There are some places that are magical just on their own. One wouldn’t think it would be possible to make such places even more enchanted. Just ask Mike Ballard, United States Marine Veteran and owner of Big Iron Tours in Moab, Utah.
Mike, who was born and raised in Moab, said he always had a strong desire to serve in the military. So, shortly after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Marines and served two deployments. After leaving the Marines, he studied aviation and worked for a number of years as a helicopter pilot. But, as he had a wife and three kids at home, Mike soon came to realize that his helicopter life wasn’t healthy for his family. So after months of discussion, Mike and his wife Regan decided it was time to take their family home to Moab. As much as Mike loved working as a helicopter pilot, he wanted to give his kids the same magical childhood he enjoyed, roaming some of the most imaginative landscapes our world has to offer. And, perhaps his childhood hasn’t really ended.
Recently at the beginning one of his guided tours, four-year-old Landon Johnson climbed into Mike’s sandstone cliff crawling Jeep with his mother Kilee and boomed, “We’re going on a dino hunt!” To which Mike called back enthusiastically, “We sure are!” Then they drove off toward the Hell’s Revenge slick-rock trail on their amazing adventure.
When they came upon the initial climb up the thrilling spine of the trail’s entrance, Landon looked out through the windows of the Jeep and called out, “We’re driving on the spine of a huge dragon!” It was a fitting conclusion for a boy who lives his life imaginatively; as the view from atop the thin rail of sandstone was long and narrow, with a sheer cliff drop on each side. It is enough to cause many rational thinking humans to grip the Jeep’s hand-holds in a different sheer. Sheer terror!
But Landon is a boy who saw much more than life changing magnificent scenery while traversing Hell’s Revenge. When he saw real dinosaur footprints memorialized in the rock, his face lit up brighter than the late afternoon sun that was seemingly baking his expanding imagination like a cake rising in a pastry chef’s oven. He began to encyclopedically recite the names of many dinosaurs and asked Mike to find their exact footprints in the stone.
“My work is like living on vacation.” Mike said to Landon toward the end of their time together.
Yet, this adventure revealed much more. Yes, there are some places that are magical just on their own. And one wouldn’t think it would be possible to make such places even more enchanted. Yet, on this day, a two hour tour with Landon, a four-year-old who lives his life imaginatively, allowed Mike Ballard to see that even the magnificent is somehow transformed into something even more special through the magic of imagination.
Lynn Butterfield lives in Erda and is a managing broker for a real estate company.