The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnView From a Campfirern”Been up the Hams Fork yet?”rn”I took a drive there last weekend.”rn”How far did you get?”rn”Ahiiost to the guard station. There’srna hellacious mudhole just south of it.”rn”How about Fontenelle?”rn”I ain’t tried it myself, but they say it’srndry to the Forest boundary. There’s twornfoot of snow yet past the cattle guard.”rnWinter recedes inch by slow inch fromrnthe high country at first, gains momentumrnas it loses its hold, and is gone suddenlyrn—almost overnight, it seems—rnleaving the aspen stands a fragile greenrnamong the black-green of the pinernforests. As the glaring snowbanks retreatrnhigher, the elk move up from their winterrnfeeding grounds on the sagebrushrnflats and calve in secluded parks coveredrnby arrowroot balsam unfolding yellowrnblooms above their fleshy green leaves,rnbluebells, flox, and Indian paintbrush.rnThe passing of winter uncoversrnWyoming and reopens it, revealing arncomplex backroad system of which thernstate highways are only a minor extension.rnFor several weeks after the snowrngoes the bentonite roads are ribbons ofrnpurple mud, mostly impassable evenrnwith tire chains and four-wheel drive,rnbut the strong spring winds and thernclimbing sun leach the moisture fromrnthem until they are pale and hard like oldrnchina. When the Aussie circuit-ridersrnare busy shearing sheep by day andrnpinching the girls in the bars downtownrnat night, and entire ranch families fromrnage eight to 80 are bloody from the dockingrnpens, it is time to vaccinate and shoernthe horses, haul out the gear stowed afterrnhunting season last fall, and peruse stacksrnof topographic maps in preparation forrnharassing the backpackers, granolas, andrnearth muffins in the mountains oncernagain.rnBut first a matter of protocol, ritual,rnhabit… love, actually. Cutting west torneast across the Tavaputs Plateau inrnnortheastern Utah, south of the UintarnMountains and north of the Book Cliffs,rnan enchanted fissure called Nine MilernCanyon stretches, debouching into thernGreen River directly above DesolationrnCanyon, so named by John Wesley Powellrnon his first exploratory trip down thernGreen and Colorado rivers in 1869. Onernhundred twelve years later, my then wifernand I discovered Nine Mile for ourselvesrnby accident while trying to find jeep accessrnto the Green, and since 19811 havernvisited the canyon each spring save onernor two, as well as several times in midsummer.rnBy April the plateau is dried byrnsun and wind, but the steep six-mile descentrnby switchback from the north rimrnto the creek bottom is often impassablernuntil May, and in really wet years NinernMile Creek floods the road that travelsrnbeside and above it. At Memorial Dayrnthe cottonwoods are in leaf to formrnshady glades swarming with scarlet-andblackrnalder beetles, the sun is alreadyrnhot, and thunderstorms develop mostrnafternoons, drawing a blanket of grayrncloud over the main canyon and its laterals.rnThere are still a few working ranchesrnin the bottom; several times we havernshared our camp with bawling whitefacerncattle, and once we were nearly overrunrnin a rainstorm by men in yellow slickersrnon horseback attempting to regatherrntheir animals.rnBecause I have discovered that exwivesrnmake excellent camping partners,rnI phoned mine again this year and togetherrnwe made the 250-mile trip fromrnKemmerer to Nine Mile where, plungingrninto the gorge from the north rim at sevenrnin the evening, we followed the creekrndownstream for several miles beforerncrossing and turning up Dry CottonwoodrnCanyon, past the startling Anasazirndrawings on the blackened rock face tornthe switchbacks at the canyon head,rnwhich deposited us at Peter’s Point onrnthe south rim a little before dusk. It wasrnmy first trip to Nine Mile in two years,rnNorma’s in three, but of course nothingrnhad changed. There are very few happyrnplaces in this world about which you canrnsay that after two whole years—let alonern13—nothing has changed. Even thernrusty lines gathering natural gas from arnseries of wells drilled in the I960’s lookedrnthe same, and one of them had ruptured.rnThe kind of progress we like to see.rnA quarter of an hour later we had therntruck off-loaded, the tent up, the firernring built, and the dead wood gatheredrnand were perched on the outermostrnledge of rain-pitted sandstone rock withrna magnum of red wine between us, surveyingrnthe immense and infinitely reticulatedrncanyon beneath our feet, therntawny plateau beyond, and, 70 or 80rnmiles away on the northern horizon, thern90-mile sweep of the Uintas—the samernrange that is visible to the south anotherrn70 miles from my home in Kemmerer. Itrnisn’t easy to shake a real landmark, outrnWest. Huge red and black ants crawledrneverywhere, snapping their jaws, and jaysrnjinked 50 feet below the canyon rim, exhibitingrna streak of white along each wingrnand two parallel ones down the lowerrntail and body. The far cliffs merged fromrnbeige to gray toward the canyon’s purplernheart; turrets of eroded red rock stoodrnlike chimneys from the steep pulverizingrnwalls; the flat green table lands spread tornthe ends of the promontories below.rnSunlight glowed in the ends of the pinernneedles; a black juniper snag clawed thernclean colors of the sunset; and a pair ofrnplanets burned in the track of the finalrnsun. Ah, wilderness! Oh, summertime.rnI arrived home from Utah to learn thernappalling news. For as much as twornmonths—the better part of the shortrnWyoming summer—I must share my favoritern(and, as I have come to regard it,rnprivate) mountain range with 12,000 torn15,000 members of the Rainbow Familyrnof Living Light: middle-aged hippiesrnfrom all around the United States andrnabroad who have chosen to hold their annualrnrendezvous and pow-wow in SniderrnBasin, a bare 60 or so miles due north ofrnKemmerer in Sublette County and directlyrnathwart my favored route of travelrnup South Piney Creek behind Mt. Darbyrnto Cheese Pass and thence to WyomingrnPeak, the highest point (11,374 feet) inrnthe Wyoming Range. The week before,rna topless woman had appeared at sup-rnSEPTEMBER 1994/49rnrnrn