Off The Map: Week 10, buried legends

As I readied my pack for the hike to Utah’s Mount Timpanogos, I cringed to hear the distant sound of kids and counselors from Aspen Grove Camp launch into what seemed like their twentieth chorus of “Here Comes the Sun.” If I didn’t leave this trailhead soon, that song was going to be stuck in my head all day. I had to resist the urge to shout back, “Look, the sun came already! Do we need to summon the ghost of George Harrison to confirm this observation?” Bah. Mormons are too cheery to be allowed to go out in public.

At least the homebrewed legend of Timpanogos had a respectable element of tragedy to it. In ages past, the Timpanogots Ute tribe was suffering from an unrelenting drought, and the Princess Utahna was chosen as a human sacrifice to appease their angry god. She left her village, climbed the highest peak and was prepared to throw herself off, but a young brave from a neighboring tribe named Red Eagle spied her and begged her not to jump. Utahna thought Red Eagle was the Great God of Timpanogos, and the brave hesitated to enlighten her, because he had fallen in love, and to speak the truth would mean her death. If he returned with Utahna to his village, his deception would likewise be revealed, and she would carry out her sacrifice.

To save the princess, Red Eagle led her to a crystalline cave, far from her village, and made her his wife. For many moons they lived together in happiness, until a bear wandered into the cave, and Red Eagle was injured driving it off. Utahna saw the blood and finally realized that her husband was not a god. She cared for him until his wounds healed, then slipped away. Red Eagle found his wife’s broken body at the base of a cliff beneath Mount Timpanogos. He carried her back to the cave, laid her down beside a still pool of water, and died mourning for his lost princess. The Great God of Timpanogos then took their hearts, merged them into one, and fastened it to the ceiling of their burial chamber, where the heart-shaped stalactite can still be seen by visitors of Timpanogos Cave National Monument.

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