by Terri Winder
Sometimes I wonder if we got to choose, during our pre-mortal existence, where on this earth we would get sent to.
If so, did I have a hard time choosing between a tropical paradise and the high desert mountain?
Did four seasons and fluctuating sunlight win over moderate temperatures and balanced sun and moon time?
As much as I love swimming in the ocean and walking along a (sparsely populated) beach, I think my most favorite place to be is on a mountain—perhaps because mountains are inherently sparsely populated.
Moreover, there is something about the scent of pine mixed with mountain soil and the rustle of aspen that is magical; no wonder the words “enchanted” and “forest” are so often linked together.
The Navajo have their four sacred mountains; Blanding and Monticello are blessed to share Blue Mountain, literally, between them. And while the drive between the communities along the base of the mountain is beautiful by anyone’s standards, going over the mountain is an indulgence – especially in the fall, when the leaves are changing.
The road in itself is a miracle to me. How does a man decide which ridge to follow, which trees to cut down, which canyon to cross? Surely the men who settled these communities were inspired. The road over the mountain was finished in the late 1040’s, as the Blanding water tunnel was in the process of being built.
Blanding had its road going to and just beyond the Grove, where the community gathered for summer celebrations. Monticello also had a road up the mountain that ended at Buckboard Flat, a popular camping area. As the Forest Service contracted out the connecting portion, it provided the section needed to access the north side of the tunnel.
The Blanding side of the road, beyond Johnson Creek, has been improved twice since it was first built, which makes one wonder how difficult it was to traverse in the beginning. A pickup or four wheel drive vehicle does much better on the road than a car, even now.
After the Pioneer Day parade this past July, my parents accompanied our family on a trip over the mountain. Having them along added another dimension to the trip as the mountain is where their courtship unfolded.
My dad’s parents and their four sons lived on the mountain at different times, as my grandfather had the contract for the water tunnel.
In 1950, my dad attended a spring dance one evening at Monticello High School, where he was attracted to dark-haired girl. She had gone to the dance with someone else, but she danced several times with my dad. After a few more weeks of dating, he invited her to come up to the tunnel and visit.
She talked her friend, Bill Quigley, into taking her from Monticello over the mountain to the south side of the tunnel. (Thank you, Bill Quigley.)
It was there, the next day, as Dad looked up from his work and saw her coming out of the trees and walking through a meadow, that he realized she would be his wife. I love looking at that meadow and visualizing that special scene.
There are other landmarks along the road, though now they can only be identified through memory. In the early days of Blanding there were several gold mines near Camp Jackson, complete with a gold stamp mill by Cooley’s Gulch.
The venture was not profitable enough to continue and was eventually abandoned. However, during its heyday, there were reportedly more people living on the mountain than lived in town, and one mining camp had its own post office.
Walter C. Lyman hoped to access the gold in a more direct way than the original miners had (going from the surface), by blasting through a hard rock drift in Cooley’s Gulch. He was hoping they could retrieve enough gold to fund the Blanding water tunnel.
In the end, it wasn’t gold that built the water tunnel but faith and sacrifice, two commodities more rare than gold.
At the time, it was said that there was $6 million worth of gold in that mine, but it would take $12 million to get it out. The gold stamp mill was eventually dismantled and its beams used to shore up parts of the water tunnel.
I am sure that most county residents have their own stories to go with the road over the mountain; a collection of the tales would probably make a great Blue Mountain Shadows edition.
Last July, as we were picnicking at the north side of the tunnel, I happened to see among the wild flowers a clump of short stems. Someone had apparently cut all the flowers in that particular cluster. I’m sure it evidenced another love story in the making and though it was anonymous, seeing it touched my heart.
It’s a beautiful time to take a ride over the mountain and see the fall colors, the deer and turkeys, and possibly a bear. Take along someone you love and drive slow enough to savor the sights and smells. You may not come away with a stand-alone story, but I’m sure the experience will seep into your store of wonderful—and probably even magical—memories.