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Riverton family nears goal of visiting all of Utah

Published September 4, 2012 2:35 pm

The Gallachers are right at home as they hit the road — visiting nearly 600 Utah locations over 30 years.
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An afternoon spent gazing over the Great Salt Lake from Promontory Point, cups of grape juice and paper plates of cake in hand, wouldn't be most people's first choice given a Monday off. Ken and Brenda Gallacher wouldn't have it any other way.

This chosen location is a matter of choice, sure. It's also a blend of chance and destiny.

After 30 years of traveling and camping at every location and geographic marker found on Utah's map, using a method that mixes alphabetical order and pragmatic considerations of proximity, Promontory Point is item No. 593 on the family's Utah bucket list.

But Ken and Brenda Gallacher, plus children Brandon, Angela, Mike and Matt, don't plan to stop looking for Utah treasures. When you're having a great time traveling your home state — and the Gallachers have had more than their share of adventures over three decades — there's motivation to keep going.

"We'd like to research out seven more ghost towns if possible and make it an even 600," Ken wrote in an email after the recent Promontory Point visit. "Then we'll catch our breath."

Exploring Utah's blue highways • Learning about the family's in-state travels surprised Leigh von der Esch, who directs the Utah Office of Tourism.

"I prided myself in taking lots of Utah back roads, both during my years as director with the Utah Film Commission and growing up here," von der Esch said. "They obviously outdid me. Theirs is a tourism director's dream come true. They tell the story of Utah by seeing the places of Utah."

The day after the stop in Promontory, the Gallachers saw the state's highest elected official lend his official imprimatur to their 30-year project.

During an Aug. 21 visit, Gov. Gary Herbert met them in the Capitol's "Gold Room," and signed their family Utah map, which is check-marked with each location visited.

"You don't want it to end, and that's the beauty of it," Ken Gallacher said. "There's still so much to explore."

Call the family's quest the result of America's workaholic culture, crossed with an insatiable bug for camping fortified by the belief that nothing forges family ties better than solitude and adventure. When you travel, the Gallachers know, the smallest of events leave the biggest memories.

"We never felt guilt requesting days off from school for our kids so we could take a family trip," Brenda said. "No one remembers what their grades were in elementary or high school, but the memory of going somewhere with your family lasts a lifetime."

Ken and Brenda are both self-employed as restoration artists who fix damaged goods through insurance claims, and rarely get enough time off for extended vacations. What they have instead is a schedule flexible enough to take in long gulps of weekend, or three- and four-day vacations with their children.

Secret treasures • The project began humbly enough in 1982, when Ken and Brenda married at the ages of 21 and 20. They spent their honeymoon camping at Bear Lake — official Utah trip No. 1. Two months after their marriage, both lost their jobs during the economic downturn of Ronald Reagan's first term as president.

After launching new careers, the Gallachers turned back to the map, ticking off locations so fast the couple began to lose count. After the birth of Matt, their first child, packing for another wilderness or road trip became part of the Gallachers' recreational DNA, relying on Springbar tents and Dutch ovens — the family garage now holds 11. In 1996, Ken Gallacher wrote a book, How to Take Your Family Camping, dedicating it to "my best friend, camping buddy, and wife."

"Getting all the towns and cities in was never the goal," Ken said. "It was finding all the state's secret treasures."

They set foot in Corrine, a place that history books say once housed the world's first purported "divorce machine," a contraption that cranked out a divorce decree when fed $2.50 in coins. They've seen defunct clothes dryers used as mailboxes in rural towns, turned solemn at the site of the Topaz internment WWII camps for Japanese-Americans, and backed out of a rattlesnake den, oh-so gingerly, in Grantsville.

And so they did. Near Antelope Springs they chanced upon a fossil quarry where they found outlines of trilobites, mixed with topaz crystals, and "wonder stones," cross-sections of creamy white sand compacted into cinnamon-tinged stone. Mile after mile, memory after memory. Perhaps distances make an easier measure: The family's last Suburban clocked in 342,000 miles before it was traded in, and the family van before that logged 348,000 miles.

Taking Utah personally • Between ghost towns, Native American ruins, dirt roads and surprise detours, there have been mishaps and accidents, yet the Gallachers believe their in-state explorations to remote places have kept their family close. "Because you have to work together when you're out there, " Ken Gallacher said.

The current carried him under a highway overpass before he could lunge for the bank, clawing toward the top. Brenda helped pulled him up and over, his cereal-box cast full of mud.

The next morning, he went fishing, and that day didn't turn out well either. Catching his do-it-yourself cast on cliff branches, he fell head-first into the river. "The last thing I saw was my tennis shoes against the blue sky," he said. In 1988 near Bicknell, Ken broke his hand while breaking a fall after leaning his lawn chair back into unstable soil. Miles from a hospital, he fashioned a cast from cereal-box cardboard, then stanched the pain with Tylenol.

Once, while camping at Starvation Reservoir in 1997, Ken felt one side of his face singed by lightning. That was nothing compared to what happened to the tree next to him, the sap boiling in its gaping trunk after the splinters and branches rained down on the family camper seconds after impact.

"The kids were just old enough that it was cool, not scary," Brenda said. "So big they have heads that will turn and look at you," Matt recalls.

Near Jericho Junction, in the summer of 2000, the Gallachers drove through a horde of oversize crickets so thick it left their camper drenched with the goop of insect guts.

Sixth-generation Utahns, the Gallachers say they've traveled throughout their home state partly out of pride. They've visited other states, as well. But only Utah has the Alaska-like summits of the Uintas, the Hawaiian-like beaches of Lake Powell, and the prairie lands of Kansas in one package, they claim, sounding like a state tourism brochure. And certainly few states boast of more beautiful desert canyons and rock formations.

"I've threatened my kids within an inch of their lives if they ever leave the state," Brenda said.

She's joking, of course, but with family and geography so inseparable in clan Gallacher, it's easy to see why she'd take it personally.

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