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Category Archives: Holiday Related

About that giant Christmas Tree in the foothills above Tooele

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The Little Mountain Christmas Tree lights up in 2009. The tree has been a staple during the holiday season for the past 30 years. (Photo by Meagan Burr, Tooele Transcript Bulletin)

30 years ago, when Tooele residents Maxine Grimm and Paul Bevan teamed up to spread a little Christmas cheer, they never imagined that their homemade light display would become the valley’s most recognizable—and beloved—holiday symbol.

The 30 foot tall display known simply as “the Christmas Tree” became a wintertime staple. Thanks to volunteer efforts and generous donations from private companies, it has returned to its perch atop Little Mountain every year since. The tree’s current incarnation features 400 60 watt light bulbs strung taught from a cell tower. On clear nights, it can be seen as far north as I-80.

“There’s a story in everything,” said Grimm, 96, as she fondly recalled the project from her Tooele home. “I never dreamed I’d be a part of something that would be so inspirational.”

The Christmas Tree’s story began in 1979 when Grimm and Bevan set their sights on a flagpole on property owned by neighbor Doug Gordon. Positioned prominently atop the 5,515 foot Little Mountain,

the pole was visible from virtually anywhere in the valley. The friends had had flown Bevan’s 25 foot American flag from it on patriotic holidays. With a little work and some help from friends, they could transform the flagpole into a giant Christmas tree.

Bevan would take care of the technical legwork while Grimm, a longtime community service leader, would fund the project and handle public relations. Dugway Proving Grounds donated two large spools of electrical cable and Grimm talked her sister and several other friends into helping them wire the lights.

The work was done at night in the basement of Bevan’s father’s hardware store on Main Street, which is now occupied by the Sostanza restaurant. The friends laid strands of copper wire on long tables and spent long hours soldering patch cables every two feet.

“I think I was better at stripping the skin off my fingers than I was at stripping those copper wires,” Grimm laughed.

With the donated cable, the total cost for hardware—including Band-Aids—was about $500. They attached standard yellow bulbs and hauled their masterpiece to the top of Little Mountain, where they used the flagpole’s rope to raise the strands to the top. With the lights in place, it was time to breathe life into their giant Yuletide creation.

“When I finally threw switch, the lights came on like you couldn’t believe,” Bevan said. “It was brilliant.”

The brilliance lasted about a minute before things went horribly wrong.

“It was just like day, it was so bright,” Bevan said. “I was almost getting sunburned—and I was at the bottom of the hill!  Then all the sudden the bulbs started popping.”

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Two Tooele County Search and Rescue members set up lights on Little Mountain in Tooele in 1982. (Photo courtesy Tooele County Search and Rescue)

Bevan quickly cut the power, but only after losing a third of the bulbs. He later realized he had plugged the 110 volt cable into a 220 volt source. Though she laughs about it now, Grimm says there was no smile on her face that night.

“It was horrible. We were so exhausted and we thought all that work was gone,” she said.

But Grimm and crew persevered. A local electrician re-wired the timer box, pro bono, and Grimm bought new bulbs. The newly repaired tree was re-lit to the delight of the valley’s communities, and the new tradition was born. Grimm said many Tooele residents used the tree as a beacon—a sort of landlocked lighthouse—to find their way on stormy nights.

Bevan originally kept the light strands hanging loose so they swayed in the wind like a ball gown. He said the tree had a distinct golden glow that that inspired awe and regularly attracted curious visitors.

Once he was visited by a traveler from I-80 who was en route to Salt Lake City when the tree caught his eye.

“There were no other lights around it,” Bevan said. “It just hung up there, suspended in the blackness. The guy drove 15 miles from the freeway just to ask about it.”

The Christmas Tree was a hit, but Grimm and Bevan realized more manpower would be needed to keep the tradition alive. In 1981, Grimm successfully petitioned the Tooele County Search and Rescue team, and they have maintained the tree since.

“She could talk the socks off of anybody,” chuckled Bevan.

The process of setting up the tree has changed somewhat over the years for reasons of practicality. The flagpole was replaced by a Beehive Broadband cell tower in the same location, circa 2006. The Search and Rescue team tethered the light strands to steel cables and devised a pulley system that lifts them to the top. The strands are secured to the ground with chains, creating a taught cone shape with a 30 foot radius.

The volunteer organization meets every year before Thanksgiving to choreograph the maneuver and make any needed wiring repairs. They set up the tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and take it down again on the Saturday after New Year’s Day. The tree is lit every day at dusk and remains lit until 1:00 am. Tooele County foots the maintenance bill, while Beehive Broadband donates the power.

Maxine Grimm expressed a deep appreciation for the Search and Rescue team and all that have donated to the cause. Bevan, who has since relocated to Washington County, says the Christmas Tree was probably the most rewarding thing he’s ever been involved in. He plans to create a similar display with a mountainside flagpole he owns in St. George.

Grimm wants to someday place a star at the top of the tree, but hasn’t yet come up with a feasible idea.

“It would have to be mechanically right or the first wind will take it off!” she said.

Tooele County Search and Rescue Commander Fred Denison says he enjoys role in the tradition and hopes the team will maintain the display indefinitely.

“We do this for the whole county, not just Tooele City,” stipulated Denison, echoing Grimm’s notion of a guiding light. “We do it mostly in hopes that everyone finds their way home safe on the holiday.”

Grimm sees the tree as a spiritual beacon, too:

“It lifts your thinking and stirs up the spiritual in you,” she said. “So many things are changing and there are so many events that aren’t good, so you need something to hang on to. I see that beautiful light every night from my house and I get a warm feeling because it reminds me of the birth of Jesus Christ—the real meaning of Christmas.”

Jolly Rotor, a local aerial production company, filmed this year’s tree setup.  Great video.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2015 in Holiday Related, Uncategorized

 

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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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