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EGGNOG

            There's a land where the mountains are nameless
           
And the rivers all run God knows where;
           
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
           
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
           
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
           
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
           
There's a land – oh, it beckons and beckons,
           
And I want to go back –and I will.                    
              – Robert Service (Canadian poet)

Eggnog is the place.

   Smack dab in the middle of stockman Bliss Brinkerhoff's Big Outfit is a virtually abandoned locale - Eggnog, Utah – sometimes identified as Eggnog Junction – which serves as ranch headquarters, in a manner of speaking. Even though the Geological Survey persists in classifying Eggnog as a “populated place,” the truth is that no one has lived in Eggnog for many years. As a matter of fact, no one has ever actually lived in Eggnog, Utah, at least not fulltime, other than a few transient miners and cowboys. “Downtown” consists of a single building (hence the USGS designation), a one-room wooden structure with a dirt floor. Here is where the Brinkerhoff “boys” – now, I’m guessing, in their forties – bunk down for two weeks each in the spring and fall, and for a week to ten days during the winter, when they’re checking up on the family herd. The 10-by-10-feet line camp isn’t much to speak of, but it does have hot and cold running water and a toilet, plus it’s mouse-proof. A few cowboys have carved their names on the walls.
   Curiously enough, Eggnog is too obscure to merit mention in John W. Van Cott’s Utah Place Names (1997), or Rufus Wood Leigh’s Five Hundred Utah Place Names (1961), or the Federal Writers’ Project’s Utah Place Names (1938). Even to the folks who study such esoteric matters, it appears as if the place with the funny name never truly existed at all. 
To be specific, Eggnog (4,470 ft. elev.) is located within the boundaries of the BLM’s 33,000-acre Bullfrog Creek inventory unit, which according to the agency “offers outstanding opportunities for solitude.” Its deep canyons “make it difficult to view or distinguish other individuals who may be present.” The Brinkerhoffs’ land also encompasses three other agency allotments.
   Dead center in the middle of the enormous Colorado Plateau, Eggnog is situated somewhere between Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Flagstaff, and Ely, Nevada, several hundred miles from the nearest Interstate; it’s a ten-hour, 600-mile drive from Los Angeles (set your GPS to lat. 37.772/long. -110.845). Mexican Hat and Tuba City are within relative striking distance.
  
At 88 years young, Brinkerhoff is still sitting tall in the saddle, and he plans on doing so well into his nineties. He lives in the mostly Mormon town of Bicknell, Utah – once voted the Beehive State’s “tidiest” – and runs his 500 head of black Angus beef cattle, with a few Gelby and Sharlay, on some 100,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management-leased land allotments. Four of his grandsons are fifth-generation cowpunchers, working the same piece of Back Forty that Bliss’ Mormon pioneer grandfathers had slaved over since arriving in the early 1870s and breaking the area’s  first trails.
  When Bliss was growing up in the Dirty Thirties, a man’s handshake was his bond and differences were settled without the use of lawyers. Ranch mothers thought nothing of sending their 12- and 13-year-old sons out on the open range for months at a time, during the annual winter roundup, which lasted from October to Christmas. There was no form of communications then, and no roads, only the faintest of trails.
  A cowboy’s diet consisted of flour, sourdough starter, beans, barrels of sow belly pickled in brine, cases of three dozen eggs, big jars of honey, and of course lots of coffee to wash it down. All their provisions had to be packed in and packed out. From Bicknell, it took three days by horseback to get to "down below,” as the Brinkerhoffs affectionately refer to this desert country, and that was just getting there. Today it’s less than a two-hour  drive to the ranch, but keeping track of the livestock is still done the old-fashioned way –with plenty of hard riding.
   To Bliss, this remote stretch of southeastern Utah is God’s Country. Indeed, it looks pretty much the same way as it must have on the fifth day, after the heavens, the earth and the seas, the sun and the moon, and most living things had been created – including cattle –but prior to the sixth day, when Adam came into the picture.

