Pine Valley, the Cursed Pool, and the Kindness of Strangers

The first two weeks of our family adventure had some awesome highs, and some awful lows.

We stayed in Pine Valley, Utah. If you’ve seen the show Wayward Pines on Fox, Pine Valley is eerily similar to the titular town in the show. One road in, completely surrounded by mountains, only a hundred or so residents. Heck, there’s even a Matt Dillon Trail just outside town. Aside from the homes, the town has a fire station that mostly sits empty and a restaurant that’s open Friday night and all day Saturday.

And that’s it.

Pine Valley, Utah

In the House and Around Town
Pine Valley, Utah House

The house we rented was the 2nd home of a family who lived 40 miles away in St. George. It had just enough space, amenities, and yard for our family of four. The first two weeks held a lot of hustle and bustle. There are tons of parks within three hours: Pine Valley Recreation area, Snow Canyon, Zion National Park, Antelope Cnayon, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Grand Staircase are all day trippable.

When we were there, the kids caught grasshoppers, made fairy houses, and, most memorably, got an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons.

Getting them hooked on D&D is all part of my long-term strategy to prevent teen pregnancy. Mwa ha ha! And, I guess, I knew they’d love making up stories and pretending to battle fantastic creatures. For their first adventure, I found this perfect little two-hour campaign designed for young kids. I simplified the rules to try and make it as fun as possible for them.

Dungeons and Dragons

They took to it like dogs to water. The adventure I picked is made to illustrate how you really can do anything you dream up, not just hack and slash. Both kids figured that out quickly. Their first solution to any of the obstacles was to use their special skills or reasoning to solve the obstacle. My daughter loved taming animals, and my son kept trying to get any NPCs (non-player characters) he met to join the party. They did commit the cardinal sin of D&D, splitting up the group. But, they survived and joined back together for the final encounter.

They loved it so much, my son made up his own campaign while I was out hiking. We had a blast playing it a couple of times, and shared a lot of good laughs as a family at some of the things they dreamed up. I can’t wait to keep sharing this with them.

Our kids also went bananas over the local restaurant, The Brandin’ Iron. After our first dinner there, my daughter called it “Barnes and Noble” and the name stuck. Our server Sarah was phenomenal, and we requested her the other two times we went back.

On the three-day road trip down my daughter refused to eat anything, even if she ordered it. Tuna from Subway, deli sandwiches from Arbys, etc. etc. So when she ordered salmon from the Brandin’ Iron, we almost didn’t let her do it because we were afraid she’d waste a $25 plate of food.

Nope, she polished off almost all of it . And demanded we bring home the leftovers. And ordered it every other time we went there.

We went on two hikes in town, in the recreation area and Forsythe Canyon, which I did by myself.

The recreation area is a pretty little stroll that’s perfect for young kids, no elevation change, lots of interesting things to see and smell (the trees smell like butterscotch!), and a reservoir for fishing and wading.

Pine Valley Recreation Area

I ventured up Forsythe Canyon for several miles by myself, but never really got out of the woods. Great for exercise, but this was probably the least scenic thing I did the whole trip. On the way back, I did get a huge scare from a vicious animal.

I was minding my own business on the trail when I saw a massive black shape ambling through the woods. My brain flashed to all the warnings and misgivings everyone had ever had about solo hiking. “Watch out for bears,” everyone said. I reached around to slowly grab my bear mace and…

A cow poked its head around a tree. I don’t know why a black cow was hanging out two miles from its pasture other than to troll me, but I didn’t appreciate the prank. Once it spotted me, it crashed stupidly through the woods back to its farm.

Turns out, animals have free reign in Pine Valley. At night we saw a lost calf and its mother in the middle of the road outside town. During the day, deer and a huge family of twenty (yes, twenty) turkeys were regular appearances at our house.

The Cursed Pool
Our kids love to swim, so when we heard there was a pool close to town, of course we had to go. Veyo Pool Resort seemed like a lot of fun – it’s tucked in a canyon with rock climbing, raspberry bushes everywhere, and crayfish hunting.

Veyo Pool

Unfortunately for us, it was nothing but bad luck. My son got a thorn stuck in his toe. Sandi got stung by yellowjackets. My daughter cut a slice off the tip of her toe.

And me, I got the worst. On the way to the pool the day before we were supposed to leave, three dogs ran out in front of the car, and I hit and killed two of them.

