My special place is under the kitchen table. Under the table is the perfect spot to beg an occasional treat and to listen to the conversation about old friends and the day's adventures. A name that comes up regularly is Ward Roylance. From what I hear, Ward died over 15 years ago, so I didn't know him. However, he and his wife Gloria always bring a smile to Ole' Dangerous' face when he talks about them.
As Utah Jack tells it, Ward and Gloria moved permanently to the High Plateau in 1976. If you ever drive through Torrey, you can't miss the house they built. It is the five-sided pyramid just off Highway 24. Since Ward's death in 1993, the Grover Boys have entertained a lot of High Plateau visitors. Fremont Bob, Mike, Nature Dan, Denver Dan, etc. are all regulars at the kitchen table. Murphy and Abbey, Dangerous' dogs before me, are long gone. But, there will always be a special place at the table for Ward and Gloria.
When Ward died, Dangerous gave a eulogy at his funeral. The other day Utah Jack found his copy, and encouraged me to post it on my blog. Well, since Dangerous does the typing, I told him it would be a fitting tribute to his old friend Ward Roylance, so here it is.
As I look around the room, I recognize many of your faces, but for those of you who don’t know me, let me explain how I fit into Ward’s life. I am one of those who read Ward and Gloria’s book the Enchanted Wilderness and decided I needed to meet them. Like so many of you, I was first drawn to Ward because I sensed that I had found someone else who loved the redrock country of Southern Utah as passionately as I did. Little did I know that this first brief visit would lead to one of my most important and lasting friendships.
Gloria always told the story of our first meeting better than I can. She reminded me often how worried she was that Ward was up on the ladder trying to repair something on the roof of Entrada. She was holding the ladder and encouraging him to come down when Jack … (Utah Jack) and I walked into their yard. As so often happened, Ward was more than eager to interrupt what he was doing to visit with two more “redrock enthusiasts.” Jack and I were just two of many who sought Ward out to gain information and share experiences about a place we loved. We didn’t realize at the time what an important part they would play in our lives.
That first meeting started an ongoing friendship between Ward and Gloria and the Grover Boys. I am not sure if it was Ward or Gloria who hung the handle Grover Boys on Jack and me, but I always preferred it to their other designation – Jug and Dack. Over the last eight years, our cabin in Grover became a regular gathering place where anyone with a thick skin and a stomach for greasy cheeseburgers could get together. Ward & Gloria were always regular attenders.
Over the years, those informal gatherings in Grover attracted some interesting people, most of whom Ward brought. Ward was always binging someone new for Jack and me to meet or as he said, to “pick on.” He always forewarned them to be prepared for some good natured-ribbing and told them not to take anything too personally. On occasion, he would tell us about someone interesting he had met, but he didn’t believe they were tough enough to undergo a full evening with the Grover Boys.
During those gatherings, Ward always had questions to ask or information to share. In all our discussions, Ward always returned to his strong feelings about the Canyon Country and how its beauty affected him. Regularly, he would read us one of the many letters he received from new admirers who shared similar feelings about the country. As regular as his visits to Grover, he would ask what kept bringing me back to the Colorado Plateau and its canyons. He was persistent in trying to discover what attracted me to the area and especially what kept drawing Jack and me back into the Escalante River canyons. Unfortunately, my answers never satisfied him.
I think today is the time to give Ward his answer. Ward never accepted simple explanations; he expected letters. Ward’s letters are famous, and impossible to ignore. Jack … still talks about the 3 ½ pounder Ward sent him about the virtues of cedar shake shingles. When Jack and I were restoring the Roylance Cabin, we decided to use asphalt shingles to save money. Ward talked long and hard trying to convince us that asphalt shingles wouldn’t do. When simple argument didn’t work, he used his favorite weapon, the letter. Any of you who have visited the Roylance Cabin know the effect. The Roylance Cabin has the best cedar shake shingles money can buy.
My letter to Ward is probably inadequate by his standards, but I really feel it’s the only way I can answer his question. What continues to draw me back to the canyon country we both love? The letter I owe Ward is long overdue.
