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Over the Top

Over the Top


I was having a bad day! It was getting on toward evening. and because of extenuating circumstances I had not gotten much of anything done at the trading post. I think it was the first telephone call of the morning that got things started off wrong. I received a page from Danny saying there was an irate customer on the line seeking someone to take her frustration out on. I hesitantly picked up the phone and said, "Hi this is Steve, how may I help you?" I sometimes use Steve's name when I need a scapegoat.

Bluff, Utah from above.

The woman on the other end of the line wasted no time letting me know she was angry because of getting a first class runaround. She jumped right on me, saying in an aggravated tone of voice that her ring needed repair and I should take care of the situation, "post haste". "Okay", I said, "everything we sell is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Simply send me the ring and we will repair it, right away." There was silence, then resignation. I probed, "You did buy the ring from us, didn't you?" The woman sighed and said, "Sadly no, I bought it directly from the artist."

A few minutes later the entire story was related to me. It seems a couple years ago this now unhappy collector bought an expensive coral ring from Hasteen Begay, whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, while visiting the Portal in Santa Fe. Recently the coral had dislodged itself and escaped into the forests of Vermont. The woman had wisely charged the transaction on her credit card, so she called VISA to solicit their powerful aid. VISA, with their supercomputers and know-it-all data base , gave her our 800 number and said, "Go forth and seek satisfaction". So, I found myself attempting to arbitrate a situation that had absolutely nothing to do with us.

How the credit card company connected this poor woman's complaint to Twin Rocks will surely be one of those forever unsolved mysteries. Now that I knew the woman's problem, I began searching for a solution. Realizing I knew this Mr. Begay, I rolled out the Rolodex and extracted his phone number and address and promptly gave him up. The unhappy woman was now on the path to resolving her problem. She thanked me for my somewhat selfless service. I told her it was not a problem and that if she had further complaint's to call 1-800-Steve's your man.

Later in the day, I received a call from one of the turquoise miners we work with. I will not mention his name for fear of retribution, but this guy is, as dear old dad often says, "Rough as a cob!" For years I took this saying for granted, not really understanding its significance. One day I decided to discover the true meaning of the phrase and asked my father exactly what it meant and where the saying originated. He patiently explained the term sprang to life in the days of outdoor facilities. Paper products were scarce, not often afforded and certainly never wasted. Every little thing was used and used again if an additional, beneficial purpose could be uncovered. It seems a feast of roasted corn was not only a treat for the palate, but afterwards the dried cob provided a cleansing tool for the derriere. Thus the saying, "rough as a cob!" I had to ask.

As I spoke with my associate, I felt I was being formally abused, much like the sensation the cob might have provided one's backside. After having my personal safety and life threatened several times, we came to somewhat agreeable terms on the purchase of his highly desirable blue and green gemstones. Just before he hung up, Mr. Turquoise laughed at my sensitive nature and told me that just because he threatened to break my knees and stuff me in a mine shaft, it didn't mean we weren't friends; it was simply his way of showing affection. Ya gotta love the guy!

So it went the rest of the day, until it came to a point where I was feeling chaffed. I felt as if I needed to get out of the shop and reconnect with the natural world. I hoped Mother Earth would treat me with more respect, so I found my coat and headed for the door. Lately, I have been noticing the beauty of the cap-rock on the cliff tops above town. As I drive home, the play of evening light and shadow on the roiled and domed surfaces has captured my imagination and is drawing me in. Leaving work an hour early would give me enough time to view a sunset "on the rocks!"

I told Steve where I was going and that if a Mrs. Norton from New England called to act like they were old friends. I was out the door before he could ask any further questions, jumped into the Toyota and headed north. I drove up Cow Canyon, took a hard right on the belt loop and another right onto the first dirt road that ran parallel to the canyon. Five minutes from the front door of the trading post put me within a short walk of my goal.

Stepping out of the truck, I was struck by a brisk and bitter breeze, my ears immediately frosted over and my eyes teared up. It seemed nature was not going to allow me a reprieve from a less than perfect day. I had only a light coat and no hat, but I was determined to get to the slick rock and see the sunset no matter what. Trudging across the desert caused my toes to become numb, but I soon arrived at the point where the desert met the rock. Looking up through crying eyes, I recognized the bold, bubbly formation before me. I reached down and felt the welcoming sandpaper texture of the rock and felt welcome.

