on this album, Miss Grant realizes the star here is Elvis.  She doesn’t try to upstage The King, but makes a fine presence nonetheless. It’s interesting to note that Elvis recorded this tune back in 1957– three years before Grant was born.  Yet it almost seems like he recorded it in anticipation of her joining him in a duet more than half a century later.

Elvis Presley – White Christmas (duet with Amy Grant)

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2010 in Holiday Related, Music

 

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Christmas tune of the day: Dido

Today’s tune comes from British songstress Dido.  “Christmas Day” appeared on a rare 2001 EP and sort of fell through the cracks.  More about love than holiday cheer, this is classic Dido with subtle, yet rich holiday touches.  It’s an excellent addition to any newer-school Christmas playlist.

Dido – Christmas Day

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2010 in Holiday Related, Music

 

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Christmas tune of the day: Peter Cetera

This idea came late in the season, but I think it’ll be fun nonetheless.  Christmas music is a funny thing.  I love it, but timing is key.  There’s something about the big holidays that makes them all-encompassing when they’re upon us, but somehow…wrong… when  they’re out of season.  Not sure what I mean?  Turn on Burl Ives’ “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in June or Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” in December and tell me how it goes over.

But there comes a time late in the year when some mental switch is thrown and Christmas music becomes an absolute must.  For me, Christmas Music Season officially runs from Black Friday to Januaary 2– a pretty standard range, methinks, for most Americans.

My favorite Christmas songs will always be the old-timey standards, but I like to explore the newer stuff too.  I make two playlists for the family car every year– one old-school and one more contemporary.  I’m always looking to mix things up, and maybe you are too.  So every day until Christmas I’ll post a “Christmas tune of the day” that you might check out and add to your own custom playlist.

We’ll start off today with “Deck the Halls” from Peter Cetera’s 2004 album You Just Gotta Love Christmas.

Who wasn’t devastated when Peter Cetera left Chicago?  They replaced him with a decent fake Peter Cetera (no offense, Jason Scheff fans), but it could never be the same.  Thankfully, Peter C added a Christmas album to his solo repertoire in 2004.

You’ll notice a few things on this album– first, that Cetera’s voice almost eerily defies age.  Seriously, the guy sounds exactly the same in his 60′s as he did in his 20′s.  Oh that we could say the same for Brian Wilson or Bono!  Second, the production on this album is flawless.  Saccharin, like his other post-Chicago stuff, but flawless.  Third, if you listen closely to my favorite track, “Deck the Halls,” you’ll hear vocal goddess Alison Krauss singing background.  Exactly what more could you ask for?

So here’s the Christmas tune for today:  Peter Cetera’s “Deck the Halls”

 
 

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Ghosts of Mercur Cemetery don’t reveal themselves easily

“In recent years the cemetery has become a popular target for paranormal investigation groups, who document their findings in spine-tingling detail.  There’s the little girl who appreciates the dolls that visitors place on her grave.  There’s the Italian immigrant miner who enjoys a nice graveside conversation via EMF meter.  And let’s not forget the cold spots or the power drains on electronic devices.

Or the would-be voices discovered later on digital recordings, which state with horrific clarity things like ‘You don’t belong here.’”

 

Mercur Cemetery by day (image source unknown)

The following originally appeared in the October 28, 2010 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

FULL MOON: CHECK. Midnight: check.  Spooky, century-old graveyard: check.  The inexplicable flickering of my LED flashlight: check.  It was the perfect recipe for a Halloween-time adventure.

Granted, the inexplicable flickering of my flashlight might have had less to do with otherworldly phenomena and more with the fact that I bought it at the gas station for $1.99.  But there’s no need to quibble over technicalities, because none of them mattered when the boys and I walked into the old Mercur cemetery and laid our eyes on those first moonlit graves.

Paranormal enthusiasts argue that places marked with high emotion or scarred by traumatic history act as spectral magnets.  They’re “hot spots”—areas of high paranormal activity.  In short, they’re haunted.  Many ghost towns naturally fit the bill—especially those built around mining.

Life in boom-and-bust mining towns was rife with anxiety.  Technology was primitive.  Miner safety was often an afterthought and fatal accidents were commonplace.  Even on the best days, the threat of cave-ins, injury, or an ill-timed blast always loomed.  If you didn’t meet your fate deep in earth’s bowels today, there’s always tomorrow.  And if your business doesn’t go broke when the mine plays out, it’ll probably be destroyed in a freak, town-wide fire.

If such ghost towns attract real haunts, Mercur should be a good candidate.    Its story began in 1870 when prospectors in the Oquirrh Mountains working southward from Ophir discovered gold in Manning Canyon.  Then called Lewiston, the town saw its first boom around 1873.  Its population grew to 1,500, but not for long.  The mines proved unreliable, and by 1880, a single soul called Lewiston home.

The town saw its second boom when a Bavarian prospector discovered mercury and named his claim Mercur.  The name stuck, even after the focus of mining shifted predominantly back to gold.  By 1898, nearly 6,000 people lived in Mercur.  The town prospered even after a 1902 fire claimed most of its buildings, only to be abandoned again in 1913.

Though limited operations continued in the mines until 1997, Mercur’s real R.I.P date was 1913.  Any remaining structures were razed in the 1980’s and a gate blocks entrance to the area that was once town proper.

