Those of you who have read CANAAN’S SECRET will remember the splendor of the landscape where jagged red walls rise abruptly above arid plains to proclaim the coming of Zion just beyond their summits. Here nestles a community of the Fundamentalist branch of the Mormon Church split by the border of Utah and Arizona, a tale of two cities in one named Hildale and Colorado City.
It had been five years since I visited the area, then passing through on my return from a trail half marathon in Page, Utah; there inspired to write the novel CANAAN’S SECRET. After secluding myself since the Fall of 2019 in defense against COVID, I enrolled in the Zion Ultras for a half marathon trail run taking place in Apple Valley, Utah, just a few miles from that fundamentalist community, during the weekend of April 8, 2022.
With time to spend before my race, I revisited the area and sought out featured sites from the novel to view with the perspective of a completed story. The landscape was every bit as dramatic as remembered and most fitting to the raw emotions and fringe violence of the story, yet the populace seemed far less restrictive and secretive than before. Indeed, a new feature on the highway at Hildale, a large Sinclair Service center with a Subway and store, seemed to welcome tourists to stop and refresh, rather than presenting a hot, dusty shoulder to the traveler.
Here at the store teens of the town gathered on dirt bikes and in UTVs to chatter before their next venture onto the wilderness tracks that abound nearby. As I gassed the Jeep, a shiny Sahara pulled in and a large man resplendent in tie and shiny vested suit climbed out and smiled expansively around him, a contradiction to the heat and blowing dust, every bit a character from the novel.
Next I drove to Water Canyon, down Utah Avenue, onto the dirt road descending to the trailhead. Here, too, were signs of a new tourist welcoming culture, including a glamping resort perched on a steep slope. At the end of the road, the trailhead parking area was packed with cars and trucks. In a nearby park, I glimpsed a covey of children on an outing with an adult, a mother or perhaps a teacher. While most of the children were dressed for the outdoors and the dirt and blowing dust in their shorts or slacks, two little girls wore chin to toe ivory white dresses. Traditional among the modern.
I stayed in a tiny house in Apple Valley, a fun and quite unique experience, close to the race site and featuring facilities most needed during an endurance run weekend – comfortable bed, large refrigerator, and hot tub. Oh, and a fabulous view.
It was pleasant to see the changes in this conservative community in the past five years; an acceptance of strangers to this beautiful land, an accommodation of the curious, while quietly preserving traditions and privacy, and the freedom for the young people to just be themselves.