Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Strange Evening at Church Rock

Church Rock  8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
In June, I visited some people I know in the little Four Corners town of Blanding, Utah. I've been there a number of times, but this time the trip home was a little interesting. Normally the full moon doesn't cause me any concern. Actually, I rather enjoy it. Things started getting a little weird on that drive home, though.

I stopped at Church Rock to do a painting. This solitary sandstone formation with it's enigmatic rectangular opening has tugged at my curiosity every time I have driven past it. The first thing I wanted to do was explore Church Rock a little, so I hopped the fence and walked down the red dirt road to the man-made opening in the rock. The opening doesn't go very far into the rock; it's not much deeper than it is wide. A concrete foundation at the entrance, with remnants of 2x4s show that the front of the chamber must have been walled off at one time, with a door built into it. A steel corral gate wide enough fit across the opening was sitting off to the side instead. A few nesting birds took off when I stepped into the room. Inside, the walls are covered with graffiti. Disappointing, but not too surprising. Names and dates, this person + that person, etc. Nothing seemed unusual about the graffiti. A few empty beer cans lay in the dirt on the floor, with an empty pop can. A few "Ave Maria" candles sat on the left side of the wall foundation. I've never seen that before. Outside, I explored around the base of the rock and climbed on the red slickrock a little.

There were prairie dogs all around the place. They must not get shot at very much here, because some of them allowed me to get as close as 30 or 40 feet away before disappearing down their burrows.

My tracks were the only human footprints in the dirt up to that point, but as soon as I headed back to my car, several youngish touristy types came down to explore the place, too. Up at the parking area, I met a man who asked about Church Rock. He said he was originally from Moab, and had heard people there talk about a "satanic church" that used to be held in a rock. He asked me if this was that rock. Astonished, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "I dunno." I mentioned the Ave Maria candles and said those didn't seem very satanic to me. He guessed that maybe it was another rock in this area, indicating there are more than one of these rocks with rooms drilled and blasted into them. (Thinking about this later, I suppose the candles could be used for any purpose anyone wanted. Maybe I should have looked at the graffiti closer.)

I set up and painted in the roadside parking area. A pleasant couple from Australia stopped and chatted with me for a few minutes. A bunch of retired looking French (or maybe French Canadian) motorcycle riders stopped to visit. One of them spoke English, and translated for the others. They snapped some photos of me painting, asked if they could mention me in their emails, or email me, I'm not sure which, and headed on their way. A nice visit, really.

My finished painting didn't look very satanic to me. Actually, I'm kind of happy with it.

On my way home, for some reason, I felt like listening to a CD I have of Eastern European folk music. Enjoyable, but kind of melancholy. The CD is produced on a label called, "Songbat Records." The singer explains on her website, "Why 'Songbat'? A songbat is a creature who requires songs to live, as a fruitbat requires fruit. This creature can't help but do things a little differently, and spends a lot of time upside down; furthermore it doesn't mind darkness a bit and in fact rather prefers it. That's all the explanation I can provide since there isn't any more."

So far, I have a full moon, a possible satanic church, melancholy Eastern European folk music on a label that has something to do with bats...

It's a very buggy night. As I drive, I need to stop at every town I come to just to wash the bugs off my windshield. The last stop I make is at the Shell station in Helper. When I begin to wash the bugs off the windshield with a squeegee, I notice something stuck on my car's radio antenna. I look closely at the object trailing off my antenna like a tattered flag on a pole. It's a bat's wing! Really! It was severed at the shoulder and was somehow attached to my car's antenna at the severed shoulder part! I use the squeegee to try and get the bat wing off my antenna, but it doesn't seem to want to leave. I squeegee it down the antenna. When the wing finally falls off the antenna, it's soaked with window washing fluid, so it sticks to the fender. With a final swipe of the squeegee, the washer fluid soaked bat wing splats onto the pavement. Driving away, I pop the Eastern European folk music CD out of the CD player and pop in something more upbeat. It's not Halloween, is it?

I feel bad for the poor bat. Somewhere between Green River and Helper, a bat met it's demise from a 1/8" wide piece of metal cutting through the night air at 65 to 75 miles an hour. I also feel bad because bats are endangered, and here I go inadvertently smacking one out of mid-flight. There's been many a time I've sat in the afterglow of a fading summer's evening and enjoyed watching bats flit acrobatically through the twilight. Rest in peace, poor bat. I can't explain how the bat wing stuck to my antenna the way it did.


Since I first wrote this in an email, I did some research into who might have cut the opening into Church Rock. As the story goes, the organization that used the rock might or might not deserve the reputation indicated by the man I met in the parking area there, but it certainly was strange. The organization was an Utopian society called The Home of Truth, run by a spiritualist named Marie Ogden. I was going to include some links about it, but decided that proper research into the group and their leader is beyond the scope of this post and would distract from what the post is really about. But you're welcome to look it up yourself.

Another note: Since that time I've enjoyed listening to that CD of Eastern European folk music on other trips with absolutely NO weirdness! 

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