A lot of folks just call them “The Books,” which of course is short for The Book Cliffs Mountains. I thank my lucky stars that I have been privileged to spend a lot of time in the Books.
Especially time spent in the “roadless” Book Cliffs. It’s real fine country for horses and even better for mules. It’s kind of large for hiking, especially since there is basically nothing in the way of civilization on either of the four sides or the four corners of the roadless. If treading there the hiker needs to be prepared for a long haul. I’ve been holding my breath for half a century, always afraid that SITLA will allow drilling and extraction inside what some of us would consider the boundaries of that wonderful chunk of road-free country.
I have never been against drilling and mining in much of the West, but I must admit that I have always been selfish about the Book Cliffs Roadless area. I truly believe that it should be held sacred and roadless. I realize that makes me a hypocrite of the first order, but I guess that’s the crown of thorns I’ll have to wear because I just can’t help it. Especially now, because that awesome chunk of country is getting to be more lonesome and ever more wild, year by year, since the cattle and the cowboys have moved out.
That is due to the Nature Conservancy and other organizations buying up private lands and grazing rights, then turning it all into wildlife habitat to benefit the deer, elk, and now the bison that roam its ridges and canyons. I’ll always miss those real cowboys, as well, but mostly the Cunninghams.
It was lucky for my brother and me, as well as my sisters, in-laws, cousins, friends, etc., that Pop managed to sell enough gas through our little Phillips 66 station at the Desert Moon, with the help and labor of all the same group just listed, to afford to buy and feed several horses back in the late 1960s. We got outfitted with enough saddles, packs and other gear to start hunting the roadless Book Cliffs by about 1972.
My family had all ridden horses quite a bit, but we were real greenhorns when it came to weeks-long pack trips into the wilderness. Thank goodness for Old Uncle Kennis. Kenny Davis to be more precise. You have read his name several times if you’ve been keeping up with these pages, and I will do a full story on him in the next few months.
We called him Uncle Kennis for fun, as it was a nickname that Sadie Dutos had laid on him while he was fixing some water lines for her and George in the company of Tony Pene, another one of our 20th century locals in good standing. However, I can’t tell you why she named him Kennis. That would have to be done in private.
Uncle Kennis had worked for various cow outfits, including the Bill Cunningham ranch of Book Cliffs fame. By 1972 he was semi-retired without a retirement plan, so he puttered around for my dad doing all kinds of chores and odd jobs in his slow but steady way. Kennis knew how to pack horses and he also knew how to deal with them while camping out in the boonies. He knew how to fix tack, shoeing, and also a little about veterinary stuff. He was just what we needed, so Dad paid him to come hunting with us. Probably just minimum wage, of course, but Kenny thought it sure beat digging ditches and fixing fences on the desert.
Even with the oversight and knowledge of Uncle Kennis, who really was an uncle, but not my own, our first year or two horse packing and camping in the Books was often a comedy of errors and unplanned rodeos. At other times it was downright dangerous and damned near deadly. It’s kind of amazing that none of us got killed or at least maimed during the’70s and ’80s. One of our mares was not so lucky, I’m afraid. What’s left of her bones still rest on a steep place below the Book Cliffs trail where she broke her back.
In 1972, with the help of a topo map, Dad found our way horseback into a little hidey-hole gulch on the south slope of the roadless country, between Surveyors Hole and She Canyon. Brother Dana and I followed close behind. Uncle Kennis was not with us that time, but I think we learned how much we needed his expertise before we got back home. Dana and I were aged 17 and 19, respectively, at that time, and our old man was 45. The trails we rode had been established maybe 70 or 80 years earlier but had seen little use in the previous 30 or 40 years, judging by the way they were overgrown, faint, and hard to follow in many places. We frequently found where a limb had been lopped off long ago, so we were able to stick to the original trace for the most part. We saw deer, elk, bear sign — and no people. We eventually found the little spring Dad was searching for. It was just a tiny dot on the topo map. It was just a seep along the edge of a little quakie jungle on the one side and a nice little meadow on the other. It seemed a great place for a camp, so we sure enough established one.
We used that wonderful camp every fall from 1972 through 1985 while hunting deer and elk or just cooling off in the summer. Old Kennis was coming on 60 when he started turning us into real horsemen. Some fine times and the making of several good stories took place in those years. I’ll tell you some of them next time.