“A lovely and terrible wilderness,” in the words of Wallace Stegner, the doyen of Western writers. And yet paradoxically, as the California gull flies (which inexplicably happens to be Utah’s state bird!), the ranch’s southernmost boundary is barely 10 miles due north of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell – better known to environmentalists as Lake Foul – which hosts three million recreational boaters annually. Only 125 miles to the southwest lies the Grand Canyon, drawing some five million visitors. But despite its proximity, very few people ever stray onto the Brinkerhoff’s ranch, which is just fine with its lessees. The land is sandwiched in a kind of no-man’s-land somewhere between Capitol Reef National Park’s Waterpocket Fold to the west and the Colorado River to the east, with the obscure Henry Mountains forming the northern boundary.  
   “For a certain kind of traveler, such a region as this offers unique advantages,” according to Joseph Wood Krutch’s classic, The Desert Year, published in 1951. “On the one hand, it is not far away, as the wild places of the earth go, for it can be reached from a center of population in the short space of a day or two [less today]. On the other hand, once one has got into it, one could hardly feel more remote anywhere in the world, and it offers a nicely graded series of adventures hardly to be equaled elsewhere.”
   Furthermore, he adds, “when even the most primitive road seems to spoil the effect,” travelers “can find someone familiar with the country who will lead them into places which, in actual fact, have been trod by few human feet.”
   To gonzo environmentalist Edward Abbey, this is “the least inhabited,least inhibited, least developed, least improved, least civilized, most arid, most hostile, most lonesome, most grim bleak barren desolate and savage quarter of  the state of Utah – the best by far”– at least as far as “Cactus Ed” is concerned.
   “The most God-forsaken and wild-looking country that ever was traveled,” wrote a 19th-century rancher and midwife named Josephine Catherine Chatterly Wood. “It is mostly uphill and sandy knee [projection] and then sheets of solid rock for the poor animals to pull over and slide down. I never saw the poor horses pull and paw as they done today.”
   "A vast and melancholy desert... a country of forbidding stillness," inhabited "by neither beast nor bird," as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote in a short story about the Mormon Destroying Angels.
On large portions of these mesas, benches, canyons, spires, sand flats, and badlands, there’s nary a tree in sight, save the occasional stunted juniper. 
   So what is it that makes badlands so bad? According to geologist Lee Stokes, “The best badlands are bad for a number of reasons and paradoxically the better they are the more utterly bad they are” – “practically waterless” and “hot and oppressive with bewilderingly monotonous scenery.” Badlands are also characterized by a series of steep slopes  resembling an endless succession of VVVVVVVV’s which makes them well nigh impossible to cross.
   Here, one finds “not any sign whatsoever of human habitation,” writes Terry Tempest Williams, “only the eroding crust of Earth splayed open like a great wound.”
   If I had to describe southeastern Utah, I would sum it up with two adjectives – shade-less… and silent. When we camped on the slopes of Mount Hillers, I got up in the middle of the night to survey the scene. The moon happened to be full that night. There was no evening breeze caressing the trees, tenderly, and no chirping of birds or any other sign of life. For the first and only time in my life, I could actually hear myself think.
   This general area, again from Krutch, represents… one of the few remaining ‘white’ spots on the map of the United States. Much of it may fairly be called unexplored. One would have to travel far to find another area less well known or, for that matter, one which offers few reasons other than aesthetic ones why anyone should want to know it [emphasis mine].
   From Lake Powell’s Bullfrog Marina, just north of the Arizona border, there are two ways to get to Eggnog, and naturally I chose the wrong one. Accompanied by my fledgling friends Matt and Martha, I headed northeast on Highway 276. A few miles past the small community of Ticaboo (pop. 20; the name supposedly means “friendly little place” in Anasazi), we turned west onto the unimproved Starr Springs Road. After 19 dusty, bumpy miles, averaging fewer than 5 mph., we finally reached the Bullfrog Creek crossing. Most of the year the creek is bone-dry, but the August monsoons had just hit, and the creek was now fully 20 feet wide, with a muddy bottom and a decent current. While Matt and Martha cooled down in the creek, I waded across it and hiked the half a mile into "town."
   Aside from the aforementioned cabin and a gravel pit used by Garfield County road crews, there’s really not much to see. Still, it’s a pretty spot, with the front yard, so to speak, studded with blooming lupine, globe mallow, and hedgehog cacti. Unfortunately, all that rain had also brought a relentless swarm of horseflies and deerflies. I sprinted back to my Buick, slapping my arms and legs all the while, and we all piled in and hightailed it out of there. (“You ought to try our gnats,” jokes Bliss. “Boy, they just eat you alive.”)