Scrambling up the slick rock slope, I searched for a small protected alcove that would provide shelter from the north wind and allow me to enjoy the end of day while being warmed by the dissipating rays of light. Topping the stone monolith and moving down the other side, I found just the right impression. It was actually quite cozy. The sun was resting right on the horizon, waiting for me to settle in and enjoy the show.

I have to say that I have witnessed much more grand and spectacular sunsets, but never one so calming. The sound of complete silence surrounded me, as did the coarse yet unobtrusive stone. It seemed my self-perceived troubles dissipated into the rock as the sun descended behind the horizon. It felt good to join with nature and ignore the complications of my temporal situation. As all traces of the sun and my bad humor withdrew and twilight overtook me, I raised up and breathed deeply. Turning toward the west I was greeted by a nearly full rising moon. I said a word of gratitude for being able to live in such a strikingly beautiful and unique area and for the ability to access it so so quickly.

The Sunset from Bluff, Utah

Walking back across the short strip of blow-sand and stunted vegetation, under the icy white moon and enveloping purple twilight, made my world feel a bit enchanted . I thought of my loving wife waiting at home and felt warm and comfortable in spite of the nip in the air and frostbite on my nose and ears. I was hoping Laurie would forgive me for being late for dinner, but was certain I would be easier to get along with when I arrived. I also thought I might have to send Steve out tomorrow night to enjoy a similar experience. When he finds out I have sacrificed him in the effort to save my own sanity he may be aggravated. No worries, we all know that he is no saint either.

With warm regards Barry Simpson.

The Titans of Turquoise

The Titans of Turquoise


Craig, Barry and I were all high school wrestlers. Craig, however, was more accomplished in athletics than Barry and I. While we both placed third in the state competition, Craig was twice champion. So, it should come as no surprise that over the years Barry has developed a fondness for the World Wrestling Federation. I am confident he knows the matches are staged and the wrestlers nothing more than actors on steroids, but he does not seem to care.

Steve @ Twin Rocks

In his library are priceless collections of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, The Sheik and Sensational Sherri memorabilia. You can imagine the celebration Barry held when Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. He had a heavyweight hangover for months.

Navajo baskets and rugs aside, if eBay had a special category for WWF high rollers, Barry would be a charter member. When Big Show and Hornswoggle are “wrestling”, we always know right where to find him. It is a sure bet he will be in his Barcalounger with his feet up, an extra large bag of low fat pork rinds and a super-size jug of diet root beer close at hand. Barry explains that he has long since given up the hard stuff (Pepsi), because it was either that or start wearing sweatpants.

Having recently turned 56, however, I was confident our wrestling days were over. As a result, Barry’s latest proposition caught me off guard. When he showed up at the trading post in Sleeping Beauty blue tights, a red coral muscle shirt, Bruce Eckhardt variscite beads, a squash blossom necklace and more turquoise and silver bracelets than I could count, I knew something was up.

“I have it”, he said, “you and I are going to be the next WWF tag team champions. If the Valiant Brothers and the Wild Samoans did it, why can’t we? We’ll go all the way! Oh, not to bruise your ego or anything, I initially wanted Craig as my partner, but he won’t fit into the rig. Here, put this on!” Boy, was I amazed when he held up what looked like a miniature Speedo swimsuit, lace-up wrestling boots and nothing more. “They’re Morenci blue,” he said. “We’ll be the Titans of Turquoise. Twin Rocks Trading Post can be our sponsor, maybe Polygamy Porter too. You know, the Utah connection.” He was obviously rambling.

Staring at that g-string thing, and beginning to feel faint, I remembered the first time our friend Karen Tweedy-Holmes suggested we take a family photograph, in the nude. “Jana will never let me go out in that thing,” I protested. “ And what will Kira and Grange say?” “Come on,” he said. “Just think, once we win the championship, we can maul all those guys who have ever challenged us for dominance of the turquoise business. “Tony Cotner, The Duke of Damale; Ernie Montoya, The Count of Carico Lake; and even Dean and Danny Otteson, The Royston Royals, they don’t stand a chance.”

