The rites of spring are wide and varied: Caterpillars turn to butterflies, calves are born, flowers bloom, grown men play baseball and Utahns take to the hinterlands for the Memorial Day weekend.
"It's the first big three-day weekend of the summer," said Southwest Region Manager Roy Birrell of the Division of State Parks and Recrea-tion. "It's become a tradition in this state to go camping."Unfortunately for state and federal authorities, popular destinations, like Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge, are inundated with holiday visitors. As many as 30,000 people have crammed the shores around Bullfrog in the past.
Law enforcement officials are once again gearing up for the annual onslaught of hundreds of thousands of Utahns who are expected to be on the highways and throughout the outback.
"We are making a major effort to get as many of our people on the streets as possible," said Utah Highway Patrol Superintendent Mike Chabries. "We don't want to have a weekend like last week (when 12 people died), but the potential is there for a bad one."
Chabries estimates as many as nine Utahns could lose their lives on the highways this holiday. Two died last year. To keep the number low, federally funded overtime will be supplemented by department overtime.
"We're encouraging everyone to work who can," he said.
Rangers with the state Division of Parks and Recreation will also be out in full force on the state's reservoirs and trails.
"Congestion and traffic control is going to be a problem wherever you go," Birrell. "Lake Powell will be especially bad, as always, as will Quail Creek and Gunlock reservoirs."
State parks rangers are responsible for boating and off-highway vehicle safety - the most popular, and dangerous, activities of the weekend.
"Self-destructive behavior is quite normal on a holiday weekend," Birrell said. "Seems like it's worse on Memorial Day weekends."
Parks officers say Memorial Day weekend is always a dangerous time of the year for recreationists, and special attention will be given this year to excessive consumption of alcohol, boating under the influence of alcohol and illegal off-road vehicle operations.
Also of concern is the cool temperature of Utah's lakes. Even normally warm Lake Powell is only 65 degrees, which can result in hypothermia within a half-hour's exposure. Combined with alcohol, swimming can easily lead to drownings.
Crowd control is expected to be the biggest problem for campers. In fact, without a reserved campsite, the chances of finding a place to camp are slim at best. All state parks in the southern part of the state are full.
"With all the four-wheelers and water-skiers and campers, we're going to have our hands full," said Birrell.