Before there were freeways or even paved roads, before there were cities dotting the map, before there were trains and automobiles, a few intrepid travelers crossed our Western lands. Some by foot, some by horse, some by wagon, they went where no one had gone before - discovering, uncovering, building for the future. Some left their mark on history rather than the landscape; some hacked and blasted through impossible places leaving traces still visible today. And all left a legacy of adventure, determination and fortitude little equaled elsewhere.
The stories of these remarkable travelers are told in the trails they followed and left behind. And the stories of those trails are presented in fine manner in "Utah Trails."The author points out that this is not a book of historical scholarship. Nor is it a trail guide. Rather, it is "a personal celebration of the past and the land. It grows from many years of exploring the remote places of Utah and from growing respect and admiration for the men and women who reached those places through hardship and danger that is difficult to imagine."
William B. Smart (former editor and general manager of the Deseret News) makes the trails come alive through compelling description, through well-chosen excerpts from diaries and records, and through a deep-seated feeling for the land.
Eight trails are considered: the Escalante expedition, Jedediah Smith's travels, the Old Spanish trail, the Hastings Cutoff, the Mormon trail, the track of the Forty-Niners, the Pony Express trail and the rock highway of the Hole-in-the-Rock band.
There are other historic pathways in Utah, certainly. But these are important ones and cover a broad scope of Utah history - and their stories are varied enough to provide an interesting patchwork.
Both past and present are carefully blended to offer up an enjoyable look at the life span of the trails. The writing is descriptive and entertaining. Consider this sample from the Pony Express chapter:
If there is any inhabited place in Utah where the past is more present than at Callao, I don't know it. Forty-five miles from the nearest pavement, ninety miles from the nearest grocery store, doctor or movie theater, Callao nestles in its hay-filled valley below the Deep Creek Mountains that soar to the West. Twenty-six people live quiet, peaceful lives there, and it takes long rides by horseback to assemble the eight kids who make up the kindergarten to eighth grade classes in the one-room school - the only one left in Utah.
Volume V in the Utah Geographic Series, this book lives up to the high standards of text and illustration set by its predecessors.
In this volume, the emphasis tips toward the text rather than pictures, but it is still liberally illustrated by some of the prettiest pictures you'd want to see. They set a dramatic stage for the unfolding stories, although in places it seems like meaning is somewhat sacrificed for aesthetics. After reading about some of the places, you want to see them. Where is the picture of the stinking, dry Pilot Springs, for example? Or the harshness of Death Valley? Or the Wilson Canyon Chute on the Hole-in-Rock trail? But that is really a minor quibble. And the pictures included are gorgeous.