Taking into account our mutually protruding stomachs, saggy butts and receding hairlines, the only consolation I could imagine was that Barry was not promoting a syringe full of muscle making magic. As he stood there holding the costume, my mind began to race uncontrollably, “The Titans of Turquoise, The Titans of Turquoise . . . THE TITANS OF TURQUOISE!” I had to admit, it has a certain ring, and I do need to get back into shape. “Okay,” I blurted out, “I’m in, but I want matching suits and equal access to jewelry. No bikinis for me.”

In 1938 Harry Goulding packed up his wife “Mike” and drove west to see legendary filmmaker John Ford about making movies in Monument Valley. When Harry threatened to camp out in Ford’s office until he got an interview, Ford finally gave in and agreed to a meeting. The rest, as they say, is history. With that in mind, I have dispatched Barry to see Pini Zahavi, the great sports agent. I packed Barry a large picnic basket full of chips, salsa and soda; gave him a history lesson and a blowup sleeping mat (the blowup doll stayed at home) and instructed him not to come home without a contract.

As Barry always says, “If you do, you can.” I have never been sure what that means, but I am confident we can do. In preparation for our debut, yesterday I lifted two 20 pound sacks of Blue Bird flour and jogged next door to Twin Rocks Cafe for a mug of coffee. I can already feel the burn. Surely it won’t be long before Bluff is known as the home of the terrible, the tumultuous, the tremendous Titans of Turquoise. Look out Big Show and Chris Jerico, here . . . come . . . the . . . Titans.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.



On the northeast side of our majestically scenic town stand two rock pillars commonly known as the Navajo Twins. Perched on a slight promontory rising above town, these geologic masterpieces are named for the mythical Hero Twins of Navajo legend, Monster Slayer and Born for Water. Sculpted by wind and water over many millennia, the towers have stood guard over numerous civilizations, the earliest established in approximately 650 A.D. These silent sentinels presently watch over the approximately 225 modern day pioneers who call Bluff home.

Inspired by an alternative name for the spires, in 1989 Twin Rocks Trading Post was established at the base of these natural monuments. From that day forward Barry, Priscilla and I have “manned" the sales counter. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, we “entertain" visitors to Bluff with stories of local lore and cultural complexities. Anyone interested, or foolish, enough to ask is regaled with mostly true stories of our experiences buying, selling and trading turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs and woven basketry. Despite notable gaps in our expertise, we do not hesitate to also expound on the history of the community and the Paleo-Indian, Anasazi, Navajo, Paiute and Mormon people who populated this region from the earliest times.
Read description below $500 for more info on how to WIN!

While there are a great many stories we have read, been told or simply made up regarding the establishment of this village, there is one mystery that continues to confound Barry and me. I was reminded of the issue about three months ago as I wandered through Twin Rocks Cafe sipping my morning mug of coffee laced with honey and cream. “Hey Steve”, one of our buddies from Blanding said, “what about the story that the twins were once triplets?” The question relates to the often cited lore that there were three sandstone siblings standing when the Mormon pioneers arrived in this river valley in April of 1880, and that one was blasted down to build the Victorian homes constructed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Of the many elegant rock homes built during that era, only a handful remain. These include the residences of Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr., Platte D. Lyman, Frederick Joseph Adams, Hyrum Perkins, Jens Nielson and John Albert Scorup. These individuals are legendary in the annals of San Juan County, and their extraordinary homes stand as testaments to their faith and tenacity. Jens Nielson became the first bishop of Bluff, L.H. Redd and John Scorup established cattle and sheep ranches of vast scope, and together these men planted the seeds of family trees that have matured into an ever expanding forest.

The historical record as we know it, however, is devoid of information documenting the third sandstone offspring. For years Barry and I have examined oral histories, perused historic photographs and interrogated old-timers, looking for information that might help resolve this riddle. Despite our diligence, we have come up entirely empty. Not long after our friend put the bite on me, I sat in Barry’s office lamenting our inability to solve this topographic teaser. “Well”, Barry pointed out, “you never were good at that sort of thing anyway. Why don’t you just offer a reward?” “A reward”, I shot back, a bit too defensively, “aren’t those for outlaws, miscreants and persons gone missing?” “Sure”, he said, “but there’s no reason you can’t use one to locate the mislaid monolith." Despite my belief he had underestimated my critical thinking skills, I wondered whether he might be on to something and went to discuss the problem with Priscilla. Priscilla’s grandmother had always referred to the twins as her babies, so I concluded she might have some valuable insight.