All that’s left of the great mining town is its small cemetery, which closed in 1915.  It sits atop a steep hill and is accessible from the canyon road by a narrow trail that must have been a pall-bearer’s nightmare.  The graveyard is the resting place of some 100 souls.  Rock ovals with larger limestone slabs at their heads mark 40 or so graves.  The rest are completely unmarked.   Around 20 of the marked graves are individually enclosed by picket fences.  Of all the graves on the hill, only one bears an actual carved headstone.

SIDE NOTE: The grave is that of Annie C. Jones– born 189(7), died 1898.  Her headstone is mostly illegible.

Tales of paranormal encounters at the cemetery are ubiquitous online.  The stories range from humorous to terrifying.  In recent years the cemetery has become a popular target for paranormal investigation groups who document their findings in spine-tingling detail.  There’s the little girl who appreciates the dolls that visitors place on her grave.  There’s the Italian immigrant miner who enjoys a nice graveside conversation via EMF meter.  And let’s not forget the cold spots or the power drains on electronic devices.

Or the would-be voices discovered later on digital recordings, which state with horrific clarity things like “You don’t belong here.”

I read the stories with interest, but my skepticism was firm.  It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts—I just don’t see why they’d be hanging out at cemeteries.  Why exactly would a dead miner haunt a place he had little or no connection with in life?  Wouldn’t his afterlife be better spent scaring the tar out of witless teenagers along the canyon road, or stealing campers’ left socks?

Craig Campbell, founder of Salt City Paranormal, shares my skepticism.  Campbell and crew conducted their own investigation of the cemetery several years back with inconclusive results.

“There are just too many variables in that environment,” he told me.  “You’ve got the wind, other interference— it’s just too easy to get a false positive.”

Campbell says he looks at each investigation as a court room case.  Until he finds solid evidence, he’s not convinced.  Solid evidence, as Campbell defines it, would be a documented phenomenon that he is unable to recreate himself.  But the lack of solid evidence of the supernatural at Mercur Cemetery doesn’t mean nothing’s afoot there.

“It’s definitely a hot spot,” Campbell ceded.

In his book, Talking to Yourself in the Dark, Wasatch Paranormal founder Tom Carr recalls leaving the cemetery after a particularly disturbing visit:

“No more than an hour into the investigation, we found ourselves heading back down the hill to our cars.  I would have to say this was the first time in a long time that I was that scared.”

I’m glad I didn’t read that chapter until after our own trip.  The storm clouds parted almost full moon illuminated the picket fenced graves.  I only needed my flashlight to examine the sole carved headstone.

“1898—that’s forever ago, Dad,” pondered 9 year old Bridger.  “Wow,” echoed his 7 year old brother, Weston.  They scampered from plot to plot looking for another legible headstone.  I paused to collect my thoughts.

No voices, cold spots or other disturbances— only a solemn calm, punctuated at times by a slight unease.  Maybe the ghosts had taken the night off.  If so, I wasn’t complaining.  Perhaps they weren’t ghosts at all, but echoes of consciousness—or reflections of our own.

Were we welcome there?  Were we imposing?  Craig Campbell or Tom Carr might have asked out loud.  I didn’t, just in case.

When my flashlight finally died, we hiked back to the car and drove up the canyon to the gate.  Mercur was back there, once upon a time.  When we arrived home I emptied my pockets, habitually clicking my flashlight’s power button as I put it away.  It was only after I was half asleep that I realized it was working just fine.

 

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Ring in the spooky – it’s Halloweentime!

Image source unknown

Some people bristle when I tell them my favorite holiday is Halloween, but I have my reasons.

In theory, there’s no doubt that Christmas is the King of all Holidays.  It’s all encompassing, magical– verdant with lore and deep cultural undercurrents. In practice, though, Christmas is often, sadly, a big ball of stress.

I think of Halloween as Christmas-lite.  That’s not to equate the macabre with the sacred– I’m speaking in practical terms.  It’s all the fun without the steep expectations, much of the magic but with much less stress.

Plus, how often does civilized society get to dress its kids up as vampires and skeletons and send them into the streets to beg for candy?

So in honor of this enchanted holiday, I’ll be dedicating most of my posts for the rest of the month to the eerie, the mysterious, and the spooky.  From now until November, consider this blog your online Halloweentime fix!

 
 

Needed: Halloween writing ideas

Dear reader, I need to pick your brain.

This is more a question for local readers of my newspaper column (who, according to analytics, make up roughly a third of visitors here), but I invite anybody’s input.

For the past couple years I’ve dedicated my last column of October to a Halloween-ish topic.  I plan to do the same this year, but I need a good idea.  There are some parameters– It needs to be outdoor-related and unique to Tooele County, Utah.  But don’t let those restrictions discourage you from chyming in with general thoughts.

What kind of spooky story would you like to read?  Do you prefer tongue-in-cheek scary or serious scary?  Straight documentary type investigations or “neurotic first-person” stories?

For an idea of what I’ve done in the past, check out my previous Halloween columns:

‘There’s a body in there!’ (2008)
Ghosts in the desert? Past and paranormal meet in Old River Bed (2009)

So what tickles your Halloween fancy?  Feel free to comment here, Twitter, or send me an email.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2010 in Holiday Related

 
 
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