Saturday, September 19, 2020
Magical Universe of the Ancients Offers Fresh Perspective on Red Rock Country
Egg Shell Ruin.
Sunday, August 23, 2020



A guided llama into the Grand Gulch Primitive Area near author Tony Hillerman’s old haunts sounded doable.

But Hailey resident Julie Weston questioned what she was getting into as the guide outlined the particulars.

Julie Weston and Gerry Morrison take you on a magical journey through a fantastic landscape in their new book, according to Ed Cannady.

“By Wednesday or Thursday we may all have diarrhea from the alkali in the water,” he warned. “Walking will be difficult because off lots of willows. Gnats are out because of lots of water.”

Weston and her husband Gerry Morrison decided to go forth anyway. And, as they approached the bottom of the Gulch they were ushered into the world full of hidden granaries with white ghost heads painted nearby to scare off packrats and a world where the Kokopelli they saw on the walls played his flute in their dreams.

“Joe Pachak referred to it as a magical universe and it seemed so appropriate,” said Weston.

Weston and Morrison returned home armed with pages of journal entries and dozens of photographs Morrison had taken with his 4x5. And they filed them away with other photographs and recollections they’d made at other national parks and monuments in Utah.

Julie Weston and Gerry Morrison journeyed into the Utah desert over a period of years to learn about the geology, the ruins and the people who once inhabited the desert Southwest. PHOTO: Karen Bossick

And then, as they watched government officials move to downsize some protected areas and open others to uranium exploration, they decided to publish some of their favorite photographs and musings.

The 152-page 8.5x11-inch coffee table-type book is titled “The Magical Universe of the Ancients: A Desert Journal.”

“Unless people know what’s lost they don’t care. Unless they know what’s there, they might think nothing of value’s there,” said Weston, who has penned a memoir of growing up in Kellogg, Idaho, as well as three Nellie Burns mysteries set in and around Sun Valley.

The two enlisted the help of Shawn Phillips in laying out the book. Retired Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger Ed Cannady supplied a blurb. And the couple self-published 250 hard back coffee table books and 1,500 soft coffee table books as Bigwood Books.

Julie Weston pointed to a little white speck at the right-hand bottom of a towering cliff dwelling called Sego Canyon Wall. “That’s me,” she said. “See how high they built that? How did they do that?”

They had planned to take the book around to Utah’s parks on a book tour this year, but that is on hold because of the COVID pandemic. But they will hold a livestream presentation at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, at The Community Library in Ketchum.

The presentation will include a brief reading supplemented by photographs. The couple will field questions, as well. Tune in at

“We’ll do the tour later. It’s not like the subject matter’s going to get old,” said Weston. “We just want to get the word out while these lands are being threatened.”

The book is not meant to be a hiking guide, wildflower guide or a history guide, Weston said. Instead, it’s a personal account that includes her trepidation in crossing a narrow overhang her guide called “a piece of cake” and the occasional story of a cactus quill sound mixed in with what they learned about the Ancients that once inhabited this red rock universe.

Morrison has included photographs that most people will never see unless they’re on a guided trip.

The area is like an open air museum, said Weston, full of potsherds, chilling painted skinhead masks and incomprehensible buildings etched into the rock.

“The rock art is exquisite, each an enjoyable photograph experience,” said Morrison, who also photographed Spanish churches and little-known ruins. “What struck me was how thousands of years later we can still see what they did. We were stunned by just about everything we saw.”

At the time Weston and Morrison did many of their treks to Utah’s desert, they were living in Seattle accustomed to rain from late October to June. But, still, they were sobered by the signs of flash flooding that preceded their visit to Grand Gulch as they hiked around debris piles 20 feet and higher.

Their escorts included Aladdin, Licorice, and Howdy Doody--llamas full of idiosyncracies that packed Morrison’s camera equipment, as well as their mountain of tents and sleeping bags.

Their scenery included rock art of basket weaving, a hollow-eyed mask, a dancing flute player, a thunderbird with its wings outstretched and what their guide told them might be a depiction of menstrual aprons.

“Our modern lives are taken up with work and play and eating,” mused Weston. “Finding and preparing food takes relatively little time. Few of us build our shelters and even fewer fashion weapons for hunting and protection. We raise and, after a fashion, guard our families, but there are few connections between the Ancients, a thousand years ago and now.”

The books are available at Chapter One Bookstore, Iconoclast Books, on Amazon and at

Oh, and there is a list of resources in the back should you, the reader, want to help save Red Rock Country.


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