Priscilla agreed we should use our limited resources to resolve this quandary once and for all. As a result, Barry and I have pooled our pesos and determined to issue a bounty on the truant. Therefore, the first person providing verifiable evidence of the existence of the third sibling will receive a $500.00 cash reward. The offer stands so long as Barry and I are standing. Let the hunt begin.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Growing up, and Living in Bluff

Growing up, and Living in Bluff

The rugged landscape of the Four Corners region suffuses its occupants with a unique perspective. Ours is a beautifully harsh world of majestic mesas; vast, vertical canyons; and twisting, swirling sandstone. To those born into it, the land is rich in texture and mystery. This home of the Navajo provides room to expand one's personal space and explore life's unanswered questions.

Picture of Twin Rocks Trading Post
Twin Rocks Trading Post in Bluff Utah

At Twin Rocks Trading Post Steve and I are often asked, "What are you doing here?" Being of rather smart and caustic natures, we have developed a litany of answers that never adequately addresses the question. It does, however, force the inquisitor to stop and consider what he or she has said. There are those, however, who are sincere in their questioning, those who simply cannot understand why anyone would choose to reside in such an unforgiving environment. They see only heatwaves raising from blistering asphalt and feel the penetrating bite of blowing sand.
Although we face the oppressive sun and stinging soil from time-to-time, we are trained by persevering neighbors to see things through their eyes and to appreciate these circumstances as glimpses into the mythological world. The inherent beauty of the occasion is, however, not always readily apparent. A mirage for example is seen by the Navajo as a window into the land of supernaturals, and spring wind storms are believed to be a side effect of rambunctious Wind Yeis at long last released from their winter containment.
As one might expect, growing up in Bluff was an education in its own right. We learned in the same public school system as the rest of America, same curriculum, same textbooks. We were, however, also introduced to other cultures with strange and unusual beliefs that ran counter to what we were being taught in the classroom. When I look back on our school pictures, I see a minority of white faces surrounded by the happy, mischievous, earth red faces of Navajo and Ute children. To be sure, we were tested in the classroom and on the playground.  As a result, we learned many lasting lessons.  The photographs nevertheless bring back happy memories.

Included in my scrapbook of memories are Navajo women in brightly colored satin blouses adorned with turquoise jewelry and full velveteen skirts, stoic Navajo men wearing tall black hats with rounded crowns flashing silver. We were the wild, liberated children who were frequently left to their own devices. I specifically recall a Navajo man walking down the highway, making time to an unknown destination. He was followed by his wife, who, even though she retained the family wealth and right of discipline, was always in the rear, never leading. As they passed our yard, I fell in behind the tall, stern man and his gaily clad spouse. For my efforts, I earned a harsh, disapproving look from the Hasteen, but received a brilliant welcoming smile from his mate. For a short time I followed in their footsteps, a rag tag boy, imagining an adventurous trek with Native guides. I was all too soon lured away by another distraction, but distinctly remember the woman’s friendly wave of farewell and her husband’s look of acceptance.
The Ute people also taught us many lessons, usually relating to pugilism. It was always interesting to deal with their devil-may-care, fun at all cost, attitude. Their sense of humor frequently had a biting edge, and they always appreciated a well executed gag. We spent many hours sneaking up on these cagey characters, attempting to relieve them of an object of interest and knowing full well that identifying an avenue of hasty retreat was in our best interest. The local deputy once caught us antagonizing his inmate through the outside bars of the holding cell and threatened to provide us similar accommodations if we did not quickly disperse. The thought of being incarcerated with this unruly individual made us scatter and steer clear of the jail house from that point forward. The inmate never let us forget it, and often invited us to, "Come visit."

Bluff was and is a wonderful place. So, if I have to answer the question, "What are you doing here?", I would say, "I am here because this is where I belong, this is my history, my emotion and my heart. Navajo people believe they come from the earth; that Mother Earth gave them life and that she continues to provide for them. They know one day they will return to her. Until that time they choose to remain close to her, and so do I.


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