For months now I’ve followed on the heels of the Mormons. Their footprints across the Southwest are as indelible yet as easy to overlook as Mormon tea, a common, spiky desert bush that is their namesake. For the purposes of this blog, I picked a few leaves along a trail and brewed myself some Mormon tea. It was delicious–kind of smoky tasting. And I still feel pretty good.
Despite the peculiarities of faith that caused their westward migration, the Mormons brought with them a stolid ethic of hard work, ingenuity, and reliance on community that turned arid lands into orchards and dotted a swath of the western U.S. with prosperous little towns. Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef are all national parks that were originally settled by Mormons.
It’s called the “Morrmon Corridor” or, more recently, the “Jello-O Belt.” (In 2001, Jell-O was designated the official snack food of Utah.) In the last half of the 1800s, Brigham Young “called” churchmen to take their families and settle in areas his scouts had identified as being suitable for farming, mining, or ranching. Some of these towns still exist; others have disappeared. At one time, there were hundreds of them scattered throughout the corridor.
Pangiutch (pronounced PANG-witch) is one that remains. Just northwest of Bryce Canyon National Park in south-central Utah, Panguitch is enough off the tourist treadmill to have kept its innocence, even while it lost the economic cachet that tourists bring.
What I noticed first about Panguitch were its tidy red brick homes. They aren’t the sprawling mansions of the East, but brick houses of any sort are rare in the West, where frame, adobe, or aluminum single-wides are the building materials of choice.
Apparently, the Mormon settlers in Panguitch constructed a kiln and made bricks from the red clay they were living on. A century later, that legacy endures. Another Panguitch story concerns the Sheriff, James Pace, who used to live on Main Street. When federal agents snuck into town at night in search of polygamists, the sheriff’s wife would put a lamp in the window warning the menfolk to go into hiding.
But Panguitch has another story, more peculiar and compelling than brick buildings or nightime signals, and that is the story of the Winter Quilt Walk.