Thanks for the memories, Cliff
My friend Cliff Soderberg died last week.
I met him about 10 years ago when he was living in Glenwood Springs.
As he and his wife Becky and I became friends, I came to love a lot about Cliff, primarily his storytelling and his cutting wit. He could, and did, poke as much fun at himself as he did at others.
He was a big guy. He dressed in cowboy shirts and jeans and wore an old sweat-stained, battered cowboy hat. He was gruff and crude sometimes, but he would share the deepest parts of himself gladly.
We also found we had a couple of things in common. We loved to explore the Anasazi ruins of Utah and we loved horses.
Every year Cliff and Becky would pack up their two horses and dogs and extensive camping gear and head for the desert for at least a month. They would establish a base camp somewhere and explore on horseback every day.
One spring they invited me to visit them at their camp near Comb Wash in eastern Utah.
Their directions were vague, and my knowledge of the area even more vague. But after some trial and error, following trails that led nowhere, I finally found their well-concealed camp on a little stream, under a stand of cottonwoods in a box canyon at the head of which was a clutch of Anasazi ruins.
A perfect spot.
When I pulled into camp, I found Cliff ensconced in a deck chair enjoying the evening light. Becky was in the tent preparing dinner.
They did not have a backpacker’s approach to camping. It was more like a military campaign.
Their tent was the old cowboy style, with a high roof and flaps you could pull up to let in a breeze. Inside was a woodstove that served for cooking and heating. There was a kitchen table and along one wall were shelves stocked with cooking gear. On the opposite wall was their roomy camp bed. I think there was even a rug on the floor.
It was high luxury.
They had a small tipi erected across the road for guests, into which I piled my sleeping bag and other camping stuff.
The next day we packed up the horses in the trailer and drove up the road to the Mule Canyon ruin complex, that is, where the north and south forks of Mule Canyon come together.
I have to say something about the Soderbergs’ horses. All were over 20, and one was pushing 30! But they were spry and nimble for their ages and were smooth goers. They had all the qualities you could want in a riding horse, having carried Cliff and Becky and assorted friends over countless miles of desert trails.
They were as dependable as only seasoned mounts can be. You just had to stay out of their way and they would take you where you wanted to go.
I can’t remember which fork of the canyon we rode up, but both are a few miles long and there are about a half dozen ruins in each one. Cliff and Becky knew the canyons well and knew where to stop below each ruin. We explored every one.
Far up the canyon we crossed over into a deeper, steeper canyon, the horses negotiating the loose, shaly hillsides with aplomb. I found a cow skull and proudly mounted it on my saddle horn, with never a blink of an eye from my horse.
After the Soderbergs moved away from Glenwood Springs a few years ago, we lost touch. I heard reports of them through Cliff’s brother Frank. In the mid-90s a stroke almost felled Cliff. It was hard to imagine such a vital man falling prey to such a debilitating thing. But he recovered and went on with life.
In the end, his brother Frank told me, it was cancer that killed him. It must have been hell for him to have to give up his outdoor life, his horses and dogs and his trips with Becky.
He and Becky were true partners, in all they did together.
I loved and admired the life they had together.
I hope Becky can go on without Cliff. I can’t imagine how hard this will be for her.
My thoughts and hopes go out to her.
Donna Daniels is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column runs on Mondays.
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