Thirty years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner wrote a descriptive and poignant ode in Vogue Magazine titled "My Love Affair with Heber Valley."
Stegner was not one to bestow such titles lightly. He was widely traveled, a story-writer of considerable reputation, held a Ph.D. in English from Iowa University, and was a professor of composition at Harvard University.He also had significant roots in Utah, having settled in Salt Lake City as a youth, earned his BA at the University of Utah and taught at the U. from 1934 to 1937.
It is not unexpected, then, that Stegner should have discovered Heber Valley. He did so the first time "in the jolting back end of a truck filled with Boy Scouts," headed for a fishing trip in the high Uintas. This busy writer-educator visited the valley periodically, and it was on one of those visits, in September, that he wrote:
"I did not know it then, but the Wasatch takes second to no place in America, even Vermont, in the splendor of its fall colors. The slopes of Snake Creek Canyon were a wash of yellows from lemon to red-gold, sometimes on the same tree, but always in great masses from the aspen's habit of growing in groves. Light came off the shimmering leaves until the very air was gold."
Precisely! Only those who have tramped Snake Creek Canyon at the brightest of the fall colors can appreciate Stegner's shrewd perception. I recall an autumn day several years ago near the opening of the deer hunt. Walking cautiously down the canyon just as the sun came up, I came across a clump of aspens in all their yellow-gold finery, their crowns alight with the brilliance of the morning sun. Ah, yes, Stegner caught the canyon at its peak performance.
But unlike Stegner, I discovered Heber Valley early - I was born there, in a part of the valley he describes thusly: "I could see the villages of Midway and Heber, and another I did not know down to the south where Daniels Canyon cut through the southern spur."
It was in that "southern spur" at the mouth of Daniels Canyon that I grew up. My love affair with Heber Valley started early, but it took me years of travel and experience before I fully came to appreciate its intrinsic beauty and its unique character.
And again unlike Stegner, I have seen the valley in all its varied moods. I don't believe Stegner ever stood on Cemetery Hill in the deep of winter as dusk came on and saw the blue shadows deepen into purple as the lights winked on over the town of Heber.
Nor did he hunt deer high in the mountains over Midway on a rainy October day and see the wisps of fog gather into a solid mass over the valley, then part again to reveal the green, rain-washed valley floor under a canopy of fluffy white clouds.
Many years later I now view the valley through wider, more experienced eyes. I have seen the green fields of England and Scotland, the glories of Paris and much of Europe courtesy of the U.S. Third Army.
I have traveled the length and breadth of sub-Saharan Africa, including its biggest cities and most exotic game preserves. And I have seen the edge of the Orient on Taiwan as a guest of the government of the Republic of China.
Each time I return to a new appreciation of Heber Valley and its charms.
Oh, the valley has changed since Stegner last visited there a quarter century ago. Conrad "Coony" Gertsch, whose milk cows carried the finest set of Swiss bells in the valley, has died, as well as many other of the stalwart old-timers.
Heber City's Main Street is a busy ribbon of commerce, much of which passes right through the valley. A big new federal dam is going up north of the city, the Jordanelle, which poses both great commercial opportunities and a potential peril for the valley.
And Heber Valley is not without its natural drawbacks. Its winters are frozen in bone-rattling cold. Too much of its water flows downstream to Provo Valley. It has lagged far behind, say, neighboring Park City in capitalizing on its natural beauty and its snow-covered hills.
Yet with all that, it is a valley of unsurpassed beauty and old-country charm. The Heber Creeper's mournful whistle still echoes over the valley. Mount Timpanogos is still as breathtaking to travelers on Highway 40 as it was to Wallace Stegner. And its citizens are still among the most-traveled and best-educated of any similar community in Utah.
"I hate to write about a place I am fond of, because if I make it sound as good as I think it is, I may encourage other people, including entrepreneurs, to overrun and `improve' it," wrote Stegner.
To which I say: "Shucks, why not?"