Exploring Montezuma Canyon

“I always wanted to see the pyramids,” Dad told me once over the phone. Maybe that’s why he always listened so intently when I described the Ancestral Puebloan ruins, pictographs, and petroglyphs found in San Juan County.

He died on December 19, 2021, just a month short of his 95th birthday. He never visited the pyramids. In fact, he never left the United States, but he loved seeing new places.

I was thinking about him, his funeral, and family relationships as Ted, Oggie, and I drove to Montezuma Canyon.

Ancestral Puebloan ruins, pictographs, and petroglyphs are scattered throughout the canyon with the Three Kiva Pueblo stabilized and accessible to the public, but we simply wanted a good hike after being cooped up in the
vehicle during our travels.

We’d been gone for three weeks, so it felt wonderful to see the cobalt sky and wide-open spaces of San Juan County again.

We parked near the stream called Montezuma Creek, shrugged on our backpacks, and headed east, sliding down the bank and jumping the ice-rimed water.

The ground soon became marshy with cattails, willows, and tamarisk evidencing the abundance of water, always such a surprise in this desert country.

The ranchers use the water to create ponds and irrigate, and often the water holes are filled with ducks and sometimes beavers, but when we sneaked up on one with our cameras ready, it was empty.

As we continued hiking, childhood memories flooded my mind. Mom and Dad had opposite personalities with Dad being introverted and thrifty and Mom being extroverted and generous.

After years of epic battles, they divorced when I was 11. My older brother, Tom, joined my grandparents on their farm near Minneapolis, KS, and a year later, Mom, my little brother, and I moved into my great-grandparents’ vacant farmhouse about a half a mile away.

After the divorce, Dad bought a motorcycle and an apartment house and married a woman who had twin girls from a previous marriage. We didn’t see him during those years, but his new family was good for him.

Mom worked at an Eldorado Trailer Factory sanding doors and later as a receptionist at Social Services to support us. With her self-confidence shattered, she married and divorced two more times.

I don’t know how my plucky mom survived those relationships, but she did—barely. When I was old enough, I moved out and on with my life, getting an education, marrying, and having a baby.

During that time, Tom and his family relocated to Blanding. When my own marriage hit the rocks, my mom, younger brother, son, and I followed.

I knew then that it was time to reconnect with Dad, something Tom had done years earlier, so one Saturday I drove up to Devil’s Canyon Campground, sat on a picnic table shadowed by ponderosas, and began the process of forgiving, not just my dad, but my stepfathers and ex- as well.

It wasn’t easy, but I was surprised at how much lighter I felt driving home as if I’d been carrying real physical weight.

Strangely, Dad began his own process of reconnecting without my ever saying a word. He and his wife drove out to visit; he helped my brothers with projects; and he grew to love his grandchildren.

He always said he got along better with dogs than with people, and he never was very verbal, but on one visit he told me he was sorry for what had happened, one short sentence that meant the world to me.

After he retired, he and his wife went on many adventures, traveling the country on their motorcycle or in their motorhome, and he loved broadcasting as a ham radio operator. He was one of the best and communicated with people all over the world using Morse Code.

After his wife’s death, he tried to stay healthy by taking two long walks a day, riding his bike while towing his beloved dog behind in a trailer, and working out at the gym. He continued to walk for the next 15n years in all kinds of weather even when he needed a cane.

Gradually, his mind deteriorated until he could no longer live on his own. Tom and Karalee took him into their home, fed him good home cooking, and arranged doctor appointments, but his condition continued to worsen until they could no longer care for him. He died two months after being admitted to a care center.

As we started up a hill in Montezuma Canyon, I grieved for my dad even though he’d made it clear he was ready to move on. He and I are a lot alike, similarities I didn’t want to own as a teenager and young adult.

I’ve since understood you can’t disown a parent without losing part of yourself even though physical distance is sometimes necessary for safety’s sake.

At the top of the hill, Ted pointed out a terracotta boulder with feet, figures, and birds pecked into the desert varnish.

Maybe Dad knew about the celestial alignments that ancient civilizations featured in their sacred art and architecture. If he did, he never mentioned it, but Robert Bauval called the “star shafts” in the Great Pyramid of Giza, “pathways to heaven.”
No doubt, Dad traveled a similar path on an adventure even more magnificent than visiting the pyramids, but I miss our phone calls and his words, “I love you, too, kiddo. Take care of yourself.”

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Comment Here