In all, my Eggnog experience ended up lasting less than half an hour. Hence, this chapter could really be entitled “24 Hours to Eggnog” (actually, the round trip took “only” six hours, during which time we saw no other humans), or “24 Minutes in Eggnog,” or, by rechristening the site, “My Summer Vacation in Horsefly, Utah.” I thought about trying to floor it across the creek, but opted not to chance it, having heard that a car or two has gotten lost in its quicksand-like sludge; so we turned around and headed back to Highway 276 – along  those same 19 miles of rutted-up road.
   It was a beautiful drive, but unfortunately also quite stressful, as we worried about getting stuck out in the barren waste without the taste of cool water. Tempers flared on more than one occasion. After we made it home in one piece – with some seriously jarred nerves – I never heard hide nor hair from Matt and Martha again. Such is the symbiotic relationship between a bachelor and a couple.
   Later on I discovered that there’s a much easier way to get to Eggnog. From the marina, you head northwest (instead of northeast) on the four-wheel-drive Burr Trail Scenic Backway (named after Bliss’ wife’s grandfather George Burr) which as the name suggests was originally a cattle trail. In about 20 miles, make a right on the self-same Starr Springs Road, only heading east rather than west, as I had done. From the Burr Trail, it’s just a mile or two to Bullfrog Creek, rather than 19 – and then a mile or two back to Civilization, as we know it. As an added bonus, since Eggnog is located west of the creek, if you go this way you won’t have to wade across to access it. (Either way, of course, one must still contend with the horseflies.)
   Old-timers believe that Eggnog is named after the springs which are located on the outskirts of town. The Brinkerhoffs pipe its alkaline water from a nearby ledge into their shack, for lack of a better word. “It’s a little hard but it don’t hurt you,” says Bliss, who should know, having swilled it for some eight decades. The sulfurous springs emit the odor of rotten eggs, hence the name.
   According to another, less plausible theory, which Bliss dismisses as a joke, local cowboys used to get sloshed on eggnog at this site.  However, that doesn’t make much sense, considering that beef cattle don’t produce milk, the beverage’s main ingredient, nor are there any nutmeg trees growing anywhere within a several-thousand-mile radius.

To put things in proper perspective, Utah (in the Ute language, “home or location on the mountaintop”) is the eleventh-largest state,measuring 82,346 square miles – exceeding the combined land mass of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. And yet it ranks only 38th in terms of population – about two and a half million.
   Meanwhile, the population of Garfield County (which includes Eggnog) has remained relatively stagnant, climbing from 3,400 in 1900 to only 4,700 in 2000. Its residents are spread out over some 3.3 million acres, which averages out to fully one square mile for every man, woman, and child. From Eggnog, the nearest town of any consequence is Hanksville, population 200. The county, incidentally, is named after our 20th President, James Abram Garfield, who was mowed down by an assassin’s bullets in 1881, the year before the county was organized.
   Excepting the indigenous Ute Indians, and explorers such as Dominguez (1776) and Frémont (1843), a few solitary trappers (1820-1839), and pre-Powell surveyors (beginning in the 1840s), Utah remained largely a terra incognita until 1848 when, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States acquired a huge parcel of land that also included all of California and Nevada, most of Arizona, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming – a bargain at only $15 million. Fleeing persecution, Mormons began emigrating west in droves and settled in the Great Salt Lake valley, after their charismatic leader
Brigham Young famously declared that “this is the place.” According to historian Theron Fox, they were convinced that “with their peculiar form of belief, and the hostility which it engendered, they could find safety and room for growth only in a new country, and therefore decided to emigrate so far west, that the United States would not be able to reach them, at least for many years.” This strategy worked– for a few decades, at any rate.
   Within two short years, the newly organized Utah Territory, signed into law by President Fillmore, boasted a population of 11,000. By 1880, there were 90,000 Mormons living in Utah, along with 507 Christians, an even 500 Catholics, and 258 Jews.

