Torrey Hippies

Adus F. Dorsey II 

In 1970 the population in Wayne County sat its lowest point in all of history 1,483, it was also the year the hippies took over Torrey. The late 1960’s and early1970’s were about as tumultuous of a time as this country has ever seen. When the Disco ball smashed to ground in the middle of Time Square on the night December 31st1969 a bunch of longhaired hippies in Greenwich Village thought somebody accidently knocked over a bong. It was about the same time Randy Austin rolled into Torrey town in VW Bug and a hitchhiker was seen slowly making his way through town with sign on his backpack that said, “The End is Near.” 

1970 was a year, with their fists held high in the air, women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians and other disenfranchised people continued their fight for equality, and many Americans took to the streets in protest against the unpopular war in Vietnam. A “New Right” mobilized in defense of political conservatism and traditional family roles, and the aberrant behavior of President Richard Nixon undermined many people’s faith in the good intentions of the federal government. Washington D.C. was not a happy place for the President of these United Sates in the early 70’s. These divisions and disappointments had set a tone for public life that many would agree is still with us today.

On Monday, January 20th1969, during the final minutes of his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson signed his name to a proclamation that increased the size of Capitol Reef National Monument by about seven times to 254,229 acres. LBJ also added 49,000 acres to Arches National Monument. The new monument boundaries extended as far as north as Emery County and to the south took in a long swath called the Water Pocket fold. The Wayne County enlargements included the Hartnet Mesa and what is locally known as the south and middle deserts that consist of the well visited Cathedral Valley an area that Charles Kelly once argued was worthy of National Park Service protection in the 1950’s. 

As was the case, Wayne County elected officials were scrambling to react to LBJ’s edict. The Wayne County commission immediately registered its objection to LBJ’s withdrawal of public lands for the expansion of Capitol Reef and Arches National Monuments and strongly criticized short-circuiting the traditional democratic process. Commissioners feared that an already depressed agricultural situation would worsen, tax revenues would hit rock bottom and oil and mineral exploration would disappear, and with that in mind called for an immediate face-to-face meeting with Governor Calvin Rampton.  Senator Wallace F. Bennett and Congressman Lawrence J. Burton introduced bills that would have limited the size of any future national monuments. In the spring of 1969 Burton and Bennett climbed in a Cadillac Seville and went on a whirlwind guided tour of southern Utah to weigh local reaction. Forty-one ranching families attended a meeting in Loa where Commissioner Don Pace spoke to their concerns. “Most of us have been in the ranching business here all of lives. Our fathers and grand fathers pioneered this part of the state long before there were any national monuments or parks. We have worked out lives to improve the cattle industry and have built our homes and our lives on this business. Now with a stroke of the pen, all of this is headed for doom.” 

Not everyone in Wayne County and nearby areas objected to the expansion itself, Dean L. Brimhall, a retiree who enjoyed photographing Native American Petroglyphs said it was time for a change and had noted Capitol Reef had created new businesses and over night accommodations had grown from none to twelve during the past eighteen years. Lurton Knee, owner of the Sleeping Rainbow Guest Ranch suggested that many of the small towns should take advantage of the economic opportunity the monument presented. Randy Austin and the hitchhiker with the sign on his backpack, both seem to realize something interesting was about to happen in Wayne County in 1970. 

When the hippie counter culture came to Wayne County, some folks in the area didn’t like it and weren’t afraid to show it. But in the early 1970’s, the locals, slowly and somewhat reluctantly began to tolerate the hippies, but acceptance of their sometimes-weird ideas and wacky ways was still quite a ways off. 

The population of Wayne County has remained fairly stable since the earliest of days except for those occasional events like 1970 when the end was supposedly near and the clock was still ticking.  

It is now 2019; we are the hippies of days of yore and are somewhat of a local anomaly. Our hair is gray or falling out, we mutter, “what was that you say,” a lot and a coupon for a dollar off of Super absorbent Depends at Royal’s Foodtown is our idea of winning the lottery. 

If anyone were to dare turn on the nightly news or read a national newspaper today the monologue would sound pretty much the same as it did in 1970. Folks are still raising their fists in the air and rallying on Facebook for this or that and saying look at me, some even declaring, “The End is Near,” so please have the Reverend Barry M. stand up and say a prayer for me to the higher being of his choice. 

References; History of Wayne County, Merriam Murphy, The Life and Times of the Torrey Rebel, Randy Austin, AFD 2015

8 thoughts on “Torrey Hippies

  1. Harry and I tried enlarging, so as to recognize a face or two. Lanny Russell and Lanny Beekman came to mind. Too much hair to identify, or to see well those faces. Dwayne could be the guy on the right with the big beard? This is a great Post, once again. Will share on my FB page. Thanks for the chuckle.


    1. Robert and Betty Wilson
      Rick Cline
      Randy, Claudia Austin
      Sheri Austin (clark)
      Mary Moss (Baysinger)
      Tim Moss
      I could probably come up with more if I gave it some thought . Randy and Claudia didnt move here until 1973. So this picture was probably 1974.


  2. I love this. Sheri Clark pointed out that the picture is likely from 1974. I would have been 14 at the time, and sporting long hair, listening to rock bands, playing the drums, and being overall pretty damn “anti status quo”. I wouldn’t have necessarily been considered a “hippy”, but damn close (at least by my parents standards).

    The connection I suppose is that during that era I would have traveled through Torrey several times a year with my family. Though I can’t identify anyone in your photo, I guarantee I met a few.

    Regardless, cheers Adus. I really like what you’re doing here.


  3. So although not in this picture there is an infamous man Dennis Lierd coined “Hippie” (if you don’t know by whom then you don’t truly know the full “Hippie” history) who arrived in Wayne County in ’72 settled originally in Hanksville and later in Caineville (does “Luna Mesa” ring any bells?) who joined his band of brothers Randy, the Lannys, Mr Moss and others and helped put Hwy 24 on the international tourist radar! These guys lived, loved and raised a modicum of hell enough to keep things lovely. A better band of friends you will not find and never replicate!


    1. Hippie; yes (Dennis Lierd), he, the Luna Mesa and his up county counter parts of the time are certainly what Wayne County legends were made of. Hippie deserves a chapter, if not a book of his own.


    2. The Luna Mesa was Hippie’s vision and only his. “Where The Other World And The Elite Meet” was it’s motto – hung over the bar. He can name all the characters in that infamous picture taken in front of what is now Southey’s place – at that time called the Little Holly I believe. Will fill in the blanks in next post! Whether chasing mustangs across the mesas with John Jackson or mining the Henry’s, Hippie was a modern day Butch Cassidy! He and his band of brothers – Randy, Chief, Magoo, the Lannys and Cline – carved their legends in the soul of Wayne County – never forgotten and never to be replicated!


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