The driving conditions couldn’t have been more perfect – middle of the day, great weather, kids were quietly reading, my phone’s GPS was off, and I was slowing down heading into town. But on the right side of the road, waist high grass grew right up to the shoulder, and I didn’t see the sprinting dogs until I’d hit them already.

As soon as it happened, I knew I must have killed them. I pulled over to the side of the road, sobbing already, and the kids had no idea what was going on. They were panicked that something had happened to me. Behind us, two of the dogs were lying in the middle of the road, and the third was sniffing around.

I called 9-1-1, which probably wasn’t the right use of the number, but I had no idea who else to call. My son was crying because he thought the dogs had a shot at living, and no cars were stopping to help them. I thought for sure they were gone, but then one started moving.

The next twenty minutes (the police officer was a long way away) were spent keeping the kids safe and waving cars over so they wouldn’t hit the dogs again. Once I got up close, I knew it was only a matter of time until he passed away – I wished I could have put him out of his misery but the only thing I could have done was run him over again, which wasn’t really an option.

The police and owners showed up just as he laid his head down for the last time. The next couple of days were rough for all of us, I had trouble sleeping, and my daughter said she couldn’t stop thinking about the dogs at random moments in the car.

The one bright spot in all of this was our hosts. We had to coordinate insurance and repairs (our car needed a new radiator, condenser, and bumper), get a rental car, and find a place to stay – all without any real cell phone or internet coverage and 40 miles between us and the repair shop. But they did everything they could to help us. Drove me from the repair shop to their home. Fed me and let me stay the night. Let us stay an extra night in the Pine Valley house even though they had a new guest coming in that night. We couldn’t be thankful enough for all their help.

Once I got a rental truck the next morning, we decided to not wait around St. George. Instead, we drove up to our next destination, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and I came back to fetch our car when it was ready.

Hiking in Zion National Park – Canyon Overlook and Emerald Pools

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir

Zion National Park was the capstone park in our adventure out west. We chose where we’d stay based on proximity. It was the only park we visited twice. It was also the first hike in the mountains we’d take our kids on.

It didn’t let us down.

Canyon Overlook Trail
The drive up was almost as much fun for the kids as the hike itself. Zion is on a shuttle system, which means no cars on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive past the Pa’ Rus Trailhead.

To get up to Canyon Overlook, we took the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway. The kids loved the switchbacks hundreds of feet above the canyon floor with no guardrails and seeing falcons catching thermals below our car. On the way up, we noticed arches cut into the cliff face that looked like the end of roads to nowhere, which we discovered were actually meant as “windows” inside the mile-long, one-way tunnel that cuts through the mountain.

Here’s where we got lost – the trailhead for Canyon Overlook is on the left as soon as you exit the tunnel. With all the cars lined up, we missed it and drove all the way to the exit of the park. But along the way we saw a mountain goat and lots of incredible formations. Up in the high country, it’s as if liquid rock flowed around the landscape and then froze in time. Sometimes, the best thing you can do when you’re in beautiful country like this is to get lost.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

At the trailhead, all were eager to break in hiking shoes and water bottles. The kids, as usual, were on the hunt for a perfect place to stop for snacks. We found one shortly after we started. A rock overhang shades a large area to the right of the trail, and we grabbed a few bites to eat. The kids loved climbing on a natural shelf under the overhang, and they probably would have been content to stay.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Instead, we soldiered past some great views overlooking Pine Creek. About halfway up the trail, there’s another natural overhang with moss growing under it that’s a nice shade spot. Just before this is a narrow bridge going over a sizable drop. If you don’t like heights or have kids that have a hard time being careful, you might want to skip this trail. There are railings anywhere there’s an edge, but little kids could probably slip and scoot right underneath the rail.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

The view at the end of the trail is absolutely worth the effort. The viewpoint looks out over East Temple and Bridge Mountain, and is one of the easier places in the park to see the canyon from a completely different perspective.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Emerald Pools
After our short warm up hike, we grabbed the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center (don’t even think about trying to find parking during late morning or early afternoon) and took a ride through the canyon, all the way out to the Temple of Sinawava. The narrow windows on the busses make it tough to see the towering cliffs properly, but step outside and it’s breathtaking in any direction.

To hike Emerald Pools, get off at Zion Lodge and head across the street. The trail up is fairly easy with some gentle up and downs. There were lots of lizards, beetles, and even a toad along the path that our kids had a blast trying to spot.

