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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Photographer Tom Smart, left, and Ray Grass go primitive at a Mountain Man Rendezvous in the Uinta Mountains in 1982. They had to hike in wearing loincloths.

A news photographer has no better friend than an outdoors writer. I hit the gold mine with Deseret News outdoors editor Ray Grass, who retired last week after 47 years at the paper.

On his last week of "work," Ray and I rafted down the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon and into Lake Powell. It was a typical Ray assignment, one in which we were on the company payroll to do what everyone else paid big dollars for and traveled far to experience. Ray, as he always does, reminded me that we were working and could therefore have no fun.

Floating down the river in a life vest in a calm-water area looking up at the brilliant blue sky and red cliffs, I had a deja vu moment as I recalled floating down the same river 27 years ago with Ray.

My wife, Heidi, and I had just become parents. Ray brought a former Deseret News copy girl, Carol, a blond-haired beauty he had met while he was an 18-year-old copy boy and later talked into becoming his wife. That bit of finagling remains Ray's most significant accomplishment at the paper.

In the canyon where the timeline is measured in millions of years, the scenery seemed unchanged. Ray and I, however, are now grandparents and hats protect us from the sun's rays where hair used to do the job. Life just isn't going to be the same without Ray at the paper. I started thinking about what might make the "top 10" adventures that I've had with Ray in the last 37 years.

1. Skiing: There are dozens of ski adventures with Ray, including cat skiing off Windy Ridge, skiing the Interconnect and powder skiing with Stein Eriksen at Deer Valley — before Deer Valley existed. My favorite ski assignment was at Alta following Alf Engen's tracks while hiking over the pass from the old Germania lift to get to the pristine powder on the Yellow Trail and Greeley Bowl. The 80-something, rotund Engen would look behind at us and yell, "We are regular mountain goats today" and then bounce gracefully through the untouched powder below. What a day, what a man, what a memory. On a side note, Ray has beaten me in every media day ski race we've been in. The old man rules.

2. Mountain Man National Rendezvous in the Uinta Mountains: Ray and I arrived with the promise that we would have a tepee to sleep in and authentic clothes to wear. What we didn't know was that they wouldn't allow modern-day clothing within two miles of camp. Ray and I stripped and hiked the two miles barefoot in a couple of leather hides someone let us wrap around our waists. It gave new meaning to the phrase "girding your loins." I also smile at remembering Ray needing to choose between his modesty and participating in the genuine sweat lodge.

3. Cataract Canyon: In fact, every southern Utah trip.

4. Zion Narrows: Hiking from top to bottom with Ray and Carol along with my 67-year-old father and my three daughters. It had always been on Dad's bucket list and remains unforgettable for my daughters and me.

5. Fishing: Truthfully, Ray is cursed. He can often tell you where the fish are, but generally he can't catch them. Because of the amazing Utah scenery, fishing is always an adventure. There are exceptions. Fishing with Dave Freed in his secret fishing hole and in a Lake Powell striper boil, even Ray can catch a fish. In fact, he caught hundreds one night on the Green River, but he was with the Division of Wildlife and they had to shock them first while Ray netted them in the middle of the night. He does have one of the largest assortments of fishing gear I've seen and he knows more about fish (especially whirling ones) than anyone I know.

6. Chasing bear in the Book Cliffs: How crazy is snowmobiling, snowshoeing and finally climbing cliffs to find a mother bear sleeping in her den with two cubs? I'll always remember Bill Bates, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, crawling backward through the cave when the not so sedated mother took a swipe at him. Holding that baby cub in my hand was one of the highlights of that year.

7. Motorcycling over the Donner Trail from Golden Spike to Wendover: Two incredible days of nothing but salt and desert where towns of thousands of Chinese railroad workers once lived and the Donner Party traveled. The trip ended with a tour of the prehistoric Danger Cave in the West Desert.

8. Yellowstone and Jackson Hole: There have been many great trips but none more important than in 1978 when Ray arranged for me and my photo mentor, two-time Pulitzer winner Horst Faas, to shoot photo essays for The Associated Press in Jackson and Yellowstone. Somehow I talked the pretty girl in my Art and Western Civilization class at the University of Utah to come with me and she later became my wife.

9. Sun Valley: I am somewhat hesitant to list this one because it might go down as the most fun with the least amount of work. There can be resentment at the rest of the paper because some believe that the outdoors writer (and possibly all sports writers and photographers) have too much fun and don't work hard. Generally Ray's assignments start before sunrise and end in the dark. No one works harder than Ray. The Sun Valley trip may be the exception. It took almost five days for Ray, Lee Benson, Randy Montgomery and me to capture the essence of Sun Valley's skiing and fine dining. That one would never fly today, but it sure was a good time and remains memorable because Randy (former director of Ski Utah) died in a motorcycle accident soon after.

10. Cowboying: I'm a horse owner and lover and Ray's stories have given me the chance to ride and work. The annual Antelope Island roundup is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I photograph almost every year. Red Canyon, just outside of Bryce National Park, is one of the most beautiful rides I've ever ridden.

Those are just some of the adventures that quickly come to mind, and covering the Olympics in Lake Placid with Ray didn't even make the top 10. Most of the photographers at the paper could make their own list of adventures.

The thing about losing Ray is that no one has the scope of his knowledge and connections. He leaves a job almost everyone wants, including myself. While some may be good at adventure climbing, biking, running and hiking, they may lack the hunting, fishing, skiing and tennis expertise. It would literally take an entire team to match Ray. Apparently that is exactly the direction the paper is moving.

Fortunately, Ray will still contribute stories to the Deseret News on a freelance basis. I can't, however, replace the friendship Ray and his family have shared beyond the D-News. He is a friend for life (thank the Lord because Ray also makes enemies for life, but that is a different story).

After 47 years, Ray is as scared of retiring as he was hanging off the cliff chasing bears. Carol confided to me that she has been careful not to spook him by making him go shopping or giving him a list of jobs around the house. Apparently, she has also kept to herself her secret wish for a long-term church calling to a far-off place. That would scare the hell out of Ray.

Hopefully, I'll still get a few of those recreation assignments that make a news photographer's job rewarding and I'll try to remember Ray's words, "Remember, Tom, no fun while we are working."


E-mail: smart@desnews.com