The Way Sam Remembers It – April 24, 2008

I was sitting on the front porch the other day when a strange car with California plates pulled into the yard. A tall, skinny gentleman with snow-white hair climbed out of the driver’s side and headed up the walk.

“Sam, don’t you remember me? I’m Dick Wilson,” he said with a smile.

I sure did remember him. He had worked with us at The Times for a number of years in the 1960s. My memories came flooding back as Dick, his wife and I sat, first in the front yard and later in the living room. During his years with us, Dick had contributed dozens of photos and stories for publication, and he became a close friend.

His memories of those years are sharp, and we remembered them together. Those years started Dick on a long career in daily newspaper work that took him to a number of places in the West where he was very successful.

Dick came to redrock country to teach school at Fry Canyon in San Juan County. Yes, Fry Canyon had a school during the uranium years that served families working at the famous Happy Jack Mine and the uranium mill at White Canyon, now under the waters of Lake Powell. Later he moved to Moab to teach at the popular school operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the building now housing Seekhaven. That’s when we got acquainted.

Dick had two major passions: photojournalism and his little red Honda Trail 90 motorcycle. During his time off from school, he explored a big bunch of southeastern Utah, photographed, and wrote stories about his travels. He later worked with us full-time, where he got hooked on newspapering.

We remembered a lot of his journeys and had a great time doing it. He took that tiny Trail 90 everywhere there was a trail and many places where no trails existed. Dick is best remembered for “inventing” the world-famous Slick Rock Bike Trail, when he talked the Moab Bureau of Land Management office into officially adopting and marking it for riders to enjoy. It was prominently featured in the book we jointly published on backcountry trails in the Moab area many years ago.

One day he borrowed an office camera and headed up on Poison Spider Mesa to explore. Adrien and I met him in Little Canyon on our way to Arth’s Pasture to look for deer. “Sam,” he said, “I hate to tell you this but I dropped the camera over the edge of Poison Spider Mesa. I’m going down to look for it.” I cursed under my breath and wished him well. That’s a drop of several hundred feet straight down. The next day, though, he brought the camera into the office. Its carrying case strap had caught on the limbs of a juniper tree high on the cliff above the Atlas tailings pond. The camera was a mess and never worked after that, but we developed the film and ran the pictures in the paper.

I am tempted to write about other Dick Wilson memories, but space won’t allow. Maybe some other time.

Along with his wife, Dick and his extended family celebrated his 70th birthday on the Slick Rock Trail. Dick’s family loved it, but he said his tired older legs wouldn’t allow him to accompany them very far. He did note, though, that the painted arrows he and the BLM crews placed on the rocks are about gone. They’ve been covered with black bike tire marks left by the hundreds of thousands of visitors who enjoy that trail every year. The accompanying photo is of Dick and his faithful Trail 90 that he bought from Don Knowles’ Gambles store in the 1960s. It’s no wonder I didn’t recognize him last week down on the mini-farm when he came to visit.

ByBy Sam Taylor