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Robert Kirby had the day off. This is a reprint of an earlier column.

I have this theory about Salt Lake County's majestic canyons. The average person shaves 25 points off their IQ just by driving into them.

It's a bold claim but I have the evidence. First, and certainly not least, is myself.

When I was a teenager, the canyons were where we went to misbehave. Far from the eyes of authority, we fired off guns, rode dirt bikes, fooled around with girls and drank ourselves incontinent.

Today, I'm a bit more circumspect but nonetheless still dangerous canyon visitor. The beauty of the canyons is such that it can lead to distracted driving and the bottom of a creek bed if I'm not careful.

Further proof is the rest of you. Saturday night, I ventured out on patrol with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office canyon deputies.

As soon as Deputy Jason Ashment picked me up, we responded to a routine call. A car was upside-down in Big Cottonwood Creek, almost certainly parked there by a "dude."

"Dudes" are the adolescent males who use the canyons to practice their Tokyo drift moves, essentially driving fast enough to round curves sideways. If the drift goes wrong and the driver survives, the explanation to investigating officers invariably begins with, "Dude."

Such was the case now. A dude had returned to get the car he rolled 40 yards straight down into the creek the night before.

Though skid marks suggested otherwise, all 10 of the driver's explanations claimed irresponsible behavior on the part of the creek. He was working on No. 11 when interrupted by a trip to jail.

The human cost isn't the only concern in such accidents — there's also the environment. The car had lain out of sight in the creek all night, leaking fuel and transmission fluid into the valley's water supply.

Ashment was discussing the contamination with two Salt Lake City watershed rangers when a truck containing 11 barking mutts rolled past. Because dog poop is even harder on the water treatment plant than gasoline, no dogs are allowed in the canyons.

When stopped, the driver said she didn't think all the "No Dogs! Not Even Imaginary Dogs! Especially Your Dogs!" signs applied to dogs simply traveling through the canyon.

But in her haste to explain, the woman unfortunately let slip references to camping and possibly even homesteading in the canyon. She was cited and ordered back to the valley.

Big and Little Cottonwood, Lamb's, Emigration, East, Mill Creek — we hit most of them during the night. Ashment pointed out the regular trouble spots.

Over there was where a dozen cars a day got pulled out of the creek during the winter. This curve here was a popular death trap for motorcycles.

That tree with the bits of fabric in it was snapped in half last week by a young woman ejected from her boyfriend's bullet bike.

Canyon patrol isn't just about catching criminals. It's also about keeping criminals from catching victims. At a dark trail head, Ashment's spotlight briefly illuminated an anatomy class in a car.

When the man complained about his privacy being invaded, Ashment patiently explained the difference between private and public "parking." The couple should also count themselves lucky. Cops aren't the only people with guns who cruise such isolated places after dark.

It was a slow shift.

Some nights the canyon deputies run from call to call — thefts, suicides, lost hikers, drunks, vandals, fatal accidents and illegal dumping.

The canyons are beautiful places unless it's your job to turn over the rocks in them.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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