Slightly Off Center

MO-UT How this Missourian came to Utah and why he stayed

By Dennis Hinkamp

I’ve been writing columns for 40 years with the Salt Lake Tribune, The Event, the Logan Herald Journal, NEO, Utah Magazine, Network, a bunch of weeklies, long forgotten internet-only publications and, of course,  CATALYST Magazine for the past 30-some years. I don’t remember exactly, but it was long enough ago that I was dropping off floppy disks to the first iteration of the McClelland office. I remember the Dalmatians and I remember what John and Greta were like before I introduced them to Burning Man. In the spirit of nostalgia, I’m tell you how I got here.


Forty years ago, I packed my ’78 Honda Civic, rented a too big U-Haul trailer and headed west from Columbia, Missouri to Logan, Utah with my college degrees in the rear-view mirror and a real adult job waiting. I did so without ever seeing the place or ever traveling west of Denver. Even before Zoom, Utah State University was not paying for many fly-in interviews.

Before Google maps, how did we find anything? My route may have been recommended as the shortest and least mountainous. That meant on my way to brochure-beautiful Cache Valley, I churned through hours and hours of central Nebraska and Wyoming.

I was mainly a city boy, used to the conveniences of streetlights and frequent 24-hour gas stations. Even though a Honda Civic was a high-mileage vehicle, it was overburdened with the trailer. With that and fighting the Wyoming winds and wide-open spaces, I almost ran out of gas a couple times.

There really wasn’t and isn’t much open between Kemmerer and Logan at night. What is now one of my favorite drives between Bear Lake and Logan was pretty terrifying that first time in the dark. Maybe it would have been more terrifying driving by those cliffs for the first time in daylight. Either way, I fully expected there’d be at least some streetlights, one gas station or fast food stop in those last 50 miles.

Well, there wasn’t and there still isn’t, but I was a young and dumb Missourian. Maybe memory is just embellishing this, but I’m pretty sure I saw a dozen deer and a large owl in the  road. Anyway, I coasted in with a quart of gas to spare and spent my first night at the then-University Motel at the mouth of the canyon. It is no longer a motel and I now refer to it as the Tomb of the Unknown Faculty.

The last 35 years have been peachy. The first five were the pits. Longtimers will recall that the winter of 1980 featured almost zero snow and almost 100% inversion. Then came 1983 and the great flood that closed Sardine Canyon. I had major knee surgery in 1984 that ended my short fascination with cross country ski racing and precluded me running any more marathons, which was part of my identity. Therapy and soul searching ensued.

­It would be an easy joke to say I stayed the next 35 years out of boredom and indecision. But I stayed here for 40 years the same way most people do: one year at a time, one relationship, one mortgage, one paycheck, one more brilliant summer, one more demoralizing winter, one more spring that gives you amnesia about the winter. And as you age, you just become more grateful for one more anything.

I’m a lifelong cynic and can’t say I have loved every minute; but I have loved probably 57 seconds of every minute of these 40 years, which ain’t bad.

Dennis Hinkamp thanks everyone for the memories, even though he will continue making and writing about them in the new online CATALYST.

This article was originally published on November 30, 2020.