In October 2003, Michele and I went to Utah to do some hiking. We weren’t going to backpack, just hike. When we got there, Utah was packed. Especially Zion where we had hoped to have a couple of day hikes. The Park Rangers suggested that we hike in an area south of Zion that – as I recall – had been annexed or was going to be annexed.
To get there, we had to drive south into Arizona, around part of the Cannan Plateau and then back north at Colorado City Arizona and Hildale Utah – which seem to be the same actual burg on both sides of the state border – into Squirrel Canyon leading into the actual Cannan Plateau, itself. What was shocking, what I hadn’t remembered from reading Under the Banner of Heaven, is that Colorado City/Hildale are the home to an inordinate number of polygamists.
I don’t have pictures of the large number of huge, cheaply built, homes – the backs had lots of windows lined up making them look like cheap hotels – with playgrounds behind them. I also don’t have pictures of the little girls dressed like pioneer girls or mothers dressed in burqas without the head covering (uh? mumus?). I felt uncomfortable taking photos of these people who were different and clearly wanted to be away from everyone. They weren’t hostile, but they were not indifferent either, and friendly was not in the picture.
As luck would have it, a couple of days later, Michele picked up a paper with a long article on the town and it’s inhabitants which had become somewhat of a local problem. It turns out that polygamy being illegal has worked out very well for these particular polygamists. The husband is married to one legal wife – legal being defined as State sanctioned in this context – his other wives, considered non-wives, by the State, are single mothers. So this guy, let’s call him Brigham, is living with a bunch of women of whom only one is his lawful wedded wife. The rest are still living with him and are getting State support. The more illegal wives Brigham has, the more State support money comes in to the household. In effect, the State is paying him to marry – as far as Brigham is concerned – as many woman as possible.
I don’t want to say that it is a scam, but it surely is an unintended consequence of making polygamy illegal.
During the many times I have argued with people over Gay Marriage, people sometimes argue against it because they claim it is a gateway issue. What I mean by that is they sometimes say, Well, I’m not against Gay Marriage, but it would open the gate to, other, non-traditional marriages like polygamy. Leaving aside that polygamy is pretty traditional, if a group of women want to marry the same guy, so what? Why should we – we being our representatives in this case – try to stop it. If the women are girls or they don’t want to marry this guy, then that is a different story. But if it is consensual, then why should the State stop it. And, if the marriage isn’t consensual, having polygamous marriages out in the open would make them easier to police.
Having the polygamists hiding does nothing to improve anybodies’ life and, in this case, it is costing us money.
Back at the Squirrel Canyon, our plan was to camp near the trailhead but the trailhead was also near the town and camping there felt like intruding. I had the feeling that sending us there was a little like the Federal Government pissing all around the area to establish their ownership. Either way, it was a great campsite with a great view and nobody around and we both still felt slightly uncomfortable.
The hike, however, was great. Up a narrow canyon to a spectacular plateau.
Where, while sitting on a outcrop, having lunch, we heard and then saw a Big Horn Mountain Sheep. Hearing the hollow clacking of hoofs on stone was even better than seeing him, that is, until we actually saw him.
The next day, we packed up and moved to a campsite closer to Lake Powell.