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What’s in Your ‘Hood? The Red Edge of Wilderness

The Red Butte.

The Red Butte.

Today I walked east across campus to explore the uphill neighborhood. But actually, by the time you leave campus to the east, there is no neighborhood, unless you want to count the animals’. This ‘hood is populated by quail, butterflies, rabbits, deer and more—which you either see or find evidence of—as you walk into the foothills of the mighty Wasatch Range.

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Mountains reflect off Marriott Library.

Trudging daily from parking lot to office building or lab, it’s easy to pretend you don’t notice that we live and work on the edge of the wilderness.

But walking east on this sunny day, it’s impossible. We simply can’t escape the landscape in Utah or at the U. It is not anonymous. The mountains assert themselves from every angle. The high plains weather patterns fill the blue sky with endless cloud formations. Try as we might to build up, pave it over and air-condition the summer away, the serious defiance of the desert and beauty of the mountains penetrate our souls. It may in fact inform the way work is done here, and the imagination and inspiration of the people who bring their work to life here. This place is our unique quality and it colors our accomplishments.

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Red rock garden.

Red Butte stone foundation, c. 1875.

Red Butte stone foundation, c 1875.

Our color is red. It is everywhere, and not just in crimson banners, but in the soil, garden rocks, building materials, even the canyon where my walk eventually ended. Red Butte is the name of a canyon, also of a protected Research Natural Area, a botanical garden and an outdoor concert series. It was also the source of the stone used to build the officers’ quarters in Ft. Douglas—a mini neighborhood on campus—back in 1875.

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Officers' quarters with new life.

Several of the homes, which still sit in a charming leafy semicircle around the former parade grounds, have been re-purposed for academic use. One houses the Honors College, another the U’s Technology Venture Development offices, others are used for student housing. A walk on de Trobriand Street transports you back to the 19th century. You can almost recreate the feeling of trekking up here from the city for an evening concert at the bandstand with its breathtaking view of the entire Salt Lake Valley.

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Namesake.

(Historical aside, courtesy of the Marriott Library: de Trobriand Street is named for Phillipe Regis Denis de Trobriand, born in 1816 in France and died in 1897 in New York. In between he was a brigadier general in the United States Army and an amateur oil painter who was in Utah in 1871, doing views of the western landscape and various military forts.)

Passing through the bandstand, you come to another residential neighborhood, the (again) red brick complexes of the Heritage Center. Originally built to house athletes participating in the 2002 Winter Olympics, they were also re-purposed and now form the crossroads of student residences on campus.

Gear, waiting patiently.

Gear, waiting patiently.

Between the dorms and the mouth of Red Butte, the smallest of the seven canyons near Salt Lake, is the 7-ll for the U’s outdoor junkies: The Outdoor Recreation Program. The ORP anchors everything to do with getting outside: gear and equipment rentals, trips, clinics, workshops, even discount ski passes in the winter. And great advice. These guys know their stuff, and love what they do. It is one of the best deals anywhere: you can rent everything from a 12-inch Dutch oven ($2) to an 11-passenger river raft ($60) http://web.utah.edu/campusrec/outdoor_rec/rentals.html.

And you’ll want to…get outside, that is. Nowhere else does the outdoors command your attention like it does around here.