17 June 2009

Places You've Never Heard Of: Big Rock Candy Mountain

By Elizabeth Lane

Oh the buzzin' of the bees
In the cigarette trees
Near the soda water fountain
At the lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
On the Big Rock Candy mountain
If you're anywhere near as old as I am, you may recognize this chorus from the folk song, attributed to Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock and made famous in a 1950s recording by Burl Ives. Not long after the release of the song in 1928, some local wags placed a sign at the base if a colorful mountain in southern Utah, naming it "Big Rock Candy Mountain." They also placed a sign next to a nearby spring proclaiming it "Lemonade Springs." The names stuck, and the mythical Big Rock Candy Mountain of the song became one of the most recognized spots in the state.

Located a few miles north of Marysvale in Piute County, Big Rock Candy Mountain consists of altered volcanic rock in various shades of yellow, orange, red, and white. It really does look like something you could eat.

So why am I telling you all this? Because the Big Rock Candy Mountain was a wonderful part of my childhood. I grew up an hour north of the mountain, and as a kid, it was one of my favorite places to go. Not only was the hiking fun, but they had a campground, and a restaurant connected to a store that sold little bags of honest-to-goodness rock candy--the "rocks" were jelly beans, but they were made to look like real pebbles. Outside there were some animal pens with a cougar named Whiffy, a pair of lynxes named Sniffy and Spiffy, and some coyotes that would howl when the lady who ran the place came out and howled with them. Once when we were there, they had a mother porcupine with babies. I got to hold one of the babies--their quills don't harden until they get older. Looking back I realize it wasn't a good situation for the animals, but as a little girl I was fascinated by them.

On Easter weekend my parents and their friends would reserve a picnic area for all their families. It was so much fun, chasing around the mountain with a big gang of kids, rolling eggs down the slope and feasting on hot dogs and watermelon while the grownups visited. The Sevier River ran along the road, and in the winter a wide section called Horseshoe Bend froze over--great for sledding and ice skating.

Until I did the research for this blog, I thought the song was written about our Utah mountain. What a surprise to learn that the song came first! Just for the fun of it, here are more of the verses.
One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hiking and he said boys I'm not turning
I'm headin' for a land that's far away beside the crystal fountains
So come with me we'll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars are all empty and the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees
Where the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
The farmer's trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh, I'm bound to go where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew and of whiskey too
You can paddle all around 'em in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in
There ain't no short handled shovels, no axes saws or picks
I'm a goin' to stay where you sleep all day
Where they hung the jerk that invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

I'll see you all this coming fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountains