Blanding Utah October 10th
There are many settlements that have grown up in the last 150 years that are not well named. Take Ebenezer Howard’s Welwyn Garden City, for instance. It suggests a rural idyll of rolling farmland and hayseeds and a timelessness of landscape. In fact it is an uninspiring collecting of houses, shops and offices. Or Milton Keynes. Now, I don’t know whether there was a pre-existing place of that name on what is now the site of the current town. I don’t think there was. So whoever thought of the name may have had ideas of Paradise to come up with the first part. Maybe the suffix was an acknowledgment of the great economist. I prefer to think that whoever invented it had recently visited Horsted Keynes in East Sussex. There, he or she spent lazy summer days walking through cornfields and pasture with the only interruption coming from the whistle and rhythmic puffing of the engines on the Bluebell Railway. This was the image the town planner had in mind when setting out to construct what has turned out to be an even bigger and even less inspiring collection of houses, shops and offices. How about my recent temporary location, Cedar City? It has no cedars on view and is not big enough to be a city. And, for good measure, it makes Milton Keynes look like paradise.
There are others that evoke stronger images. North of here lie Moab and Monticello. Moab suggests it was established for outcasts. Maybe there was an apostate wing of the Latter Day Saints, who were expelled from Salt Lake City after falling out with Brigham the Bigamist and decided to set up there. Monticello sits snugly in the valley below Manti-Sal, an old volcanic cone rising above the surrounding Colorado plateau like a pimple on a teenage chin ( have I used that one before about Mt Hood? ). ‘Mountain of string quartets playing gently in the evening’ is what it says to me. Ooh-aah, lovely. South of here is Bluff. I hope it was called Bluff by the gun-slinger who first settled down there, able to do so because he won a huge pot in a game of poker holding only a nine-high while his opponent folded a pair of kings.
Nowhere I have stayed, however, is quite so well named as Blanding. I have met some locals but only had the briefest of exchanges. They are honest, well-meaning, religious and industrious people. But, come on, loosen up a bit. When the top action in town on a Saturday night, like last night, was to be found in the local Subway outlet, when the nearest thing to architecture is the local information centre ( discounting the obvious relative grandness of the LDS church building ), when 90% of the commercial land use is motels, garages and fast food outlets, and when the top story in the local newspaper is that someone’s fence has burned down, it can only be described as bland.
I did get to Blanding First Baptist Church today. There were about 40 in the congregation. A couple of large families ( 11 children between them ) and the rest a collection of the halt, lame and Navajo, in some cases a combination of two of those and in a couple of cases a full house. I had to introduce myself, inevitably, at the beginning of the largely informal service. This was led by pastor Mike, a cattle farmer, who calls himself a cowboy, from Cortez, 60 miles away. The service followed familiar lines, with some songs and then the word was preached. There is no pianist but they use CDs of songs being sung by the pros and the congregation joins in. It wasn’t too bad. My Jeff Lucas bible-notes this a.m. were about Luke 51-8 and James 122-25. Oddly enough, so was pastor Mike’s message. I didn’t mention it but have the feeling that I should go back over what is there and be very specific in applying it to myself. They were all very welcoming and I lingered for a cup of coffee. The couple I spoke to, John and Abigail were renegade LDS. This has caused a huge issue in their families. Life does get difficult where religious beliefs are concerned, doesn’t it? I know what I believe is right but then so does the Mormon, Muslim and Jew. All the men in the church were wearing jeans. It is the material of choice for 90% of occasions but I was a bit surprised. John explained that it was a badge of honour as jeans are not allowed in many LDS churches. They don’t feel comfortable wearing them on Sunday, after being brought up not to do so but are determined to make it a statement.
I then drove 50 miles or so to the Natural Bridges National Monument and I am very glad I did. It does not qualify as a full National Park because it isn’t big enough but the landforms were, once again, well worth the effort in getting to them. Within a couple of miles of canyon floor are Three Bridges. Not the ones from Sussex, always abbreviated to ‘Bridges’ when referring to them. No, these are 3 natural spans across canyons. It is a bit of an effort to climb back up from the canyon floor each time ( the canyon is impassable in places ) having seen them but these are top landforms and so it was well worth the mileage. There is a whole piece to write about the iconic nature of bridges and why we think they are good things but these natural ones seem to cock a snook at the efforts mankind has made to show how clever we are at overcoming big obstacles like rivers. They have a beauty all of their own and put anything man-made in total shade.
It was sunny all day but there is a definite chill in the air. I have almost forgotten that I am currently nearly 2000m above sea level ( as I have been ever since Mt St Helens, incidentally ) but morning frost is now a regular event and the first snow of winter cannot be far off. It looks like it won’t happen while I am in town, however, which is just as well as the Hyundai Elendra is not built for those conditions.
Last big drive tomorrow. So far 3,500 miles in 13 days.