My friends from Salt Lake always want to know why we live "way up" in South Davis County (though I'm closer to downtown than they are) and what we do for recreation up here, 45 minutes away from Parleys and Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.
For the first seven years we lived here, we did drive to the Cottonwood canyons or Park City for hiking and sightseeing.Then, having unexpectedly become horse owners about four years ago, we discovered a whole different outdoor world just five blocks east of us.
Everybody knows about the narrow and scary Skyline Drive from Francis Peak to Bountiful on the mountain crest, but lots of local residents don't know what's so easily available so close by.
Even from a block away, it doesn't look like there's much going on in the foothills above north Bountiful, Centerville and Farmington.
But get up there on the gravel road that's just 100 or so feet above the easternmost homes and stretches from mid-Bountiful past the "B", the "V" and on up into Farmington and beyond, and there's all kinds of life and activity.
Hikers, joggers, dog-walkers, motorbikers, mountain bikers, ATV riders, snowmobilers, horse riders and four-wheel drivers, most of them not welcome in the Cottonwood canyons anyway, co-exist quite well in the South Davis hills; in fact, I'm always pleasantly surprised at how courteous the motorbike and ATV riders are around horses and hikers.
The ups and downs are gentle enough on the main gravel road for conditioning bodies and learning mountain biking, and those with motorized vehicles find enough bumps and jars to keep entertained.
Get off the gravel road, and there are steep or not-so-steep sandy or rocky trails leading every which way, including a couple that go all the way to the top and the Skyline Drive.
It is here in the South Davis foothills that Centerville's Cathy Mathews has done most of the training that made her and horse Bub one of the top endurance-horse-racing teams in the country. They finished second at the 1987 Race of Champions and were fourth in July on their first try at California's Tevis Cup, the top two 100-mile horse races.
The scenery and variety are what draws people up here, so close to home. It's not the bland grassland that it looks like from below.
There are picnic-perfect shaded nooks, some with running streams and some with secluded views of all of Davis County and the Great Salt Lake, with its spectacular red sunsets.
The zig zag trail that starts above Parrish Lane in Centerville goes to the top for hikers and horse riders, but you only need follow it for a half hour or so to get a grand view of the lake. It's a nice morning or early evening outing.
The trail to Little Valley, which starts above Lund Lane on the Centerville-Farmington border, is particularly well-used and highly rewarding for half an hour's work, coming out in a forested hanging valley fronted by a meadow and creek. It's a nice place for a quick camping trip and is as pretty as anything in the Wasatch, especially in the spring and when the leaves turn their fall colors. The trail heading south out of Little Valley eventually goes to the Wasatch crest.
But the best thing up here is the wildlife. Hardly a ride goes by that we don't see deer or deer tracks, even on the lowest parts of the trails in mid-summer. In cooler months, we often run onto herds of 30-70 deer.
How many times do you see bald eagles in the Cottonwood canyons? We see them almost year-round - they come to fish in the lake and live in the mountains above it.
Last year, we often saw a family of four eagles circling together with the parents teaching the youngsters to fly and hunt. Once Mathews and I observed a deer walking on the hillside above us; it came too near a tree, and an eagle flushed, nearly hitting the deer in the head on its takeoff.
We've even seen an occasional badger within 100-200 yards of homes and city streets.
But the big thing the past year has been the foxes. I know people who've ridden these hills for 15 years who've never seen a fox up there, and in 3 1/2 years, I had seen only one fox tail disappearing behind the scrub oak. But this summer, I've sighted seven different foxes, spread out over about a three-mile distance, and one of my riding partners, Blaine Carr, has seen one I haven't seen yet.
The Department of Wildlife Resources says foxes, some of them not indigenous to Utah, are increasing in numbers, partly because people buy them as pets, then release them in the wilds.
But, like the wild mustangs out on the desert, it's still a thrill to see one. Especially when it's just blocks from home.