This was also where we noticed, for the first of many times, how many foreigners and different languages we heard while out and about in the parks. At one point, Sandi commented, “Europeans smell nice,” which I heard as “Your penis smells nice,” and I just about stepped off the trail laughing. The kids thought it was hilarious too, and I’m sure everyone around us thought we were nuts.

Lower Emerald Pool wasn’t that impressive in July when we were there, but during the spring months when the water is up and the waterfall tumbling over the cliffs overhead, you might feel differently. We hiked just past Lower Emerald Pool and then turned around since our 5-year old had reached her maximum hiking distance with the two trails we tackled.

Hiking in the Acadias – Day Hiker’s Paradise

“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Acadia National Park is filled with loads of snackable trails. It’s a day hiker’s paradise. No matter what you like, this park’s got it: mountain peaks, the ocean, woodland, freshwater springs, beaches, the list goes on forever. Maine was also the last “corner” state I needed to knock out on my quest to visit all 50 states, and it did not disappoint.

I got to Acadia too late to snag any of the coveted campground spots at Blackwoods or Seawall, so it shaped up to be a cheap motel kind of night for me. After I’d squared away a place to sleep, I made the most of my remaining hours of daylight.

Ocean Path
Starting with a quick stop at Sand Beach and Great Head, I made my way along the Ocean Path – a dazzling walkway along the Atlantic Ocean. The salty waves crash against rugged cliffs as you pass Old Soaker, Thunder Hole, and reach the Gorham Mountain Trailhead.

Ocean Path - Acadia National Park

Thunder Hole is a must-stop, especially if you have kids. This rock formation causes a natural chamber that, when the tides are right, creates a loud whump you can feel in your chest from the parking lot. There’s debate about the best time to go, but try for an hour or two before high tide.

Bee Hive, Gorham Mountain, and the Bowl
The trail to Gorham Mountain climbs up Cadillac Cliffs at a reasonable rate – you’re only ascending 500 or so feet. I took the lower path, and had some fun scrambling over boulders, rocks, and passing underneath mossy overhangs.

Past Gorham Mountain lies the Bowl, a quiet mountain lake. There were quite a few fish swimming in the shallows, but I was too eager to see them – when I leaned out to get a better look my sunglasses fell in! Luckily I was able to snag them and head for the Bee Hive.

Acadia National Park is known for its iron rung trails, some much more precarious than others. Where the trail gets too steep, or even vertical, you need to use iron bars drilled into the rock. The Bee Hive is a good intro. After the summit, the descent on the other side hangs you out over drops of a hundred or so feet. In reality, if you actually fell, you wouldn’t go that far, but when you’re hanging off a rock it sure doesn’t feel like it. I passed a couple with a dog, so it’s obviously doable.

The Beehive - Acadia National Park

I wrapped up my night on Cadillac Mountain, watching the sunset over Somes Sound and the Maine wilderness. If you plan on going, plan to deal with crowds, there were hundreds of people up there all with the same idea as I did.

On the plus side, you might overhear a dad joke. I heard one man tell his son, “Look! You can see the Maine-land from here.” He got a high five.

Sunset on Seargent Mountain

I hopped in my car, found my motel past Bar Harbor, and planned out my next day, where I intended to knock out some serious mileage.

Jordan Pond and South Bubble
I started the morning at Jordan Pond, a large lake nestled between Cadillac and Seargent Mountain. I parked at Jordan Pond House and trekked along the east edge of the lake. This portion of the hike would have been much more enjoyable, but it’s flat, easy nature meant tons of kids. Their wails and parents’ yells carried across the water easily, making it anything but tranquil.

At the north end, the trail heads up to South Bubble, a massive boulder sitting on a cliff’s edge. It looks like a small shove might send it into the abyss.

South Bubble - Acadia National Park

Seargent Mountain
Descending South Bubble back to Jordan Pond, I skipped over to the west side and grabbed the trail heading to the summit of Seargent Mountain. Along the way, fairly early, you come to an imposing arched bridge with a waterfall running underneath. It’s a great juxtaposition of historical architecture and nature. Past that, the trail steepens, with a couple challenging sections and slippery rock slopes.

Then the trail opens onto summit’s approach, with hardy plants growing among the hiker’s cairns mark the path. Four trails converge on the summit of Seargent Mountain, where you can see Somes Sound, Frenchman Bay, Cadillac Mountain, and the rest of the Acadias spread out around you.

