Cheeseweed and other edibles
I want to eat the inner bark of the trembling aspen!
I shout to Jamie, my boots full of mud and tripping over a submerged rock.
Jamie is bounding through the water, lurching in all directions, arms flailing and either isn’t listening or isn’t listening. He’s too busy being Charlie Sheen in Apocalypse Now. We are some way in to a twelve mile hike up a river. When we look at the map in the morning sunlight, the dotted line runs up Sulphur Creek for five miles and then departs, heading up a dry creek bed before hitting the road.
Funny how they put the line IN the river and not by the side of it
I gurgle to Jamie, ebullient with all the health and stuff. The website says that the walk is an easy six miler which is great for kids. We like the idea of a twinkling hike along a river with enough distance covered to merit consuming all the food we have left over after 5 days of camping and overconfident shopping. The river is a mile from our campsite past orchards planted at the turn of the century by incoming mormons, little jewely fields of horses and scampering marmots. Jamie delightedly takes photos of the little fluffy creatures until one bares its teeth and squeaks at him loudly leaving Jamie running in alarm down the slope and later admitting he had briefly wondered if marmots sometimes go rogue in the face of over curious tourists.
We reach Sulphur Creek and look for the trail. Most people start at the other end says the woman in the visitor centre in front of the creek. All well and good if you are American and take two trucks everywhere you go. Park at one end, park at the other. No loops required. We find no sign of a trail anywhere so we begin to walk following the winding course and admiring wildflowers and feeling like a toothpaste advert. Jamie heroically wearies himself throwing rocks in to the water to create bridges and carrying me across where the banks disappear into steep, orange cliffs until it begins to occur to us that the dotted line IN the river really meant business. There is no trail or rather, the river is the trail. Time to get our boots wet.
We slosh and tumble. We empty our socks and boots of grit and gravel to have then gently refill half an hour later. Jamie pulls me by the wrists up hammering waterfalls and we sit in icy, silty burbling whirlpools smiling idiotically. We discover the mixed berry pie we have bought from the local pie shop has regurgitated its contents all over our rucksack so we scoop out the remains from the tin, our legs muddied while I read from my new booklet of edible North American wild plants.
Jamie yells over my shoulder.
I yell looking about excitedly.
He points at the book. Oh.
There’s also Yukka, Huckleberry, Lamb’s Quarters and Trembling Aspen. Apparently you can eat the soft inner bark of the Trembling Aspen. You’d have to be pretty desperate I think chucklingly.
Sulphur Creek is just one of the eye-meltingly, gorgeously colourful places we have encountered since arriving in Utah just a few days before. We flee from Colorado where the rain has relentlessly followed us from Nebraska. We miserably circumvent the Rocky Mountains when tales of snowy passes and bad weather force us further south. The bike chunters in to Pagosa Springs after a day of managable mountain passes surrounded by melting snow and Oreo hungry chipmunks. The air hangs with the warm smell of the sulphurous local springs and people bathe in the river under a shoot that drops warm water on them in to a pool surrounded by a circle of protective rocks. We head to Kip’s Bar and Grill in the evening feeling our muscles unwind in the sunshine to listen to a live Blues musician whilst chowing down homemade barbeque pork nachos, phenomenal chocolate peanut butter mousse pie and margaritas. I badger the staff for the contact details of the goddess who created this silky peanutty concoction and email her a fawning, recipe begging message that evening but alas, still no reply.
We head off the next morning reluctantly craning our heads in case we can catch a last sight of pie but it is not to be. We must instead make do with Mesa Verde National Park where we arrive, proudly purchase our National Parks pass, fall slowly off the stationary motorbike in an array of legs and lost dignity then head skywards up the side of the mountain. This is where the ancient Pueblonians lived in pit houses dug in to the earth living on yukka and hunted meat and energetically burning their rather ill designed houses down or so the signs imply.
The scenery is filled with the remains of a devastating forest fire a few years back leaving acres of limbless white trees scorched black down their trunks standing amongst purple and green grasses shivering in the cool breeze. There are cacti, ancient remains of villages tucked in to the cliffs, falcons and swooping canyons but there are also tour buses and hoards of tourists. We leave two days later after a sweep around the museum where I collect a fitting recipe for yukka soup, two freezing nights camping and a tentative sampling of yukka flowers found on our walk; sweetish, crunchyish, spitty outy.
And finally, the fields change colour to a burning terracotta red, the mountains soar up in front of us like beautiful shiny white teeth and Utah begins. Before long we are cruising through bulging red canyons watching as the rocks change shape and colour as we cruise throue miles. They are sienna, umber, pale pink, brick dust and coffee. They are Malaysian pandan cake, melting blobs of icecream running from their cones and totem-like babies staring in solemn groups across the valleys. At one point 8 rock pigs line up lying on their bellies, backs to the sun on the top of a vast, grey cliff overlooking a dried up lake and then, ten minutes later, the landscape is painted in watery espresso, low to the ground and shimmering knobbly shapes rise gently from the dust.
We stop for food in the cowboyishly named Hanksville and while I am staring incompetently at tins of chilli in the shop, Jamie twitches in and asks me to hurry up, a storm is rolling in. Indeed, the tree branches are swept sideways and the dust on the road is blown in beige clouds in to our mouths and tinkling against our helmets as we leave. The bike is tipped across the road as we round the first corner out of Hanksville and the bag of shopping I have been forced by our inability to travel light, shifts uncertainly on my lap. Reluctantly, 30 miles from Capitol Reef National Park, Jamie turns the bike back towards the campsite in the centre of the town where a knot of cyclists have been similarly blown and huddle outside the showers. Our Trembling Aspen supper will have to wait.
Yukka Flower Soup
3 cups yukka flowers
2 tbsp butter
1 quart very rich milk or milk combined with cream
Salt, pepper, a dash of nutmeg
Use only the petals of the flowers. Discard the centers of the flowers as they are very bitter. Wash petals in a colander. Put them in a saucepan and cover with water. Boil for 15 minutes. Drain then return to the pan. Mash the petals with a petal masher (wtf?) or food masher (presumably for when you want to mash a steak or a wheel of cheese?) Add the butter and cornstarch and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk and cook until the mix has thickened. Add milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg to season.
Makes 5 cups
Not really, you can have the recipe for the glorious hot sauce from Kip’s grill while we wait stoically for the pie recipe to be delivered…
Senor Joe’s Wicked Hot XXX Habanero Hot Sauce
(The amounts are up to you, use common sense and a dippy finger)
Habanero chillis( as Senor Joe says- just the hottest burners you can pick. Yipes. Bring me some milk!)
Roasted tomatillos (they look like little green tomatoes and can be purchased in tins from South and Central American grocers in the Uk)
Remove tops of chillies and seeds if you are a wimp. Drain and roast the tomatillos at 180 degrees until somewhat blackened. Remove skin from garlic. Pop the lot in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a little water if the mixture is too thick. Store in the fridge in a jar and use on absolutely everything especially those things with sour cream.