A pale, blonde woman in pink scrubs first asks my name and birthday. She has an accent that sounds Scandinavian, and she looks past the tears in my eyes as I answer her questions. She leads me down... [+]
For over four years I worked at a newspaper in Tooele County, a rural desert county in Utah. I had a coworker once say the county is a collection of almosts—it could be almost a fantastic hiking destination, if only the rocks were red; it could be almost an incredible boating magnet if the Great Salt Lake weren't quite so salty. But as it is, Tooele County is seven million acres of brown rock and dead sea. It is desert. It is desolate. It is lonely. It is the Nevada of Utah.
When I covered crime there, I got to see plenty of it. I was miserable. I was lonely in a social desert that mirrored the climate in its desolation. But I was also stuck there until a better job came along, so—thinking of the story of the early Mormon pioneer woman who threatened to leave her husband and the church unless she could find something of beauty, and who changed her mind instantly when shown the Sego Lily—I made myself find one pretty thing a day. Some days, I had to begrudgingly accept that the sunset before me wasn't terrible, or the Oquirrh Mountains looked okay, I guess, with that fresh coat of snow.
But the more I looked, the easier it was to find. The highway between my office in Tooele and my home in Grantsville followed the slope of the foothills, giving an expansive view of the Tooele Valley and the Stansbury Mountains bordering it. On the other side of the mountains is the West Desert, a place so wide-open that you can see the curvature of the earth. There's an absurdly small town at the mouth of the canyon through the Stansburys to the West Desert choked with juniper trees in a way that looks almost romantic. If you keep going west and south, you'll come to the Dugway Range, where the horizon seems to stretch endlessly in every direction.
Out there, where it is truly lonely, you can almost hear the soundtrack to a Western movie. You can almost see mirages of horse-backed cowboys or desperados. You can almost feel the stretch of time in the air and in the dust and in the baking sunshine. And even though it is still a brown and lonely and desolate desert, it is beautiful.