Hayduke trail day 60: Touring polygamyville

May 16
Mileage: 13
804 miles hiked

Of course my debit card is not at the post office, care of general delivery to me. That would be too simple, too easy. I call my bank- they tell me they never sent the thing, because they packaged it fedex and then realized that fedex doesn’t deliver to general delivery addresses.

“Can you send it USPS?” I ask.

“Of course,” they say. “No problem.” I give them another address and Dan and I walk to the grocery store to supplement what’s in our resupply box for the next stretch. I feel sad today. Hurricaine is sort of a sad town. Just car washes and chain fast-food restaurants. I would be sad if I lived here, I think. But really I think I’m tired. I stayed up till midnight last night working on the blog in our motel room, and then woke way too early. Again. It’s time to get back out into the nature where I can sleep on the ground, like a normal person.

We don’t even have to put out our thumbs to hitchhike. A man calls out to us as we pass-

“Where are you going?”

He’s German, visiting the states for two weeks. He’s headed to the Grand Canyon in a shiny red rented convertible. He pops the trunk for us. Will out packs fit in there?

Today is the roadwalk through Colorado City- this roadwalk connects the Arizona Strip, which we just crossed, to Zion, where we’ll finish the Hayduke. Technically, one doesn’t have to walk through Colorado City, as there’s another roadwalk route that goes around it, but the Colorado City alternate is popular for, uh, cultural reasons. I am SO excited. I have been waiting all trail for this day. You see, three winters ago, when I was living alone in a tiny cabin in southern oregon, I got SUPER into reading about Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, aka FLDS, aka Mormon Fundamentalists, who splintered from the Mormon church not too long ago and are notorious polygamists. It started when I read Jon Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven, which is just ok- but what really fanned the flames of my obsession were memoirs written by people who had left the church, with titles like Escape! And SO MUCH juicy detail about the history, culture, domestic life, inner workings and internal drama of the church. And Colorado City, which used to be called Short Creek and is owned and run almost entirely by the mormon fundamentalists (the cops, teachers, ambulance drivers and postal workers are FLDS), figures prominently in these books.

Our new German friend drops us off on the edge of town at noon, and we begin to walk. The anticipation is killing me. I want to see the hair poofs!!

Actually though it’s kind of sad. Although I’d read about how financially successful the church was, the town seems kind of run down. Large, plain houses, many in a state of disrepair. Bare dirt yards littered with broken toys. Building projects that seem abandoned. Some of the houses have the letters UEP worked into the construction. This stands for United Effort Plan, and these properties are owned by the church itself.

From what I’ve read of the FLDS, the community is structured as such: the dudes are “given” multiple wives. The more powerful you are, the more wives you are given. (And so that there are enough wives to go around, it is necessary to ex-communicate the majority of the young men.) The women work, and hand over their paychecks to the husband. They also bear as many children as physically possible- though they are usually married against their will, the most fertile wives are farther up in the wife heirarchy, and have more access to resources to care for their children. So everyone tries to be pregnant as much as possible. Also, since each man can only legally marry one woman, the rest of the wives apply for welfare as single mothers. They call this “bleeding the beast”. Some men have ten wives and fifty children. They don’t see western doctors, and if a wife gets sick or has trouble during childbirth, it means she’s out of alignment with her husband, and god is punishing her. If a woman tries to escape, the church throws all its financial power behind winning custody of her children, and almost always succeeds. For this reason women rarely escape. As far as I know, the community was doing a lot better before its most recent, and most outright fascist leader (he’s a fan of Hitler), Warren Jeffs, was imprisoned for “marrying” a 13 year-old. Jeffs still rules from inside prison, but the church has been losing members ever since. Now there are all sorts of factions, splinter groups of a splinter group.

We’re walking past a large compound when five small, tousled blonde heads pop up over the high metal fence.

“What are y’all doin?” Says the oldest boy. He’s maybe ten.

“We’re walking across Utah,” says Dan. The boys’ eyes practically bug out of their sockets.

“Why don’t you just drive?” Says one of the younger ones. His face is dusty and he’s wearing a backwards baseball cap.

“Because this is an adventure,” I say. The boys stare at me.

A woman with a hair poof and a prairie dress appears outside the front door. She’s putting empty plastic water jugs on the curb.

“It’s so great,” I say quickly. “We walk through all these canyons.”

“And you just find a place to camp?” Says the oldest boy.

“We have a tent,” I say.

The woman is calling the boys. They startle, and the blonde heads dissapear. The fence must be ten feet high. I wonder what they were standing on on the other side? And will they be punished now?

I grow sadder as we leave town and walk alongside Short Creek, a shallow sandy bit of waterway that trickles below the cottonwoods. I’ve always been drawn to, and fascinated by, American subcultures. There is beauty there, in people trying to find a different way to live, a more fulfilling way to be human. There is magic and wonder in making it all up fresh, in shaping a whole world from nothing. Marginalized subcultures are the primordial soup from which new ideas arise, the new ideas that help popular culture change and grow. I witnessed this in my twenties, in portland’s queer community. Ideas dreamed up by gender-fucking weirdo artists who lived in moldy, rundown houses and subsisted on dumpstered toast and femimist theory. Ideas that seemed so radical at first, but were eventually absorbed into popular culture and are now on their way to being taken granted by most everyone. (The newly-accepted as being gramatically correct singular they is a small example of this.)

So as I walk along Short Creek I feel sad. The mormon fundamentalist church may be based on rigid power heirarchies in which women are basically property and hundreds of children are raised up in total isolation without any knowledge of the outside world, but they tried. They failed, but they tried. They really fucking tried. And there is beauty in that. Also, the hair poofs are cool.

We climb up out of shortcreek and suddenly we’re in the land of swirly orange slickrock and deep, silty sand again. Zion is close! We trudge for a while, stopping repeatedly to empty our shoes of sand. A thunderstorm threatens, but nothing happens. Camp is in the sand amongst the fragrant sage. The sun sets and the night grows properly cold, up here at 6,000 feet. Only two days left.

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