Today, there are 12 million Mormons worldwide, a respectable figure for the country’s fourth largest denomination and one that’s less than 180 years old. Of these, 5.7 million live in the United States, an additional four million in Latin America and Mexico. At the least, the Mormons are excellent proselytizers.
   Sixty-two percent of Utahns belong to the Mormon church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, and no treatment of Utah would be complete without a few paragraphs about this
interesting religion. Mormons read the Book of Mormon, of course, as well as the Bible, although they interpret the latter rather differently than Christians do. For instance, Mormons do not believe that we are born with original (Adam's) sin. (For more, Google their 13 "Articles of faith.)
   But Mormons are basically Christians, for all intents and purposes. They share the same belief that Christ is the Son of God and that he died for their sins. On the other hand, they also subscribe to the theory that Jesus visited the Americas; that God had a father and grandfather; that Christ was conceived physically by the Heavenly Father and the “Virgin” Mary, and that Adam’s original sin was both “a necessary step" and "great blessing." At the same time, they don’t believe in the deity of Christ or salvation by grace. Their marriages are “celestial” rather than the “’til death do us part” variety. There is not enough space here to delve into the Mormons’ Destroying Angels, who “used up” those who dissented, or their wearing of "temple undergarments," day and night. But you could always Google these matters.
   Additionally, they believe that after Christ is resurrected, a 2,000-year period will ensue during which Satan will be banished (the Lion will lie down with the lamb) and everyone will be resurrected as saints without Satan's bad influence, hence their nickname, Latter Day Saints.
   Like some other Christian sects, notably Pentecostals, they also believe in speaking in tongues and the laying on of hands. And they believe in going around the world as missionaries spreading the Good News. 
   The Mormon church is perhaps best known, and continually persecuted, for being polygamist. However, church officials have officially banned the practice since 1890. A few splinter groups still do it – I mean, practice polygamy. On the other hand, from my research, I gather that strictly speaking, the Mormon church is not a Christian church, Mormons are likely not Christians, but a Mormon can possibly be a Christian.
   Mormonism has certainly left its stamp on contemporary Utah statistics: to wit, the state has the country’s lowest rates of abortion, teen pregnancy, one-parent families, out-of-wedlock births, child poverty, divorce (only 5.4% among Mormons), smoking, lung cancer, and alcohol use. Conversely, Utah ranks first in average family size, personal computer ownership, AP exams taken and passed, and Jell-O consumption (lots of church socials), and comes in last in terms of signing up for the military (Mormons prefer to become missionaries). Astoundingly, compared to the national average, Utahns are seven times less likely to commit suicide.

All day long on the prairie I ride,
Not even a dog to trot by my side.
My fire I kindle with chips gathered round,
My coffee I boil without being ground.
I wash in a pool and wipe on a sack,
I carry my wardrobe all on my back.
For want of an oven I cook bread in a pot
And sleep on the ground for want of a cot.
My ceiling’s the sky, my floor is the grass
My music’s the lower of herds as they pass.
My books are the brooks, my sermons the stones
My parson a wolf on his pulpit of bones.
     – Cowboy song

Soon after the Mormons arrived, ranchers began migrating to Utah from adjacent Colorado in the 1880s, including Brinkerhoff’s grandfather “Big Willard” (his father was “Little Willard”). Originally the families raised sheep but switched to cattle after the land became overgrazed after the first World War. Early on in the Bullfrog basin, the Riddell family tried their hand at growing alfalfa for their horses but abandoned the project on account of too little water. In this Land of Little Rain (from the eponymous 1903 book by Mary Austin), annual precipitation averages less than 10 inches, officially making it a desert, which comes from the Latin desertum, meaning a deserted or uninhabited place, a wasteland.
   The gold rush commenced soon thereafter, in the 1890s, followed by attempts to extract bromide (used to make paper and sedatives), coal, and vanadium (for tempering steel). The only mineral that panned out
on a large scale, however, is uranium (medicine, luminous paint, nuclear weapons and, today, power plants). The big boom took place starting in 1952; three years later, there were 800 mines in the area; but the boom went bust in the 1970s, as a result of plummeting prices. Of late, the Tony M mine north of Ticaboo has begun mining“yellowcake” ore again, to the tune of 18,000 tons per month; a few small claims are still being worked as well.

