One of the advantages of living in southwestern Utah is that I drive through Zion National Park to get to the trails on the east side of the park. It is one of the most beautiful stretches of two-lane on the planet. To complete the east-west road, crews bored a long tunnel through a mountain. The tunnel is a remarkable engineering achievement, but, as it was completed in 1930, some of today's vehicles are a bit too large. So, when there's a motorhome or trailer going through, the Park Service stops the opposing lane at the tunnel mouth, allowing the larger vehicles to drive down the center of the tunnel.
As I was waiting in line for the big vehicles to clear the tunnel, I chatted with the ranger detailed to control traffic. She told me it seemed to her that people visiting the park were less happy than they used to be. There were less smiles and more surliness, arguments, and just plain negativity than she'd ever seen in her long career in the National Park Service.
I reflected on this and decided that what the ranger said was true. This negativity can be seen when meeting others in the backcountry, too.
A while ago, I was leading a group through the desert and came upon a hiker walking down the road. The hiker had hundreds of miles of hiking trails to use, but he chose to hike down the ONE dirt road open to vehicles in this area. It being the desert and you can never have too much water, I stopped, said hello and asked the hiker if he would like a bottle of water. He glared at me and didn't say anything, so I shrugged and started moving. As I did, he spit on the back of my Jeep. He ran off into the desert when I hit the brakes.
I was driving down Pritchett canyon in the Moab area and noticed that a mountain biker was coming up behind me. I had to wait for some poky friends, so I pulled over. As she went by, she yelled, "A****le!" Why so much hatred? All I had done was pull over to let her by.
Lately, I've been doing a lot of exploring in southwestern Utah, northern Arizona, and southeastern Nevada, to find good trails to write about in the magazine. As I meet others driving trucks, Jeeps, or ATV/UTVs, I always smile and wave to a fellow backcountry aficionado. They seldom smile or wave back. What's up with that? Is everyone mad that they're not the ONLY people in the outback?
On the same trip that I talked with the Zion N.P. ranger, I was airing down after pulling off the highway at the trailhead. There was a herd of bison nearby. I heard some snuffling and grunting noises, looked up and was staring into the angry eyes of the lead bull. He stood over six feet tall, had sharp horns, and was glaring while pawing the ground and getting nearer. I'm not frightened of animals, so I told him to go away. He ignored me and kept coming, bringing his herd with him. I decided I better air down further up the road. Even animals are angry these days.
When I meet someone in the backcountry, I'm going to continue to smile and wave. If they don't return the positive attitude, I'll try to ignore it and travel on. Hard to do? Yes, but we have many reasons to be happy, even in these tough times. The fact that we're still able to explore and enjoy the backcountry is reason enough to be positive and happy. In the words of "Sheriff John" Rovick:
"Come on now,
Laugh and be happy and the world will laugh with you.
When people see you smiling they can't help smiling too.
When you look out the window to a dark and gloomy day,
Break out a smile and in a while the gloom will go away.
So laugh and be happy with a merry melody
A song will make a hat rack look like a Christmas tree.
Get rid of worry, in a hurry, chase the blues away
Just laugh and be happy all the livelong day."