History Returning as Art
Sanpete County, Part 2 of 2
In his shop on Mt. Pleasant's historic main street, Paul Hart lets me look around while he works and listens to the radio. It is Sunday, and Hart, a violin maker, has a handful of students at work learning to make and restore violins. Those which are done lay on their side in a row. Hart stops work frequently and looks up or out the window; on his radio is a broadcast of the semi-annual general conference of the Mormon church. On the radio now, the church's prophet is speaking in somber tones. October sunlight threads into his workshop, warming it, and illuminating the columns of dust that hang in the air. Outside, it is barely warm, the last good day of weather in October, and by next week snow will cover the San Pete Valley. Hart says nothing, the students come to the front room occasionally to get a tool, and I leave without asking how much the violins cost.
At Mom's, the biscuits and gravy are no cutesy side dish. The biscuits hulk on the plate, and the pepper-specked gravy is like a thick, immobile ocean. I eat reading the newspaper, and the café slowly fills with patrons, some regulars, some passers-through who took a short detour from Interstate 70. Mom's how do you describe Mom's? Maybe National Geographic said it best in 1996 when, in a story about Utah, Mom's earned a picture and a cutline. 'The Old West is served hot and fresh daily at Mom's Café in Salina, where travelers and townspeople stop for chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes.' The blurb goes on to say that Carolyn Jensen, owner and, essentially, 'Mom,' had briefly feared that locals would gravitate toward the new Denny's at the edge of town but that before too long, they came back.
This Sunday morning is still early. I push the pile of newspapers aside and drain my coffee. Outside, the sky is dawn's purpley undertones, about to give way to blinding blue and occasional south breezes. Filled to the brim and swaying, almost, from the near-gallon of coffee I just had, I swagger back to my bike and head out of town.
Inside Horseshoe Mountain Pottery it smelled and felt like the high school classroom where I spent a year as a freshman learning art. Dust, clay, warm light. National Public Radio played from a radio in the vacant workshop. Joseph, the potter, was not in, but commerce can still go on. Even when he is out the front door is still left open, and if you want to buy something Joseph has thoughtfully left envelopes, a scratch pad, a calculator, and a locked payment box. Your bonus for making it to Spring City and doing the math on your own? The pottery is all half-off.
Horseshoe Mountain Pottery is in a bright beautiful building in a city of bright beautiful buildings. Called at times Allred Settlement, Spring Town and Little Denmark, Spring City is the second oldest community in Sanpete County and shows it wonderfully. Renowned for its great architecture, the entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Restored buildings and homes line the low-density Main Street and fan out into the juniper forest.
I came back later in the day, in my truck, and bought four mugs. They made great Christmas presents.
Cramped up, I cycled into Mayfield and plopped down on the luscious green lawn of Mayfield's senior care center. A huge tree shaded the lawn, and I stretched as kids biked by and the occasional truck full of fishers lumbered down from the mountains. First called Arrapene in honor of a friendly Ute chief, Mayfield has since been called everything from Order to New London to Skinny to Frog Hollow. Mayfield was chosen because of the flowers that appear in the spring.
Mayfield is a gem of a town far off the beaten path. It is four miles south of U.S. 89 and about 12 miles south of Manti. Backed by the towering Wasatch Plateau, Mayfield is almost hidden in canyons and hillsides but when I saw Gill's Old Bonnet Factory Café, I knew I'd made it.
I finally ran out of steam in Fairview. Mom's big breakfast had worn off hours before and I had had my fill of sports bars. This last leg of the ride was a fantastic one - Mt. Pleasant to Fairview to Milburn and back by secondary side roads. Milburn is the very end of the San Pete Valley, a scattered collection of beautiful new homes and historic classics set against rapidly-rising mountains. Through Milburn I was lulled on by the bends in the road but finally gave up. It was downhill to Fairview, and I collapsed into a gas station that had a fast food joint attached to it. I don't remember what the name of the place was, or what I got, other than I sat inside and watched a steady stream of hunters pull into the gas station and stock up on supplies.
Fairview has a great Museum of History and Art and The Claysmiths, which I unfortunately did not get to visit. Founded in 1859 and first called North Bend, Fairview was an important hay-growing area where you could see fields of grain stretching south for 30 miles. Once, the town had a stone fort with 10-foot walls to guard against Indians; like most towns in Utah, it also had a small ski area for the locals. That ski hill, like the others, closed down in the 60s. Full again, I head east from town, and make a right. At the bend, the road turns to new-oiled gravel. This is not good - my bike has skinny tires that puncture easily, and the last thing I need today is to get a flat tire. I stop in front of a home where a woman is washing her car. She tells me the gravel lasts for just a mile. Satisfied, I bike the last six miles to Mt. Pleasant on this back road, downhill the whole way, the breeze blowing through my hair.
A great place to stay in Manti, right across from the LDS temple, is the Manti House B&B. It's small, with a cozy common area loaded with local-interest books and family games, and the beds have nice sheets.
And for a nice place to stay in Salina, check out cozy Henry's Hideaway Motel at (435) 529-7467. They are right in downtown Salina, a few doors from Mom's, and the motel has a pool, hot tub and in-room coffee.
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