One could rightfully make the claim – as some have – that this is the most remote place in the Lower 48. Rising up some 20 miles northeast of Eggnog are the uncelebrated Henry Mountains, the last place in the country to be discovered, surveyed, and mapped. John Wesley Powell spotted them off to the east while floating down the Colorado in 1869, at which point he named them the Unknown Mountains. Two years later, on his return trip, he renamed them the Henrys, after his good friend Joseph Henry, then the head of the Smithsonian Institution (which had partly underwritten the trip). Oddly enough, no one had previously seen fit to call them anything, with the possible exception of the Paiutes, who called them Pot-se-Nip. The first Anglo to set foot on the Henrys was Almon Harris Thompson, the trip’s official geographer, who also happened to be Powell’s brother-in-law. Measuring 60 miles from north to south and 20 miles wide, the Henrys’ Robbers Roost once served as a perfect, out-of-the-way hideout for the likes of cattle rustler Flat-Nose George Sutherland Curry (who was kicked in the schnoz by a horse), the infamous Wild Bunch, and other such zwielichtige (shadowy figures). Gruesome legend has it that before George’s body was dumped into a common grave, souvenir hunters ripped away portions of his skin.
   Still “unknown” to most Americans, even the most avid hiker, the Henrys are world-famous to geologists, being a prime example of laccoliths, “huge blisters in the earth’s surface” which formed 25 to 30
million years ago, according to the Utah Wilderness Coalition, “when molten lava, boiling upward from the under world, encountered a roof of sedimentary rock so thick and so tough that it could bend upward,
without rupturing and allowing the lava to escape to the surface…After the mountains were in place, erosion gradually removed thesurface rocks, revealing the volcanic core of the range.” Or, to put it simply, they’re volcanoes that never quite blew their tops.
   The Henrys are also popular with rockhounds. Most of Utah was once at the bottom of a great sea and here one can find plenty of petecypods and cephalopods (prehistoric bivalves and mollusks), petrified wood
galore, and even fossilized dung (coprolites). Dinosaurs, too, once roamed here, among them the diplodocus, who consumed 700 pounds of ferns and other greens every day; the supersaurus, who weighed in at 120,000 pounds (big as a blue whale) and stood 55 feet tall, and the allosaurus, one of the meanest sauropods to ever live.
   Two of the Henrys’ peaks rise to over 11,000 feet, looming some six to eight thousand feet above a sea of sandstone cut by deep canyons. On top is sub-Alpine vegetation, quite a contrast from the surrounding desert scrub lowlands. In the fall and winter, the cows run in the desert; in the winter, they head north to the Henrys’ slopes, where the pickings are considerably less slim. For the rest of the year they browse on whatever’s available in this “biologically barren” area. There’s little grass here, so their diet consists mostly of salty, spiny shrubs like white greasewood, Mormon tea and, especially, the ubiquitous four-wing saltbush (genus atriplex), which ranchers refer to euphemistically as “Castle Valley clover,”a plant so hardy that it even grows in sand dunes, and perhaps the West’s most common plant. However, the cows aren’t picky. During a particularly bad drought, they’ll graze on creosotebush, dogweed,yucca, even prickly pear: “About everything you looked at,” says Bliss, “a cow eats.” Somehow they have sense enough to steer clear of the woolly loco, a highly toxic weed that manages to stay green when all the other plants look dead.
   Along the Henry’s Crescent Creek, the ghost town of Eagle City is located in the vicinity of the
Lost Josephine Mine, which has yet to be found; Spaniards allegedly dug up gold there in the 1600s. During its heyday at the turn of the 20th Century, Eagle City was hopping, with a store, hotel, post office, doctor’s office, dance hall, and two saloons. After its mine shafts got flooded and the bromide mill burned to the ground in 1911, the Denver & Rio Grande abandoned its plan to build a branch line from Green River. Everyone packed up and left – that is, everyone except for Frank Lawler, who stayed on, alone. Only the rubble of a few stone houses survives, and although I’ve never been there, it’s been described as very remote and very beautiful. Like the poem, a valley unpeopled and still….

The Henrys are also home to a free-ranging herd of bison aka the American buffalo. In 1941, eighteen of this non-native species were dropped off north of the mountains, five bulls were added the following year, and this number has since steadily grown to 340 adults and calves, who live on the western slopes and move up to the higher mesas in the winter. Sometimes the bison have strayed into the Brinkerhoffs’ corral and spent two or three days there. According to Bliss, they seem to get along famously, even to the point of interbreeding.
   The forbidding names for this area’s natural features pretty much tell the whole story: Starvation Creek, the Bone and Paradox valleys, Tarantula and No Man mesas (the latter is hard to climb up onto), Scorpion Gulch, Labyrinth Canyon, and the Dirty Devil River, which happens to be our last-named body of water. The topographical map (“Ant Knoll" quadrangle) is also dotted with two or three ominous-sounding “Black Holes,” places where one goes, never to return.
Spending just a single day marooned in this parched, desolate landscape would no doubt strike terror in the hearts of most city dwellers, but as they say, one man’s steer is another man’s burger. Bliss Brinkerhoff thinks that “I’ve lived in the best part of the world. There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars, hearing the coyotes yip and howl, and watching the shooting stars (and UFOs) streak across the night sky. Not to mention getting away from the telephone for a few days. Contrary to what the uninitiated might think, the desert is quite alive, and it has a way of growing on you.  
   “A guy don’t like that country,” he concludes, “there’s something  wrong with him.”


Picture
The Henry Mountains, near Eggnog, the last place to be named in Lower 48. Author photo
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