A Folk History of Many Lost Ways and Salvation Point

The National Park Service explains the phenomenon of Many Lost Ways with some blah blah blah about topography and watersheds and how people who can’t find their way instinctively follow water downhill, and so for 10,000 years those who are lost have been turning up here.

It makes sense – the hills above the Benjamin-Henry River do form something of a giant natural funnel – but that’s overly simple for what happens here. It doesn’t explain the spiritual wayfinding that gives the park its name.

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“Young lovers who found each other along the river.”

The Native lore is rich with tales of great chiefs who found direction in these cliffs, young lovers who found each other along the river, fathers and sons who found understanding under these starry skies.

Many lost ways.

There’s something here – call it a True North of the Soul – that helps them get found.

It’s still happening today.

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“Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.”

Not sure if you should marry him? Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.

Not sure what to do with your life? Come to Many Lost Ways and the answer will go home with you.

Year after year, new stories of people who arrived with a vexing problem and left with clarity and peace. The locals talk it up with the tourists:

“Did you hear about this couple?”

“Did you hear about that guy?”

“Did you hear about the family?”

Many lost ways. Found.

Of course the most famous lost people to get found here are Lieutenants Benjamin and Henry. They deserted John Wesley Powell just before he fell 1,800 feet down the Colorado River and landed fortuitously in the Grand Canyon. Had they stuck with him they might have survived to experience that glorious discovery, but instead they wandered around the Colorado Plateau for some weeks before instinctively following water downhill into what is now Many Lost Ways National Park.

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“A fertile little valley on a navigable river.”

They washed up starving, broken and in despair on the bank of the river that now bears their names. They were taken in by the indigenous people and after a good meal and some rest realized they’d discovered a fertile little valley on a navigable river.

Stick that in your rapids and raft it, Powell.

The FCFL still follows the lucrative trade route they opened, anchored by Salvation Point.

Speaking of Salvation Point, no one’s sure if it was Benjamin or Henry who put quill to parchment, but the line from their log is famous here:

“We need not return as condemned deserters. We need not return as failed expeditioners. Today we have redeemed ourselves. Today we have reached our salvation point.”

So the name doesn’t have a particularly religious provenance, and that’s disappointing to some visitors. There are more bars than churches here.

Now you know.

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On Consuming the Outdoors – Take a Hike!

The little SUV is fine I guess, for a rental, but he wishes it was bigger, more lumbering, more … omnipotent.IMG_3031

He doesn’t feel like he owns the road. He’s not consuming it and that’s what he does after all, isn’t it? Consume?

You should see the mighty vehicles in his garage outside Chicago. Three-story jet black behemoths you can really lean against while comparing the rest of your stuff with the neighbors. (“Go Cubbies” stickers in the rear windows? You bet.)

Passionate consumers like him don’t do well in places like Many Lost Ways National Park.

You encounter dozens of them on your way to the trailhead. They roar up, park haphazardly, and leap out – leaving the doors open so you wonder if they might be paramedics – but no, there’s Alpha Male with the camera stretched out in front of him directing the entourage into the frame. Two, maybe three clicks and back they go into the A/C and on down the road, tailgating at 25 mph to the next brown sign.

Consuming the place. Or trying to.

That was Chicago’s plan: Snap photos of the boys at all the scenic overlooks and when he got home he was going to have the guys over for beers and casually pass around the digital vacation.

“Oh is this the new iPad Air?”

“Yep.”

“I didn’t think it was supposed to be out until next month.”

“It’s not.”

They’d be scrambling for weeks to catch up to that one.

But Chicago’s frustrated with his pictures. The colors look bland on the screen. The kids look bored. He frowns to himself – geez, his trophy wife isn’t such a trophy anymore.

What poor service, he thinks, to buy a park pass and not get what he paid for!

He needs to take a lesson from the Europeans.

I don’t like seeing men in capri pants any more than the next guy, but you have to hand it to them when it comes to enjoying our National Parks. Descend the South Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon much farther than Ooh Ahh Point and you realize English is no longer the primary language.

