Wednesday, April 21, 2021
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Canyon Country Solitaire

For what feels like eons, I’ve been trying to get someone to take my picture.

Handing a DSLR camera to a stranger is like giving a toddler a Rubik’s cube and expecting success. I’m desperate enough to offer someone my cracked iPhone. It met its fractured fate a week prior as I dashed out of the camper van to snap a mind-blowing sunset on The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway.

I decide, instead, to hold out for a particularly advanced toddler.

It smells like desert rain from the late-morning monsoon, the first spring precipitation on my three-week trip to San Juan County. After weeks filled with solitude, I am finally surrounded by people. Gobs and gobs of tourists.

Monument Valley’s iconic Mittens touch the clouds behind me; I hear people speaking Mandarin, Dutch, Japanese and German. The sweet sounds of my native tongue are nary to be heard. English isn’t even the second language during high season in Southern Utah. For someone who has travelled the globe, I can get by with charades-like gestures. But that doesn’t work for communicating the camera-tech nuances of focus
and composition.

After the third tourist’s attempt at taking my picture, I concede: good enough. Probably 10 dozen tourists board open-air jalopies for the noon tour of the valley, and two unrelated things leap to mind: What would John Wayne think of Monument Valley now that it’s become Desert Disneyland? Second, I’m starving.

Across the state line, back in Utah, folks flock to Goulding’s Lodge for the famous dish (beans and taco fixings piled atop fry bread). I wish I liked Navajo tacos—even a little bit. The real treat here, however, is Goulding’s Trading Post Museum.

Inside, I find a trading post, a throwback to when it sold provisions in the 1920s and 1930s, along with movie memorabilia and posters—from John Wayne-John Ford’s classic The Searchers to Back to the Future III. If trading post owner John Goulding hadn’t lured Hollywood to the area way back when, I might not be here.

Despite devouring cinematic history lessons, my hunger has not subsided. The Swingin Steak beckons. A family-run joint at the Mexican Hat Lodge, this is where you get your beef fix. Fat, juicy steaks are cooked over an open fire on a grill that, you guessed it, swings back-and-forth.

But this isn’t a culinary tour of the Four Corners. There are plenty of other travel destinations for high-brow (or even dive-y) noshing. We travel to Canyon Country for the canyons.

Mexican Hat sits at the end of a 26-mile float trip on the San Juan River. The murky brown waterway takes its color from silt deposits and only runs clear in the winter before snowmelt. A few days ago, I hopped a boat near Bluff and snaked through the monstrous river-cut canyons with Wild Rivers Expeditions,.

While craning my neck to see the top of the canyon walls, our guide Luis, a resident Navajo , filled us in on the local lore, the story of the land. We made little side-trips to spots like Butler Wash, where a short hike took us to one of the biggest and most pristine collections of petroglyphs in the Southwest. The region is replete with ruins.

Natural Bridges National Monument

We explored River House Ruin, a well-preserved cliff dwelling. The famous House on Fire is my next stop, and a must. Good luck getting the same answer twice from a local on the best time to visit the ruin to photograph it illuminated by reflected sunlight. Every person offers a different time.

You can’t walk 100 yards without tripping over remnants of the ancients in San Juan County. It’s a mysterious window into the past. Anthropologists say Grand Gulch had more residents 600 years ago than today’s population of the entire Four Corners area.

After ruin peeping (and missing the House actually on Fire), I head to Natural Bridges State Park.

At one point in every wanderer’s life, he falls in love with a park ranger—wind-swept hair, thoughtful eyes that peer over romantic vistas, who wears her beige and iconic hat with confidence. It’s all there. My itinerary is set, but I linger just to hear Azure (made-up name) talk a bit more. “Will you be leading the educational stargazing seminar tonight?” No, she says. Sigh.

Aside from its three landmark bridges—Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu—Natural Bridges is known for its view of shimmering balls of nighttime light, and in 2007, it was the nation’s first International Dark Sky Park, certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Yes, a truly milky Milky Way, vivid scenery and massive stone bridges make a memorable package at this forgotten park.

One tourist asks the surprisingly common question: “Where is the dark-sky part of the park?” It’s everywhere, my friend. What San Juan County offers is sagebrush and solitude. He leaves and I look up at the stars.


Goulding’s Lodge and Goulding’s Trading Post Museum, 1000 Main Street, Monument Valley, 435-727-3231

Swingin Steak, 163 Main Ave., Mexican Hat, 435-683-2222

Wild Rivers Expeditions, 2625 S. Hwy. 191, Bluff, 435-672-2244

Natural Bridges National Monument, PO Box 1, Blanding, UT

You know it's spring in Utah when cherry blossoms are in full bloom at the @utstatecapitol ⁠🌸😍⁠

Photo by @gravesstuart

Inspired by @oldsaltlake, we're celebrating #throwbackthursday with a favorite snapshot of early 20th century Salt Lake City. 🏖️⁠

Photos shared by @oldsaltlake are inspiring millennials and zoomers decades later with visions of a different city: one with easily accessible public transportation, walkable streets, local businesses (open late) and distinctive architecture.⁠

See more photos at the link in our bio. ⁠

Pictured: Women relax at what is believed to be Saltair Beach, date unknown

Why did Utah's only Titanic passenger not survive her journey?⁠

The descendants of Irene Corbett believe that the 30-year-old teacher sacrificed her life to save others. It's one of the many ways this remarkable figure bucked tradition and forged her own trail.⁠

Read more about Irene at the link in our bio!

