This is the fifth installment in the JI’s fourth annual summer book club. This year we are reading Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008). Check back every Thursday for the week’s installment. Please follow the JI on your social media of choice.
In chapter 5 of his book, Farmer continues to look at the mountains, analyzing hiking and the promotion of alpine play. Hiking Mount Timpanogos became a large community event in the first half of the twentieth century. As Farmer says, “the mountain had become known for being known, loved for being loved, hiked for being hiked.” (175)
Farmer places Mount Timpanogos in the larger context of hiking in America. He contrasts the mountaineering tradition that developed in Europe (which bought out imperial and national feelings), and hiking (which brought out regional and local feelings). Groups across the US participated in mass hikes and mountain tourism, and were very often attached to universities. Such hiking changed the landscape, as roads were built to access the mountains, and more trails created to meet the demands. The American West was a place where mountains and cities were often defined together.
Eugene Roberts becomes the central character in this chapter. As athletics director at BYU, Farmer argues he remade Mount Timpanogos into “Timp.” Farmer skillfully uses Roberts to show the development of physical education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through experiences in his school days, to his mission in Switzerland, and his training at the Yale Gymnasium, Roberts developed a pedagogy for physical education that combined Christian Utopianism, secular antimodernism, and Progressive scientism. This was all occurring in a moment when the LDS Church was making physical education a new priority, linking it with its theology.
Farmer argues that Roberts was able to shift the enthusiasm from the Mormon recreation halls to the “temple of the outdoors.” Roberts fused the religious fad for physical education with the secular fad for hiking. After some trial runs with other hikes, in 1912 he led a mass hike up Timpanogos. By 1928, it had taken on a life of its own. Farmer carefully lays out the chronology of these first fifteen years, showing the shift from collegiate tradition to statewide event. The institutional support from BYU and then municipal and federal institutions is what made this possible. Timpanogos shifted from being a grazing site for sheep to being a place of play. Like many other places in the American West, nature shifted from a place of production to one of consumption.
This chapter is wonderfully written, and a great example of how to do the history of place-making. Like other chapters thus far, Farmer uses this place, Mount Timpanogos, to look at broader historical trends, and also show the uniqueness of factors that made the creation of “Timp” possible. And as someone who has made the pilgrimage up Mount Timpanogos a few times, and slid down the “glacier,” I found this chapter to be very engaging. I, like many others who have lived in Utah, have internalized the special nature of Timpanogos as the place to be in nature along the Wasatch.