I don’t usually like vacations.
You rush like mad getting everything arranged so you can turn your job over to someone else. So by the time your vacation starts, you’re bushed and you really need a vacation.
Then the real fun begins as you start to hemorrhage money. And when you come back, it seems like there’s a week’s worth of work waiting for you. By the time you get caught up, you need another vacation.
My oldest daughter and her husband came for a visit last week. They live in the Seattle area with my other four, grown children, and this was their first visit to Mesquite.
When she was in elementary school back in the early ’70s we lived in Las Vegas. Now she’s known as Laura, but back then, she was “Lori” and I still think of her that way.
Interstate 15 ended at the Cheyenne exit in those days when 180,000 people lived in the Las Vegas Valley and old U.S. Route 91stretched off into the vast desert toward Mesquite, Arizona and Utah.
I drove an old, four-banger Econoline van that lacked seats in the back. Instead, we had a mattress back there and several, large throw pillows for our young brood to sprawl on.
The air conditioning was what we called a 2-60: two windows open at 60 miles per hour. I’ve no clue how we were able to survive in a vehicle without air conditioning back then. Maybe it was cooler in those long lost days… you know, that global warming thing.
Some of Lori’s fondest memories are the trips we made each summer to Zion National Park. And she wanted to make that trip again.
Well, the park still is there. But things have changed a bit in the 35-odd years since my young family made those summer treks.
“Dad, if we see any roadside fruit stands, we’re going to stop,” she told me before relating to her husband how she and her siblings would gorge themselves on the Utah cherries we would buy by the lug at stands along the roadway.
Lori and Chris, her husband, had flown into Las Vegas and rented a new Mustang convertible to drive to Mesquite.
Not wanting to shatter her memories, I suggested we avoid I-15 and take old Highway 91 through Beaver Dam and on to St. George.
I had Chris turn onto Hillside Drive and parallel I-15. “Welcome to Arizona,” I told them as we crossed the state line.
Seattle has some gorgeous scenery, but not a lot of desert landscapes. As we drove through the small canyons and arroyos between I-15 and the Virgin River, they oohed and aahed and stopped to take some photos.
We crossed under I-15 and drove through Beaver Dam. They noticed the lottery ticket sales at the Beaver Dam Lodge and Beaver Dam Bar. Too bad we didn’t stop.
I received an e-mail Tuesday about the Beaver Dam Lodge. They had recently sold a lottery ticket that won $1 million, but it had yet to be claimed. “Check your numbers!” the e-mail ordered.
We could have been the big winners… but we didn’t stop.
We drove on toward the Beaver Dam Wash and the Utah state line.
As we drove over the pass with its wildfire-stunted trees and down into Utah, the Red Cliffs in the distance again elicited appropriate sounds of appreciation and more photo stops.
In Santa Clara, just outside of St. George, I had Chris stop the car at Frei’s, the last remaining fruit stand on Highway 91.
Lori remembered Santa Clara the way it was before the Virgin River Gorge was finished in 1978 and I-15 diverted the northbound traffic. Many of the residents in Santa Clara owned orchards and gardens and sold their fruit and produce to passing motorists.
But as traffic dwindled, the fruit stands went out of business.
Landon and Wanda Frie had been operating their fruit stand since setting up their first roadside card table in their front yard in 1956. As the other fruit stands closed, they were determined to stay open.
According to their son, Bryce, his folks retired in 2007 when they were in their 90s and turned the fruit stand over to him and his sister Vicki. They remodeled it and expanded it.
Lori was thrilled. But much of the produce actually came from Colorado. Bryce explained the shortage of Bee Hive State fruit, “We grow houses now in Utah.”
Still, we bought some fresh fruit to munch on for the rest of our journey to Zion.
Like fruit, memories stay fresh for just so long. And my memories of Zion were well beyond their “sell-by” date.
As we drove into the canyon, I was amazed by the city that had grown up there, with trendy shops, gourmet restaurants and pricey rooms. It seems like there weren’t a lot of services there in our earlier trips. And a hamburger wouldn’t have cost anywhere close to $10.
And nor did it cost $25 to enter the park, as it does today. And there are signs everywhere everywhere: “Safety is your responsibility.”
Like many national parks and monuments, as the population has grown and their usage increased, access gets limited. We could no longer drive to parts of the park that were open in those simpler years. Now you parked and hopped the shuttles that took you to the lodge or up some of the canyons.
But with all the changes, as our modern world has encroached on the park, the crags and cliffs still are magnificent, and the Virgin River flows through it pure and sweet.
What a beautiful, treacherous thing the river is. The river is our lifeblood in Mesquite, although we live under the threat of flooding and the occasional tragic drowning.
But in Zion, not far from its headwaters where the East Fork Virgin River flows into the North Fork Virgin River, the river seems peaceful and serene, until you notice the uprooted trees and bushes a dozen feet above the water level.
The ranger on the shuttle cautioned us to watch the gathering clouds and noted how rapidly the Virgin River can swell into a torrent during a cloud burst, which has closed Zion Park to visitors on several occasions in recent years.
The ranger said although the Virgin River is just 162 miles long, it drops an incredible 2,559 feet from the highlands of Zion to where it empties into the north arm of Lake Mead, and carries away tons of silt and dirt.
We spent just the day at Zion. Lori loved it, although she admitted it didn’t match her ancient childhood memories and expectations.
We drove back on I-15 and traveled through the Virgin River Gorge.
Everything had changed except for the river. And now, as a Mesquite resident, I had a greater respect for the river that had carved Zion from its sandstone foundations and much of the landscape through Northern Arizona and surrounding Mesquite.
We went out to dinner a few times, before they left for the Grand Canyon.
No, I usually don’t like vacations. But this one was pretty good.