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The Valley of the Gods
On U.S. 163, an unimaginable number of people have driven through the southeastern tip of Utah. Towering rocks of copper and bronze crowd the narrow strip of charcoal that snakes through the desert terrain. To many, it isn’t considered one of the intimidating and obviously dangerous roads in the United States; the drive is consistent, with few unexpected or unmarked inclines, dips or turns. Everyone is warned of upcoming hazards. Bright yellow signs that reflect the sun’s pounding rays at oncoming windshields convey a very important message: an abrupt swerve in the road is coming up.
Is it dangerous?
Not if you’re paying attention, it isn’t.
The news is often an immediate way citizens may hear of tragedy occurring in their community. Yet, it is usually understood by viewers that their lives aren’t affected by a majority of the news flashes that decorate the screen. Drive-by shootings, robberies, car crashes—rarely do they personally affect the people learning of them via channel 3, 10, and 15.
However, there’s always an exception. There is occasionally a family of four—walking out their front door to their jobs and education—that notices something horrendous projecting itself through the television set in their living room. At first, it’s a bus accident. Yes, there have been many throughout parents’ and siblings’ lives alike. It doesn’t seem to affect them upon first learning of it, but they know it’s unfortunate.
It’s unfortunate to see the crumpled skeleton of a “Corporate Transportation ‘N Tours” bus on the television set, they know. There isn’t a roof on this vehicle which barely constitutes as a bus. Especially not after rolling down a 40-foot embankment in the harshest of winters that Utah encounters. Suitcases are strewn across the desert mud, which was moistened by light rain. All are suitcases of the passengers who were tossed around the metal that caged them in as they tumbled off the road that supposedly led them home. Shards of glass, strips of leather, strayed foam seats and pieces of jagged plastic decorate the space around the cracked shell of the bus, now standing upright. That alone is saddening. More saddening to the family is the fact that friends were riding that bus from Telluride to Phoenix. No one knows this until later, of course.
I have something to tell you, sweety.
What is it?
Marc died today.
How? Was it the brain tumor?
No…he was on the bus we saw this morning with Kim and Sam and Dave.
Not much can be said at first. Very little emotion is displayed until all of the things wrong with a nearly casual event like a bus crash are realized.
He wasn’t supposed to go. He didn’t even have a chance to graduate.
I know. I don’t understand it either.
It becomes nearly impossible to sleep when something like this occurs. The irony is that many people want nothing more than sleep in such a difficult time; it’s too hard to see the face of the person they lost on every evening news channel. It gets to be too hard to hear local celebrities explain how great of a person they were without any real emotion at all, without even meeting them. There is one constant thought: it wasn’t their time, no matter what anyone says and no matter what any god wants (if there is one). It just shouldn’t have been that way. Got to stop thinking about it in order to sleep. But how can anyone sleep when it is just so impossible to stop thinking about it? About how childhood best friends are gone due to someone’s error at 70 miles an hour.
I know. I’ve been there.
Precious memories are told to make everyone empty without him feel better, feel like he’s still alive. He’s simply not in the room with them as they tell their stories, that’s all. Stories are told of the times he sleep walked. More stories are told of the time he put underwear on the neighbor’s head. Even more stories are told of the little things he did to make everyone laugh, smile and appreciate his being.
Pictures are distributed. Pictures of him in his favorite sweater. More pictures of him at Roosevelt Lake. Even more pictures of him being joyful, comical and an overall happy child rapidly developing into a man. The only way he can live now is through the small pieces of him that no one pictured holding in their hands during a time like this. No one saw it coming.
The family of four never expected to have the opportunity of seeing where it all happened. When the possibility of visiting the site arose, it became difficult for anyone to refuse the chance.
Every marked turn sparked a growing anxiety within each family member. Each person anticipated some sort of marker at the base of every turn. Yet, no one knew if there would be anything at all to mark where the accident occurred. It seemed shocking to them how simple the drive was. They had seen roads far more dangerous in the places they were traveling from. It became confusing how any driver could make their journey fatal on U.S. 163.
The drive home continued in an uneventful manner as each family member sat anxiously in their respective seats of the van. The tranquil sights of the hushed desert weren’t enough to distract them from what they associated with Mexican Hat, Utah. With each passing sign that notified drivers of upcoming hazards, a sense of bitterness crowded the family as they realized how difficult it was to miss any of the warnings.
The van passed a pine colored sign that stood out from the burning yellows and oranges they had seen too often before. This unusual flap of metal that stood on frail metal legs marked the territory as the Valley of the Gods. Soon after was yet another turn, which was again no different than any of the others. Yet, at the base of the hill that the road wrapped around was a weakened wooden cross.
Do you want me to turn around?
The family stopped their vehicle on the side of the road and walked onto the hard ground surrounded by towering, sharp rock formations. A small plaque engraved with each victim’s name sat atop a tall pile of rocks next to the humbly crafted cross. Although the bus was long gone, remains of destruction were scattered across the dirt below their feet. The pieces of glass left behind by cleanup crews still shined like new in the sunlight. The ground—hardened by unaccountable days of dry heat—still held the imprint of frantically turning wheels. It was still apparent what happened there even a year later.
They stood in amazement in the barren Valley of the Gods where Marc ascended to the heavens to join them on January 6th, 2008.