The picture above shows a guide on muleback leading a saddled tour in Bryce Canyon’s undulating terrain, and provides a clue to this trivia question: How did residents of Boulder, Utah, get their mail before 1940?

No, that’s not a typo—nineteen forty. Well after wagon trains and Indian wars, the U.S. Mail came to Boulder by mule train, and the follow-up answer to “Why?” is simply that it took a while longer to figure out (and build) a paved road in this remote part of the planet Utah—Boulder is said to be the last place in the U.S. to get automobile access.

It still requires careful driving to reach the small hamlet—there are sections of highway with steep drop-offs on either side and no guardrails, but great views—and although we left Bryce Canyon late in the afternoon we’d checked into Pole’s Place before sundown.

At the small store/gas pump down the street I enjoyed chatting with the owner, a friendly woman who relocated from the Midwest many years ago. Like other people we’d spoken with since leaving Las Vegas, weather was on the tip of her tongue. Bad weather, mostly, including several inches of rain, and I realized that my hope of driving up to (and through) Capitol Reef National Park on dirt roads—the Burr Trail, and later the Cathedral Loop—would have to wait until another time.

This was certified the next morning when I inquired at the Anasazi State Park Museum (next to the store)—it would be some time, they said, before the roads were repaired, and so there was little else to do in Boulder except have breakfast at the justifiably well-reviewed Hell’s Backbone Grill and move on.

It was odd—here we had a bright, blue, sunshiny day, and yet couldn’t go too far off the pavement without risking getting stuck. There were a few red ruts marking where others had tried, if I’d needed a reminder. We parked a couple of times as we passed through Capitol Reef, but didn’t walk far—perhaps it was the lateness of the day, or disappointment at being denied a landscape we’d anticipated for months, but our pace quickened and we were soon leaving the park, and as the mileposts counted down I don’t believe either of us cared. I barely noticed Factory Butte as we passed by.

And then, up ahead, Hanksville came into view.


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