President Bill Clinton designated Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument in 1996, but Blake Spalding and Jen Castle put it on the world’s culinary map.
Their restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill, on the grounds of Boulder Mountain Lodge, has received kudos from The New York Times, The Salt Lake Tribune, Oprah, The Wall Street Journal, Sunset magazine, National Geographic and received awards from Salt Lake magazine, many times. My friend Ted Scheffler at City Weekly named it restaurant of the year. Blake and Jen were semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Southwest award in 2017.
Obviously, if you haven’t heard of Hell’s Backbone, you weren’t paying attention. And if you haven’t been there, you should go. Also, or in lieu of going immediately, check out Blake and Jen’s latest cookbook. (Their first, With a Measure of Grace, is still available in stores and online and you’ll want to make the gingerbread.)
But the arrival of this second book, This Immeasurable Place, co-written by Blake’s sister Lavinia, is poignant because the book is a love-letter to the restaurant’s location on the vast wilderness treasure that is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This week at Utah’s capitol, backed by Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, President Donald Trump proposed the virtual destruction of that monument—cutting its size by half from the original 1.9 million acres and chopping it into three smaller, more exploitable tracts, including, as U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart proposes, a commerce-friendly national park.
Trump also called for the dismantling of Bears Ears National Monument created by President Barack Obama in 2016. Trump would cut it bigly from 1.35 million acres to 201,876,
The two national monument were created to protect not only this fragile Utah desert for recreation, but to protect priceless native American artifacts and pictographs that lie hidden it its folds and cliffs. In a recent interview with Salt Lake magazine, John Ruple of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, said: “No president has tried to eliminate a national monument, and President Trump’s power to do so is suspect at best.” You can listen to our podcast here.
Take a look at the photographs in This Immeasurable Place. Taken by photographer Ace Kvale, there are images of food and the Hell’s Backbone farm, but in photo after photo you’ll see the rare and extraordinary beauty of this fragile landscape, an extraordinary and beautiful wilderness haven in the middle of a crowded human world.
Also, they soon will be at Ken Sanders Rare Books for an event and signing—stay tuned.
And in the next few weeks, tune into Salt Lake Speaks, our podcast, where Mary Malouf will be talking to Blake about cooking and wilderness.
Not only will Hell’s Backbone Grill’s books enhance your gastronomic life, they may soon be the only souvenir you’ll have of that immeasurable place, Grand Staircase-Escalante, after the resort developers, concessionaires and mineral extractors get through with it.