Seargent Mountain - Acadia National Park

From here, many people probably head back via the trail to Penobscot, but I had more summits to hit!

Gilmore Peak, Bald Mountain, Parkman Mountain
I descended the south path and turned west toward Maple Spring and was on my way to Gilmore Mountain. Most of these trails are under the cover of the forest, and there’s lots of steep up and down as you get to the top of each of these three peaks. The view of Somes Sound was fantastic from all of them. If you’re looking for something shorter, all are probably better suited to day hikes from Highway 198.

Parkman Mountain - Acadia National Park

But coming from the Seargent side as I did, I got to do them all twice! There’s no real loop back, so I hiked to Bald Peak, turned around, and retraced my steps.

Seargent Pond and Penobscot Mountain
Once I returned to Seargent, I turned down the southern path towards Penobscot. Along the way I passed Seargent Pond, another tranquil mountain lake. (You see one, you see them all, right?) I love coming across these lakes in the wilderness – they’re mostly untouched by man, never by motorized boats, and are their own little self contained ecosystems.

Seargent Pond - Acadia National Park

The summit of Penobscot offers a lot of the same views that Seargent does, but has a much better look at Jordan Pond as it stretches out below you.

Jordan Pond House
I finished my hike at Jordan Pond House, where there’s a restaurant, gift shop, horseback riding, and tons of crowds. I wanted to grab a cup of tea, sit on the lawn and take in the surroundings. Unfortunately, it felt more like an overcrowded restaurant on Saturday night, and the host told me that if I wasn’t ordering food, I couldn’t get a table.

So instead, I made my way back to Bar Harbor, relaxed after a grueling, but satisfying day of hiking with a great meal and said goodbye to the Acadias.

Midwestern Gothic #19: Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic: Fall 2015 Issue 19And now, for something completely different! Our latest issue of Midwestern Gothic is all nonfiction. That’s right, essays and creative nonfiction inspired by the Midwest. We’ve only done this type of issue one other time, but this angle is a critical part of what makes up the fabric of the region.

While fiction and poetry can certainly expose and explore truths, hearing about someone’s direct experience or perspective is just as, if not more, powerful. A lot of our contributors filter their own experiences and culture into their stories, as most writers do. In some cases, the filter is dialed way up, obscuring the parallels you can draw between their own experiences and fictional experiences. But with essays and creative nonfiction, that filter is all but removed. That raw look at life in the Midwest is always a pleasure to read and edit.

Our hopes are that we can do this more regularly than every two years. Nonfiction writers sometimes don’t overlap with authors and poets, and it’s important to us to give this subset of the population a voice as well. One of my favorites from this issue is “Detroit, 2015” by Lori Tucker-Sullivan, a piece about her experiences with the city at different stages of her life, and of the city’s life.

Here’s an excerpt:

In 2010, after twenty-six years of marriage, my husband Kevin died following a two-year fight with cancer. As a widow suddenly faced with planning an unexpected second phase of my life, I decided to sell my home near Ann Arbor and move to Detroit. I am returning to the city of my birth. For me, this is an attempt to create a new story for myself. The narrative of my life, not unlike that of my birthplace, has jumped the tracks. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my life will neither be what I had anticipated, nor what it once was. I never planned to be a caregiver to a dying partner. As my children grow, I no longer have the same parental responsibilities. I may never again be a wife. I’ve learned how futile it is to believe you’ve written your story when fate wields such a capricious eraser.

Likewise, Detroit once had a bright future. In fact, it was often called “the city of tomorrow.” But as we look back now we see how tenuous a narrative that was as well. In reality it was based on unexamined assumptions: that a population segregated by redlining, discrimination, and fear would remain peaceful. Or that the city could thrive forever on the largesse of one industry that had no competition. Or that the vibrant middle class created by the manufacture of automobiles wouldn’t use the earnings, cars and newly paved freeways to flee the city.

Yet there is presently a feeling of slow and laborious rebirth. Officials are coming to terms with years of dysfunction and are taking difficult steps toward permanent change. In July of 2013, the city’s governor-appointed emergency manager filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, declaring the city unable to pay its nearly 20 million dollar debt. As the contentious process wound its way through the courts, residents and officials worked to find ways to save artwork and pensions, infrastructure and basic services. Now out of bankruptcy, the city is continuing on a mostly positive path forward.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic: Fall 2015 – Issue 19 for the rest of the story, and many others inspired by the Midwest.