The creek that ran for just a few weeks drew us into Neffs Canyon from where it flowed. My home was just two blocks from the trailhead. We spent significant time in the canyon after school, on weekends, and during summer recess. The creek naturally would have flowed year-round, but pipes captured it up the canyon. It flowed into the valley and contributed eventually to the Great Salt Lake only during the late spring and early summer. This is when the spring runoff flow exceeded the demands of the culinary water system and the Mt. Olympus Spring Waters tanker trucks that constantly drove back and forth from the canyon’s mouth to the downtown bottling plant.
Neffs Canyon offered endless adventures and excitement for us young boys. There were trails to wander and wildlife to observe. We observed deer, squirrels, rabbits, birds, snakes, and lizards. We camped in tents up the canyon with our scout troop and by ourselves. There was an old abandoned mine shaft (safe, I think!?) to search with flashlights. There was always something new to explore.
Forty years later I continue to enjoy frequent hikes into Neffs Canyon. My home is farther away now, so it takes longer to drive to the trailhead. As I go along the same paths I traveled as a boy, I reminisce about those carefree, exciting times. More recently I’ve enjoyed reading in more detail about the deer, moose, and rattlesnakes that live there. I’ve learned about the Rocky Mountain goats that were introduced into the area a while back by government wildlife managers.
I’ve also enjoyed reading about the geology of the canyon. The many rock outcroppings include pre-Cambrian materials. I observe how ice-age glacial movements helped form the canyon and created moraines.
I’ve also studied plant life in the canyon from the tall conifers that include fir, spruce, and juniper varieties, to the smaller deciduous trees that include maple, oak, birch, and aspen.
When I hike through this canyon, my attention is fully captured in the beauty and intrigue of all of its wondrous features. The fact that I’m strenuously exercising as I go up, that my heart rate is rapid, and that it is very good for my physical health rarely crosses my mind. I once described these experiences to a psychologist, who explained that I actually undergo a form of hypnosis.
Without exception, I always leave the canyon feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It never matters what concerns and problems that encumber my mind when I enter the canyon. I exit with better perspectives of my current issues and on life in general. I just feel better all over.
When my family lived away from Salt Lake City for ten years, I missed my periodic experiences in Neffs Canyon. I found other “fixes” that gave me similar lifts. In New Jersey I explored the vast woods behind our home. In the very flat Chicago area I enjoyed wandering through forest preserves.
My thought is that maintaining and improving good mental health requires periodic escapes from the normal daily grind. Everyone needs a special place of refuge whether it be a canyon, a golf course, or a baseball stadium. Such places may not even be in the outdoors: a library, a museum, or perhaps even in a bustling shopping mall.
Also, we need smaller escapes every day. I find shorter hiking loops nearer my home when I don’t have a couple of hours. Reading the newspaper and playing the harmonica are other escapes for me. Recently I subscribed to a website where I can hear the play-by-play audio of Major League Baseball games. My brain winds down in the evening through listening to the soothing, interesting voice of the legendary Vin Scully call Los Angeles Dodgers games. I like the slow pace of baseball games.
An accomplished executive I admire keeps an artist aisle in his office closet. He pulls it out and does oil painting for several minutes when he needs a stress reliever during his hectic work days.
My experience tells me that escape and replenishments time—long and short—must be proactively and regularly planned and executed, no matter how demanding life gets. For the sake of our good mental health, we must take the time—even when reminders such as “The creek is running!” don’t naturally cross our way.