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THE SUNDANCE KID
Salt Lake City, Utah
I want to watch the sun go down in the desert. I roll out of Salt Lake City west on interstate 80, searching for the blankest part of the map. This land is a maze of mountains, not a long range like anywhere else, here they seem to crop up in bunches along the horizon, long, jagged blue heaps of baked rock; on drawing closer, a barren brown. Past the Great Salt Lake I travel and I'm pleasantly surprised. Mountains ring the lake, islands, Antelope Island, Stansburg Island, rise up out of this stagnant, unflushed pool, abandoned ghost ships wrecked upon the silts and sands of this wind blown, sun-cracked landscape.
So different from last night, when I drove south toward Provo, then left into American Fork Canyon and onto its Alpine Loop. A wonderful loop this is, crawling through spectacular, lean-forward-over-the-wheel heights in the canyon, quickly rising up into a switchback winding road up, up into the aspens. Here is the greatest accumulation of aspens I've seen, miles of the white-barked mountain cousins of our birches, up, up the mountains and over, then descending into the basin that holds the Sundance ski resort.
I pull in and get out, stretch my legs. This is a serene setting of well maintained log buildings, signs on the footpaths pointing toward the summer theater, the lodge, the shops. A river runs through it. I stroll the well-marked paths toward the shops and encounter a yuppies bonanza of high priced meals and knick-knacks, but also a gem I cannot resist.
I pause at the entrance to the Owl Bar, and read its history. There are pictures of Robert Redford and Paul Newman from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and an article describing Redfords quest for the bar the real Hole in the Wall Gang drank at during their heyday. Redford discovered the original bar in a bikers joint in Wyoming, purchased it and sent to San Francisco for reconditionin, before installing it here, in his own Owl Bar.
I walk into the bar proper, a wonderful setting of wooden tables amidst the log walls, pictures of Redford and the mountains adorning them, the bar itself a beauty about twenty feet long, a huge, floor-to-ceiling rosewood back-bar behind, huge mirrors in each of three sections. The story said Redford cristened his new bar with a bottle of Wasatch Ale; I order a Heineken. And as I sit amongst the well-heeled I overhear that Redford owns fifty-one percent of the resort, and other, nefarious details of unimportance. When I finish my Heineken I order a Corona, and think of all things outlaw, of the real Sundance Kid, and his screen counterpart.
But that was yesterday. Now I drive along looking for an appropriate place to watch the sun go down over the desert. This is a land of long lines, of railroad tracks, short utility poles and the tar ribbon I follow. I come to a sign, turn off the highway into a mess of rusted barrels, upside-down cars, a high diesel sign over a broken building, tires, a fenced-in utility building in relatively good repair, and a sign, 'Dugway 37 miles.' I head south on route 196 and encounter an amazing sign - "No High Grade Radioactive Waste Allowed" - and I run on toward the Desert Peak Wilderness area, adjacent the Skull Valley Indian Reservation. A few miles down I spy a dirt road to my left and take it, winding up where I am now.
I stand alone in this vast landscape, the sun lowering beyond some distant, purple mountains as I write this down. Brown bluffs rise up behind me, the dirt road stretching endlessly to my left and right. The wind blows cool here, the clouds a swirl of good-byes hovering the sun, distancing themselves into the haze to the north. To the south an accumulation of cloud layers, some dark blue, some purple, some white, all of it flowing away from an ebbing glow, now just touching the mountain tops.
It is so quiet, so quiet. Nothing but the hum of the wind and an occasional insect buzz, a croaking like a frog, drifting down with the wind songs from the brown bluffs behind me. The sun hits the mountains and it's suddenly darker, very quickly the glare recedes and I can actually stare right at it without flinching. What clouds were white a minute ago have turned blue, what were blue fall purple, all of it falling away from a day, just another day. I stare mesmerized across the long flats of sagebrush, a discarded bottle to my left, the wind picking up substantially now, making waves of the higher sagebrush.
The horizon to the north turns pink, a three-quarter moon rises up behind the brown hills behind me. I hear the vague streak of an airplane, I see the slow roving of a truck on interstate 80, miles in the northern distance. It is so quiet here, so peaceful. In the dusk I cannot believe how lucky I am, how fortunate to be here. I wish so much to share it, I stand in awe of the cliffs and clouds, now marked by the setting sun and a bold three-quarter moon, a beautiful scene.
I came to watch the sun go down, thinking of those that came before me, of standing at the same bar the original Sundance Kid stood at up in Wyoming, and more recently our own Sundance. Now I'm the same, drawn here to the desert to watch my own sun dance, a slow dance, a quiet dance, a dance you love, a dance that fades away.