There is a certain romance to the idea: A world-weary couple tired of the fast-paced city life moves to a small town on the edge of nowhere to start their dream business - not for the money, but for the peace of mind.
Millions have probably had that dream. But only a handful have ever had the courage to give up economic security to live out their dream.Add two more names to the list of those who did: Barry and Celeste Bernards, both of them former cops who preferred the serenity of Utah's canyon country to chasing crooks.
Barry was a sergeant with the West Jordan Police Department for 12 1/2 years, working everything from traffic to narcotics. His wife, Celeste, was a Salt Lake police officer assigned undercover to the Metro Narcotics Strike Force.
"A cop's life is totally negative," said Barry, who met Celeste while working undercover narcotics. "The negatives, day after day until you just want to get away from it all."For the couple, getting away from it all typically meant backpacking into the canyons of southern Utah, particularly the Escalante Canyon and Paria Canyon areas in Garfield County.
Eventually, they were spending as much time in southern Utah as they were on their jobs, Celeste says.
"We just fell in love with the area. And finally we reached the point where the best thing to do was take early retirement and move down here." And, she adds, it seemed natural that the thing to do was start up a store for backpackers like themselves.
They chose Escalante because of its ideal location between the forested Boulder Mountain on one side and the famed red-rock canyons of the Escalante River on the other.
The couple bought a sagebrush-covered lot on the highway running through Escalante and erected a sign of what was to come: "Backpackers Emporium."
What the ex-police officers had not taken into account when they started was the often-hostile feelings of local residents towards backpackers, who are often viewed as the town's arch nemeses in environmental battles with cattle ranchers and the timber industry - the economic lifeblood of Garfield County.
However, the reception quickly warmed after the couple changed the name of the yet-to-be-built business to "Escalante Outfitters," and word spread that the store would be handling the sorts of fishing and outdoor gear for which locals sometimes have to drive 60 miles away to buy.
"Once people got to know them, that they weren't out to change everything in the town, then everyone in the town's been glad to have them here," said City Councilman Sheldon Steed. "I think people were wary at first."
In recent months, there has been an outpouring of good-neighborliness, the Bernardses say. Dozens of local residents have volunteered time and equipment to help build the log structure that will be both store and home to the couple.
Kids from the high school have been coming by to help with manual labor. A city councilman recently donated his trencher to put in the electrical connections. Rangers from the Forest Service came over to help lift logs, and a local resident donated a piece of equipment to raise the heavier logs to the second level.
"People have taken their days off to help us with construction. Everyone's just gone out of their way to help us and make us feel welcome," Barry said. "In Salt Lake, people won't give you the time of day. Here, if you need something you get it right now. They are the most hard-working, good-hearted people we have ever met."
The Bernardses, in turn, have become involved in community affairs (Celeste was recently appointed a deputy sheriff).
And in the process, the couple may end up accomplishing something few thought possible: They are helping to mend fences between local residents and the backpackers who use the predominantly federal lands that surround the town.
"I believe people in Escalante have been unfairly characterized by some in the environmental community," Celeste said. "These are wonderful people. It is just a matter of getting to know them and sharing their concerns. There is a lot of room for understanding."
Barry and Celeste admit they are taking a monumental risk in quitting their secure jobs in Salt Lake and venturing into private business in an economically depressed area. "But we have no regrets. None," Barry said.
With a continued increase in the number of backpackers and hikers exploring the canyons of southern Utah, the Bernardses are optimistic the business will be profitable. They have paid cash for everything as they have gone along, eliminating the kind of bank loans that have doomed other southern Utah business ventures.
"Maybe it won't work," Barry said. "Maybe we will have to go out and get other jobs to supplement what the store brings in. But we are here for the duration. There is no moving back."
Added Celeste, "We are doing the things we always wanted to but never could because of our jobs. Now, we are living the dream, not just talking about it."