These people understand that to get the full benefit of a place like Glacier or Bryce Canyon or Many Lost Ways, you have to let it consume you.

When your socks are full of exotic-colored sand and the switchbacks zigzag up, up, up, painfully beyond where you can see, and you remember they weren’t kidding, all the signs about plenty of water – you lean against the rocks and close your eyes and melt into the place.

The sun is real on your face, the stone is real beneath your fingertips, the gravity is real under your feet. You feel infinitely small but also that you may be standing on the very hand of God. The trees, the bugs, the quiet, the Earth. There you are consumed by it, and that’s when it becomes yours.

Take a hike, Chicago.

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ModelStory: The Crisp Brochure Stage

IMG_2914[1]Thinking about this poor guy loading Mount Samsonite into the rental car – his wife having packed three dresser drawers and half of Best Buy after admonishing the kids to only take what they really need – I was going to write about how some people travel light and others don’t and what that says about such and so, but that lifting is far to heavy for the month of June.

It’s vacation time, man.

The whole summer is before us and Salvation Point is gloriously awash in tourists:

People who set an “out of office” autoreply and so far haven’t broken the promise to themselves not to look at what they’ve autoreplied to.

People who are nervous about starting high school in the fall but the anxiety is on hold until the ride home.

People who’ve never experienced a National Park and when the train pulls away they look across the tracks at Many Lost Ways and are momentarily struck dumb.

You’re never so rich as at the beginning of a vacation. The whole thing is in the bank, you haven’t spent any of it, and Mom or Dad or whoever’s in charge says something like “Let’s just take a minute to get oriented and figure out the game plan.” There’s talk of “getting settled at the hotel” or “setting up camp” and of “maybe after dinner a little drive to get the lay of the land.”

In the vacation lifecycle, it’s the Crisp Brochure Stage.

Someone browses the rack in the depot and grabs four or six glossy tri-folds with great pictures of river rafting and horseback riding and trout fishing. The corners are sharp and pointy and they are spread out on the hotel bed and pored over, and then they are hauled around in a backpack until the melancholy Unpacking at Home Stage, where they are found creased and dog-eared with little white scars where the paper was chafed. They are laden with memory and are not easily discarded.

In August the Departures outnumber the Arrivals and the depot is a different place. People are heading home to face Freshman Year or The Inbox, and the few folks enjoying Crisp Brochure Stage don’t project the same excitement. August vacations have an air of desperation around them – people are trying to squeeze in some magic before school starts and the leaves turn.

That’s when the mood is right to examine who packs light and why.

Let’s not worry about it now. Forget I mentioned it. Enjoy your vacation.

Assorted Herpa, Wiking and Atlas vehicles, custom-painted Model Power figure, hand-sculpted Play-Doh luggage.

Of Refugees and Lands Surrendered to Winter

Midwestern people retreat from winter to the south and west, and by the time they reach Florida or SoCal or Hawaii they are pretty well thawed out and the defeat has left their bodies.

Here in Salvation Point, though, the average high this time of year is 54 degrees. That puts us a little closer to the front both in terms of geography and climate. We are not in the thick of it – no snow cover, no frost advisory – but close enough to the Occupied Territory that when people get here the scars of winter are fresh. We are a halfway house, a field hospital where warriors of the cold begin to heal.

They come from places like Milwaukee, Dubuque or Omaha. Places where this year Cold means the kind that makes the hair in your nose recoil and where Snow means a crackling gray-black mass of sorrow that will remain on the lawn – quite unfashionably – past Memorial Day.

They are not from the Northeast, where people are comforted by a sympathetic media that makes big news from each snow event and wind chill warning, as long as it occurs on EST. They are from the Midwest where it is just as cold and maybe not as snowy but they understand that unless you live there, you don’t care. They just battle on in flyover country and when they have had enough, they take the train west.

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Two such trains arrive every day in Salvation Point, and judging by the hollow eyes and slumped, parka-covered shoulders, things aren’t going well. So many refugees have arrived here we wonder who is left to hold the fort.

