Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#6, July 2, 1998


by Marylaine Block

It's not possible to be in four places at once - unless, that is, you are standing on that point in space which is Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, as I recently did.

Were it not for a monument there, you would see little difference between these states. They are all stark and mountainous; all strewn with rocks and desert; all dry, dry, dry. Not only are their landscapes not user-friendly, they can be actively user-repellent. Only the most determined vegetation can take root and bloom in this harsh land.

And yet different peoples with different histories have over time claimed these states and made them different. You don't need state boundaries to tell you that; the names on the maps tell their stories.

There are some commonalities, to be sure. In all four states, the original human inhabitants have left some mark of their passage in the names: Kiowa, Cochise, Yavapai, Zuni, Piute, Utah; in the reservations of Arizona and New Mexico they are living history.

But these tribes were doubly conquered and confined. First by Spanish priests whose missions became towns in Colorado named San Juan, San Miguel, San Luis; in Arizona named San Simon, Santa Cruz, and San Luis; in New Mexico named San Antonio, Santa Fe, Santa Rosa, San Rafael. But if there were missions in Utah, hardly a San or Santa is to be found - they would have stood little chance against the faith of Mormons.

The second conquest was by American guns. Colorado seems to have been the center of the fighting, leaving behind countless forts: Fort Lewis, Fort Carson, Fort Collins, Fort Morgan, and more. While Arizona had Fort Apache and Fort Defiance, and New Mexico had Fort Stanton and Fort Sumner, Utah has only Fort Duchesne. Could it be the federal government had little interest in protecting Mormons?

What drew the Spaniards and Americans to this inhospitable land? Look at the maps, where the riches of the fabled seven cities of Cibola live on. Miners who failed to strike it rich in California headed to Colorado, their optimism leaving its mark in towns called Bonanza, Silverton, Goldfield, Silver Cliff. Here, hard-living, poker-playing men left a town called Fairplay (in Arizona, a place called Show Low). Call-a-spade-a-spade men named their towns Cripple Creek, Wagon Wheel Gap, Stonewall; focusing on the necessities of life, they named towns for their Rifle, Powderhorn, and Tincup.

(One wonders what they would have thought of modern developers naming their suburbs Broadway Estates and Cherry Knoll.)

Coloradans paid a lot of attention to the unforgiving land, which yielded towns named Bed Rock, Slick Rock, Rocky Ford. Where they finally found water, they fell on their knees, said hallelujah, and named the towns that blossomed there Wellsville, Pagosa Springs, Steamboat Springs, and Whitewater.

In Arizona, though, the high desert country takes all; the names on the map are Gila, Skull Valley, Red Rock, Red Mesa. What about water? There's Dolan Springs and Lake Montezuma, to be sure - but mostly, there's El Mirage.

Now Utah has unforgiving deserts and mountains, too, but you wouldn't know it from the names on the map. Industrious Mormons were perhaps too busy extracting ore from the mountains to waste time viewing them with awe. Their map filled up with towns like Coalville, Copperton, Antimony, Iron, and Minersville. Obeying God's command to make the deserts bloom, they founded towns named Bountiful, fairfield and Sugarville.

If you knew nothing of Utah's history, but knew the Book of Mormon, you would know who founded it from names like Nephi, Moroni, and Deseret. You would recognize Utah's sober, responsible founders in towns called Enterprise and Helper.

The names of any Indians or Spaniards who dwelled there were drowned out by names that were remorselessly, insistently Anglo: Washington, Emery, Taylorsville, Garfield, Logan...

It's in New Mexico that the Spanish heritage lingers lovingly, dominating the map - driving southwest on highway 25 is like a trip through Spain or Mexico - Las Vegas to Bernalillo, then Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Socorra, Las Cruces.

It's the same landscape that meets at Four Corners, folks, But it's not the same history, not by a long shot, and it's the history, not the boundaries, that make the difference. Don't believe me? Read the names on a map of America, and you'll see one nation made up of fifty different histories.

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