Red Rock and Dixie Chicks
Three women, three journals and one weekend in Moab at Red Cliffs Lodge …
Art: Don Weller
Dixie: It was a beautiful autumn morning when we left Park City headed to Moab. Down thru Heber City, over Daniels Summit and a right turn in Duchesne on SR 119. Rounded a curve and the countryside was ablaze with autumn yellow. Breathtaking. On down the road alongside a meandering stream we passed ranches, picturesque barns and a big ol’ moose in the pasture. Into Green River for the traditional half-pound cheeseburger, fries and a cold beer at Ray’s Tavern. Then the red rocks of Moab and a 14-mile drive along the Colorado River. On our right, we saw grapevines and then the entrance to Red Cliffs Lodge and Castle Creek Winery. Drove in and all my stress seemed to flow right out the top of my head.
Ducky: There’s something about the desert that’s purifying and cleansing … like the red dirt somehow exfoliates your soul, taking off the rough, calloused outer layer and leaving you smoother inside. Colors are like a painting — the pink of the clouds at dawn over the river, the brown of saddles lined up on a buck fence, the yellow of rabbit brush against red rock, the tan of cowboy faces. Something about this landscape made Molly, a San Francisco business woman whose skin hadn’t seen the light of day in months, say five minutes after arrival, “I want to be naked.”
Hollow Leg: We sat on our cabin’s riverfront deck, opened a bottle of the Lodge’s own Castle Creek wine and shared long contented sighs. The bend in the river, the red cliff mesas and the wide open sky combined for a stunning display. I’d like to take a snapshot in my head so I can call it to mind like a mental screensaver whenever I need a break from the real world.
Eventually we wandered over to the corral to watch our host, Colin Fryer and his buddies practice team roping. That was when the focus of the weekend expanded to include Moab’s terrific people as well as stunning scenery and recreational activities. James and Colin were good sports about having an audience. It was something to watch these real-live cowboys in action; then find them to be gentle, unassuming, interesting men without the expected bravado. When Dixie asked James why he roped, he said emphatically, “It’s fun!” And isn’t that really why any of us should do anything?
Ducky: I love the smell of horses — the sweet aroma of salve on their skin — of manure and hay, and the polishes and waxes used on bridles and saddles. I like watch-ing the ease of these seasoned riders, comfortable in their seat, loose in the hips. Robin, whose cowboy hat is several times the size of his head, sits on the fence spitting chewing tobacco, releasing the cows and simple “yep” or “nope” commentaries on how the boys are doing.
Dixie: Back to the cabin, got ready for dinner in the Lodge (which lasted until 11 p.m.!) Good ol’ cowboy grub (steaks, bakers and some fish, too), sat outside overlooking the river and sipped Castle Creek wine. Spent the evening visiting with friends made on previous trips. Off to cabin and bed …
Dixie: Day off? Got up early … who me??? Barn at 8 a.m. First adventure of the day — horseback riding. Right up my alley (or should I say trail). The other two were not as enthused. That’s okay. They humored me. Beautiful. Three hours in the saddle. Rode in the tree-canopied creek back to barn. Felt sooooo good.
Hollow Leg: I approached Saturday morning with trepidation, flashing back to the absolute breakdown I’d had at age 8 when faced with a horseback ride on a family vacation. “Just don’t cry,” I kept telling myself. My fears gradually melted away. It’s difficult to feel anxiety in such a serene setting; the orientation was thorough and gave me confidence in the horses and the wranglers; and there were others more nervous than I, which gave me some weird kind of comparative bravery. I arrived back at the corral relaxed and a bit smug at having survived — no, enjoyed — the ride.
Ducky: I am surprisingly nervous on the horse — I realize I haven’t been on one in nearly 15 years! And my horse’s name is “Blunder.” Great. I try to sit up tall and hold the reins loosely in front of me, like a low prayer, hands held a whisper apart at the waist. My saddle keeps slipping sideways, though.
I think it’s because of the laughably huge rib-eye and brownie I ate last night at the Lodge. That’s when I got my cowgirl name: Hollow Leg. I can’t stop eating.
I manage to stay somewhat in the line of horses, though Blunder has a mind of his own. Our cowgirl guide points out plants and flowers and rock monuments. I think about how many people in the world never get to see landscape like this and I feel lucky.