The doors of the Amtrak Superliners whoosh open and the dark forms stream out, and to them 54 degrees is heaven. They shed heavy coats dappled with salt residue and hurl them to the curb, kicking giant boots after them. Other items are discarded more reluctantly – nobody is sure what their hair looks like anymore so hats stay firmly in place, flaps down.

They gather in little groups and share stories of heroic episodes with snowblowers. They count the schooldays the kids have missed due to cold and snow, and try to calculate the makeup days and when summer vacation will actually start. (August.)

They chronicle the erosion of their will to fight. December snow is cleared enthusiastically – snowblower first, then the fine trim with a shovel, a good spreading of salt and finally around with the roof rake to prevent ice dams. Snow in early March gets driven over. The roof rake got left out sometime around MLK day and is now entombed under 18 inches of ice and the dams are well formed anyway so it’s better to just stay inside.

Like veterans who have shared combat, they won’t talk about the worst of it. They just exchange knowing glances and look timidly up at the sun as though they expect it to wink out at any moment and plunge the temps back under zero.

Re-acclimating to a state where water can exist in liquid form outdoors is a lengthy process. They come around slowly – a kid tosses a Frisbee, another looks on until his mother coaxes him out from under her coat to retrieve it. Small steps, a little more pale flesh exposed every few minutes until they are in shirtsleeves.

A day or two here and then on to San Diego for a week, maybe from there a cruise to Cabo, and in time they are restored.

The Midwest is vital to the nation for the amber waves of grain, the Great Lakes, the hearty people who know how to get things done. But holding the territory against an onslaught so vicious as this winter comes at a staggering cost. We need spring soon, or the Heartland may be lost.

ModelStory: Pallets of Faygo Rock & Rye

The transportation industry is filthy with shipping errors. Someone once told me the Union Pacific, on any given day, misplaces something like 500 freight cars. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, and I’m not at liberty to discuss FCFL’s statistics, but who cares because today I’m talking about a happy, bubbly error in my favor.

There are things in life so good, so simple, as to achieve mythical status. Good-fittin’ jeans. A first kiss. All great songs and no commercials on the radio all the way to work.

Faygo Rock & Rye.

“Faygo whodidwhat?” you say.

Faygo Rock & Rye, son.

There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.

So what is it?

It is officially “cream cola” according to Faygo. It’s soda. Or pop. Or sodapop. Or if you’re far enough south, it’s just Coke.

rock n rye

“There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.”

But I’ve had Coke, and with all due respect, Coke, you’re no Faygo Rock & Rye.

Coke is manufactured by a global corporation and distributed across the planet by a monstrous infrastructure geared for peak efficiency.

Faygo Rock & Rye is brewed and bottled in secret caves deep beneath Wyandotte, Michigan by thousand-year-old elves who pledge to guard the formula with their tiny lives. They produce a fresh batch only under the New Moon, and distribute it exclusively to Michigan supermarkets via an impenetrable network of runners and safehouses.

We spent a lot of time in Michigan when I was a kid, and Rock & Rye has a central place in some happy memories. I can’t buy it at home, so whenever I’m in Michigan, which is about once every two years, I stock up then ration the stuff like a Londoner during the Blitz.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for today’s unexpected stash, but delivery error is not how I like to get my Rock & Rye. I don’t like to buy it online, either. Sure, I can order a case from Faygo.com and have it on my doorstep in 48 hours, but there’s something lacking in the experience.

I much prefer my Rock & Rye to come from a Michigan grocer – Kroger or Meijer, Farmer Jack if possible (but I think they’re all gone now).

I go into the store and take an empty cart straight to the soda aisle and clean them out, if necessary sending my firstborn on his belly into the shelves to retrieve the 12-packs shoved way to the back.

The cashier looks at me like I have four heads as she passes case after case over the scanner.

“That’ll be $273.50.”

A bargain at any price.

What’s your Rock & Rye?

(Custom-painted Model Power figure, custom-painted resin casting of boxes on pallets (from on-hand collection, manufacturer unknown), kitbashed Rix two-stall enginehouse.)