by Maxine Deeter
I have been blessed to have two fulfilling careers in my life. Both involve the public lands of San Juan County, Utah.
My husband and I moved to La Sal with our three young children in 1972 when he went to work as the cow foreman for La Sal Livestock. He spent the winters working with the cattle on Hatch Point.
The kids and I moved into the cow camp in Eight Mile Rock with him. There was no running water, TV or telephone. Our children spent many hours running along the red rocks, exploring nooks and crannies near the camp or riding in the “headache rack” of the pickup as their father put out blocks. They were never bored.
I drove the kids to school in La Sal each day and came back to the camp at night. The Canyon Rims Overlook road was aptly named as in many spots it traversed the rim overlooking the canyons of the Colorado River. These vistas were ever-changing from purples and pinks depending on sun, clouds and fog.
To the northeast rose the La Sal Mountains. We rarely encountered other folks in our travels but saw and dodged antelope, deer, eagles, coyotes and other awesome wildlife.
Summers found us living in the cow camp on the La Sals. The camp was humble, an old musty cabin and an eight foot wide trailer. We moved up to the mountain as soon as the roads dried up enough to allow travel usually the first of July.
To this day my children will tell you that moving to the mountain was as exciting as Christmas Eve. We stayed until school started in the fall.
The children started riding with their father through the beautiful mountain country when they were very young. The day started early, at sunrise, but they were back in camp by mid-afternoon. Dad may have been tired, but the kids were still full of energy and spent the rest of the day playing in the creek or beaver ponds in front of the camp or “riding” the quakie trees.
When I visit the camp now, it is not the cabin and trailer being gone that makes me sad, it is the absence of the voices of the children that used to ring through the trees.
Dinner entertainment consisted of watching the deer come in to the salt lick just outside the big window of the trailer or seeing the chipmunks or weasels running along the pole fence beside the trailer. My children claim they had an unique and ideal childhood.
But, times change. As the children got older and started going to Monticello to school, they became active in extra-curricular activities making cow camp living impossible. Mom was tired of scrimping by on cowboy wages, so Dad took his college degree to town and got a job with the Federal government, where he spent the next 20 years with the Soil Conservation/Natural Resource Conservation Services. A year later I followed him to Monticello going to work for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
My second day on the job, the Area Manager toured me around the public lands our office administered. I was introduced to places I did not know existed, even though I’d lived in San Juan County for nearly 20 years. We ate our lunch sitting on the edge of Muley Point overlooking the phenomenal Goosenecks of the San Juan River. We drove up the Moki Dugway, visited the Kane Gulch Ranger Station (complete with a resident rattle snake lost somewhere within the trailer housing the contact station). This was the jumping off spot for several of the many canyons of Grand Gulch.
I spent 16 of my 22 years with the BLM as a Realty Specialist, which required a lot of field time as I conducted inspections on land use authorizations for roads, pipelines, communication sites and filming activities. The Valley of the Gods and the corridor to the Needles are popular filming locations for both major motion pictures and still and moving ads as they represent the tradition “western” look.
There were days on the San Juan River or riding some of the ATV trails of the area. Lunch would often be taken in the vast, quiet of the public lands. I can understand those not from our area who crave and cherish the quiet solitude of our public lands.
Yet, they don’t appreciate it any more than those of us who have chosen to live here – bypassing many of the amenities of town life. I sometimes would say to myself, “I can’t believe they are paying me to do this!”
Many local folks derive a living from extractive use of our public lands, yet, in many of these areas the solitude and naturalness still remains intact. There are still areas to bike and hike and not meet many other souls. The vast canyons of the area still hold surprises around many bends. There is the feeling of discovery when one comes upon an Anasazi site which has existed for centuries.
Someone once told us that once you get this red sand in your veins, you can never leave. I’ve spent 40 years here now, and he was right. We tried to leave twice in the 1980s but always returned “home” to San Juan County with its red rocks, canyons, mountains and quiet.
We are now retired and I no longer live or work on the public lands. But recreation opportunities are abound in our “backyard” – the public lands of our area. Whether you support multiple use or protection of these lands, one thing all users have in common is that we love the Public Lands of Southeastern Utah with all its variety and beauty. I feel blessed to have made my home here in an area world renowned for its uniqueness. It’s the best backyard in the world.