Hollow Leg: After a quick costume change and quick-and-easy yummy box lunches from the Lodge, we hopped into Colin’s big-ass truck and headed upstream for an afternoon float. It was late in the season and the river was low. Colin had brought along an inflatable kayak called a ducky. Feeling adventuresome, Hollow Leg and I hopped in the ducky while Dixie and Colin stayed in the raft. Was my first time in such a craft and though the water was cold, I really liked being down in it, so that’s when I got my cowgirl name: “Ducky.” Views of the rocks, sky and water from that level were incredible, and the tranquil float between intervals of small rapids — disconnected from anyone but my ducky companion — in fact, not even facing her ’cause we were both paddling forward — allowed for some frank and interesting conversation (note: select your ducky-mate carefully)! The small rapids were just enough to be fun but not big enough to instill any real feeling of danger. Storms were brewing around us, but we made it to the pull-out at the Lodge just as the winds kicked in.
Dixie: How fun … Colin knew all the history along the river — movie sets, who lived where, flora and fauna. Girls in a rubber ducky not knowing what they were doing — very funny. They survived. Three-hour float, back to the cabin, changed clothes, time for hot tub. Felt good after the river. Back to cabin, changed clothes, dinner. Seems like we changed clothes a lot. (It is a girl’s trip, after all.)
Saturday evening started with a tour of the winery — had never seen one in action. Kinda cool to know the winemaster. Amidst stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels, Colin’s crew bottle and label their Outlaw Red, chardonnay, merlot and cab by hand. Colin and the gang were great company at dinner and, of course, there was way too much wine. (The danger of partying with the winery owner).
Hollow Leg: From the winery, we returned to the Lodge for a barbecue on the deck and the chance to taste more Castle Creek wine. Make that a lot more Castle Creek wine. Colin himself grilled steaks and we ate a fun and hearty meal with him, his girlfriend Monica and cowboys James and Robin.
Colin, never without a cowboy hat, his eyes steely blue, got his start “selling car stereos and water beds from the back of my van.” He’s a helluva guy. You’ll probably have to ask someone to point him out to you because you wouldn’t pick him out as the boss. He works just as hard, gets just as dirty and has just as much fun as the rest of his crew. Colin personifies the spirit of the West. He has big dreams, he takes great risks, he loves his piece of the earth, he makes his guests feel welcome and he grills a mean rib-eye.
Dixie: Folks started wandering off, and as we looked around in the moonlight, we realized there was a silhouette leaning against the fence. Is that one person or two? Who is that guy under the cowboy hat and who’s missing from our group???
Ducky: Dixie’s chicks had scattered to the wind. Dixie was having a last smoke and look at the stars. Ducky had slipped into the darkness and become one silhouette with a cute cowboy, kisses stolen under the brim of his hat. Hollow Leg was starting to think about breakfast and the triple crème brie back in Dixie’s cooler. So the cowgirls sauntered back to their cabin for a nightcap none of them needed.
Ducky: Sunday morning came too fast and a little rough. The sweet lady behind the front desk took one look at me and said, “Honey, I think you need darker sunglasses.”
Hollow Leg: We weren’t quite as spry Sunday morning. Unfortunately, we’d left the tour of the movie museum until then. It was fascinating. The number and variety of movies, TV shows and advertisements filmed in Moab is amazing. There was a lot to see and a lot to read. I only wished I had visited when my eyes were better focused. It is definitely something to check out.
Ducky: The Moab Film Commission in the lower level of Red Cliffs Lodge is supposedly the oldest film commission in the world. The museum is truly worth the trip in itself. The local Chamber gave Colin a huge collection of film memorabilia saying they “didn’t have room for it.” John Wayne, Billy Crystal, Tom Cruise … they’ve all filmed here.
Dixie: Slower morning. More to my liking. Sat on deck, watched river flow by, enjoyed coffee. So peaceful. But finally we needed to hit the road back to Park City. Everything was so great we didn’t want to leave.
Hollow Leg: Sure, we could have taken the hike to Delicate Arch or Fisher Towers or Dead Horse Point. Yes, we could have done the Hummer ride or the airplane tour over the mesas or rented mountain bikes and hit the Slickrock Trail. But we never left the ranch.
Ducky: Dixie left with three cases of wine and her own name intact (we figured “Dixie” was a cowgirl-enough name as it was). Ducky left with a chafed chin (due to cowboy kisses and her river trip lifejacket). And I left with the desert in my soul and a journal full of memories …