One year ago today: a Salt Lake earthquake that even shook Moroni 👼⁠

Photo by @gravesstuart

"We must have done something right, cause you guys kept coming back."⁠

@bluepelatedinerslc, one of Salt Lake's signature spots for everyone from hungover college kids to vegan food lovers, will be closing its doors this May after more than two decades of service. It's the latest casualty in a brutal year for the restaurant industry. ⁠

Head to the link in our bio for a tribute to Blue Plate Diner. (And keep supporting your favorite local restaurants. ❤️)

Tony Caputo, a food evangelist and founding father of today’s SLC food community, passed away last night.⁠

Tony started @caputosmarket in 1997, bringing his passion for the cuisine of his heritage to Utah tables. Most days during the lunch rush you’d find Tony behind the counter slicing meat and cheeses and then, after it wound down, holding court out front. He’d often rush back behind the counter and holler over his shoulder, “you have to try this!" only to return with a sample bite of veiny cheese, a paper-thin leaf of prosciutto or a perfectly crisp amaretti cookie that he’d recently added to his menagerie of taste. For his many contributions to Salt Lake City, we awarded Tony with a Lifetime Achievement Dining Award in 2007.⁠

Today, we're sending love to @caputosmarket and the many people whose lives were touched by Tony. A full tribute is on our website now. ❤️

Why is the Pleasant Grove theme park Evermore suing one of the most powerful women in music? Long story short: a playground for those who would choose lore over folklore is taking on Taylor Swift over the name of her most recent album. Both parties have their reputation on the line in a battle of undercover Swifties and novelty mug disputes. Will Evermore hit the gold rush? Or did they cross the wrong mad woman? The full story is at the link in our bio. ...

Even in the exploration boom of the 1800s, nobody dared to explore the terrain flowing through the Green and the Colorado Rivers.⁠

That is, nobody until Major John W. Powell said the 19th Century equivalent of “Hey man, hold my beer while I try this.”⁠

Read more about his dangerous expedition at the link in our bio!⁠

Photo of Powell’s expedition courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division⁠

A brand new issue of Salt Lake magazine is coming your way! ⁠

We can't wait to share these stories with you. This issue includes our annual Blue Plate Awards celebrating those surviving and thriving in the restaurant biz. Plus, we take a road trip to Wyoming and ask why the only Utah passenger on the Titanic didn’t survive her journey.⁠

A note from our editor Jeremy Pugh, including beautiful tributes to Mary Brown Malouf from our friends in the community, is online now. Read more at the link in our bio ❤️⁠

Subscribers: Look for this issue in your mailbox soon. The magazine will be on newsstands March 1! 📬

Today, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2021 Blue Plate Awards! ⁠🎉⁠

These prizes honor the growers, food evangelists, grocers, servers, bakers, chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs who do more than put good food on the table—they make our community a better place to live. This year, just surviving as a local business deserves an award, but each of our Blue Plate winners did more than that. They made us grateful for every person involved in the essential act of feeding us.⁠ 🍽⁠

At the link in our bio, we have the full list of winners, a celebration of feats of COVID creativity and a tribute to restaurants we lost this year. If you’re hungry for more, pick up a copy on newsstands March 1! Plus, check out our Instagram for spotlights on some of the Blue Plate winners. ⁠

This year’s Blue Plate Awards are the first without our beloved Executive Editor Mary Brown Malouf. We dedicate them to her, our town’s biggest food fan, critic and champion. xoxomm⁠ 💙

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @ricobrandut for Staying in Beansness⁠

Last summer, it seemed that Rico would be another victim of rapid gentrification in Salt Lake. Luckily, Rico was able to find a new home in Poplar Grove and now plans to add even more employees. It’s a last-minute happy ending for a community leader who literally wears his mission on his sleeve, courtesy a tattoo in bright red block letters: “pay it forward.” 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award Winner: @spicekitchenincubator for Keeping the Spice Flowing⁠

This year Spice Kitchen Incubator, already an essential resource for refugees, became, well, even more essential. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @thestore_utah for Special Deliveries ⁠

As grocery delivery becomes the new norm, The Store offers a personal touch that only an independent grocer can provide. Last March, high-risk and elderly customers began calling in their grocery lists over the phone, and The Store’s general managers personally delivered food to their homes. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @cucinaslc for Preserving Neighborhood Connection⁠

Cucina’s outdoor spaces became a place where the neighborhood could gather safely. Owner Dean Pierose offered free coffee in the mornings and encouraged his regulars to linger and commiserate together, preserving a semblance of society during a socially distanced time. 💙⁠