November 19, 1993
Dear Ward J.:
For years, you repeatedly asked me why I spend so much time hiking and exploring the canyons of the Colorado Plateau. To draw me out, you shared your feelings about the area. I can’t forget how deeply the long view of Cathedral Valley from the top of Thousand Lake Mountain always affected you. Many of your special places like Donkey Point, Miner’s Mountain, Powell’s Pink Point, and Casco Canyon we visited together. Always, you lectured me about the special beauty apparent from these magnificent vistas, wondering if I really appreciated them.
Your lectures weren’t wasted, Ward. Through your eyes, I learned to appreciate and love much of what you saw. However, you introduced me to more than landscapes. I keep returning to the healing solitude of the canyon country. Let me try to explain the other reasons I am drawn also to the places you love.
A big attraction for me, Ward, are people like you. Seventeen years ago you and Gloria started your great adventure. Against all advice, you built a five-sided pyramid home the Torrey City mayor threatened to condemn, and close friends and relatives said you didn’t have the skills to build. Somehow through sheer, stubborn determination and a lot of “how-to” books you completed Entrada – your dream. While Jack and I teased you about the pair of aging hippies who started a commune in Torrey, we couldn’t help admiring the independence and self-reliance that made your dream come true.
There are others like you, Ward, who continue drawing me back, instilling in me an even greater love for the redrock country. You introduced Jack and me to most of them and shared the lasting friendships you helped establish. Dick and Eve are two of those who have become an important part of our lives. I like to believe the canyon country is what keeps Dick and Eve eternally young. Others, like Mike and Bill and Larry and Judy, also like you believe it is more important to live where they want to be rather than earn more than they need.
Through your efforts, Ward, our place in Grover became a gathering place for many who learned about the country through your writings, videos, and personal tours. You kept Jack and I guessing about the next interesting person you would bring for a visit. They ranged from the important to transient students hitch hiking across the plateau country. I will never forget the young Spanish guitarist you, Gloria, and Virginia, picked up on Highway 12 and deposited in Grover. We fed him, like all the others, and took him hiking in Grand Gulch. He repaid us with classical guitar music under a full moon at the foot of Jail House Ruin. You weren’t able to hike with us, but you relived our adventure when we returned to Grover.
You personal tours are another reason I kept coming back. Over the years you conducted hundreds of them. I hope the others who joined you benefited as I did. The experience was always educational and sometimes even entertaining. Jack and I bounced down many rough and difficult roads with you and Gloria to reach each one of your special views. I remember the all-day trip to Bowns’s Point over kidney-jarring roads, and the quick walk to the overlooks that was cut short by the cold wind and rain. Remember the time I pulled “Yellow Bird” out of the sand in Kaneville Wash? You and Gloria returned a week later and had to spend the night with the truck heater running because I wasn’t there to pull you out again.
The trip that sticks in my mind is the one we made to Powell’s Pink Point. You remember the bunch of us. There was Jack, Gloria, Virginia, Rodger, the Coleman’s, and assorted kids. Your roadside lectures didn’t stick, Ward. I still can’t tell a monocline from a syncline, nor can I distinguish Navajo from Wingate sandstone. I might not remember the geology lectures, but I can almost repeat from memory our campfire conversations. You and Gloria never forgot the teasing the Grover Boys gave you about your sleeping attire. Jack and I still laugh about you going to bed fully clothed in stocking cap and coat.
I’m not sure I’ve given you adequate answers about what continues to attract me to the remote places of the Colorado Plateau. Like you, Ward, I love and appreciate the remote beauty of the country, but I will never have your keen, interpretive eye that saw so much “Art in Stone.” What draws me back to so many places is that we visited them together. This country that we love so much has a way of doing this, of drawing people together and cementing lasting friendships. These friendships will continue to lure me back to remote reaches of your beloved redrock country.
When we get together again in Grover, I will try to give you more complete answers. Then I’ll fill you in on our latest adventures, and I promise that while hiking the Escalante, Grand Gulch, Dirty Devil, or Paradise Flats I will continue thinking about your question. But more importantly, I will remember you as my great and good friend.
Your loving friend,