A Lil Yul Aften Miracle

This Sunday is our annual family Christmas celebration—Lil Yul Aften. (Little Christmas Eve.) By the way, the right way to spell those words is Lil Jul Aften. I grew up with my Swedish-born grandfather, Grandpa Anderson, calling me “Yudit instead of Judith.” So I get it, but because many of my readers may not share that what we sometimes call Scandihoovian background I usually spell Yul with a Y as opposed to a J. And if you’re interested in knowing some of the background here, there’s an earlier blog that spells it out. Lil Yul Aften. Feel free to click on it if you’re interested.

But back to this year. A big segment of our family lives in Eastern Washington—five hours away in good weather, but Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades lies between here and there. The weather forecast for Saturday, when most of them will be traveling, is not good. So I sent out a note last night saying that anyone who decided against making that potentially dangerous trip automatically has an excused absence and we will celebrate with them at some other time. I was worried about the people who are planning on coming. I should have been worried about people who weren’t.

One of our sons remarried several years ago. His bride, Kathleen, came with four sons of her own, one of whom, the eldest named Max, married his bride, Micah, this past spring. The two of them moved from Seattle to LA last fall. They decided to bypass Lil Yul Aften here in favor of driving straight to Cheney to spend the holidays with both sets of parents. Somewhere in California they turned off onto Highway 395 which crosses the northern part of California and the southern part of Oregon on a diagonal before ending up in Washington on the far side of the pass.

I may have mentioned before that, for my mental health, I’ve put myself on a TV News time-out. I was unaware that I-5 was closed in Northern California at Redding, due to inclement weather. I have reason to believe that the weather on Highway 395 was considerably worse. A lot of those rural highways in that part of the state don’t have any guard rails at all.

I’m sure you’re already seeing where this is going. They went off the road and ended up in the bottom of a ravine with the car upside down and all the airbags deployed. They managed to get themselves and their two dogs out of the vehicle and climb back up to the roadway. Their phones were still in the wreckage. Fortunately a car full of passersby stopped and let them use their phone to summon a tow truck which eventually took them to a hotel in Lakeview, Oregon—a small town that bills itself as the highest city in Oregon. They’re in a hotel—maybe the only hotel. They are fine and the dogs are fine, although I suspect that all four of them need to be checked by health-care professionals. The dogs especially are completely freaked out and may well be candidates for cases of canine PTSD. Tomorrow morning, Micah’s parents will get in their truck and make a ten-hour, one-way drive to retrieve them.

So all’s well that ends well. Cars can be replaced. The fact that no one was badly hurt is the real miracle. But while I was walking this morning, I was wondering, What in the world made them decide to take a back road through the mountains?” When I asked the engineer in the family, Bill promptly pulled out his iPad and showed me that using 395 constitutes a big short cut. In the summer, maybe, but not in the winter. Not in bad weather. And there I was, all ready to get on my grandmotherly high horse when a memory came flying out of the past and put me in my place.

In 1999, Bill and I attended Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque. It was probably early March, and as we headed for Sedona in our four-wheel drive Suburban, we ran into a storm. In northern New Mexico, the winds were fierce, and we saw the remains of several overturned RVs scattered along the shoulder of I-40 while wind-blown semis swerved involuntarily across both lanes of traffic By the time we neared Flagstaff, we were driving in windblown snow. As we turned south onto I-17, we saw several jack-knifed semis.

These were the old days, back when there was no such thing as a GPS. Bill was at the wheel, and I was in the passenger seat with an open road atlas spread out on my lap. As we passed another stranded semi, Bill said to me, “Isn’t there a shortcut from here to Sedona?” So I check the map. Sure enough, there was a thin red line leading from the freeway down to Sedona. “Yup,” I answered. “Here it is. It’s called Schnebly Hill Road.”

People who have personally encountered that rough dirt track are already rolling on the ground with laughter. When the exit came along, off we went into the wilderness. It was night. It was dark. There was snow on the ground. There were homeless people camped out here and there, but on we went. At first it wasn’t that bad, but once we went off the edge of the Mogollon Rim (For you outlanders, that word is pronounced Moe-ghee-on) things went south in a hurry, in every sense of the word.

It was steep and narrow with no way to turn around and go back the way we’d come. At one point we picked our way through boulders that had slid into the roadway, bumping over rocks big enough to scrape the undercarriage as we went by. Schnebly Hill Road is a short cut all right—eleven miles from top to bottom as opposed to 29. The long way around takes an hour. Our eleven-mile short cut took two hours—two white-knuckled, terrifying, nightmarish hours. When we finally staggered into our hotel, we told the desk clerk, “We just came down Schnebly Hill Road.” She looked at us in amazement and said, “Isn’t that road closed?” “No it isn’t,” we replied, “but it should be.”

So I won’t be uttering a single grandmotherly word to Max and Micah about the inadvisability of taking mountainous shortcuts during the winter. After all, I’ve already been there and done that, and people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

I’m just incredibly grateful that they’re okay and so are their dogs.

29 thoughts on “A Lil Yul Aften Miracle

  1. Oh, Judy, the memories your stories invoke! Although your part of the country is much more worrisome in winter when traveling, we as a young family in the 70’s experienced a rough time heading north on Interstate 95 in a snowy February on the east US coast. Two young children added to the worries, but we trekked on with snow threatening to cover us over (and we were in one of those huge cars they still made in the 70’s). Our wipers almost gave out as we headed for the exit where our motel room was to be held. Luckily it was, but the clerk looked at us in amazement as he told us 95 had been closed hours before our 11PM arrival and then added, “You’re lucky you had that reservation. Many people stopped in who had none so had to keep on going.” Whew!

    Glad your family is OK, thanks for the memories, and Merry Christmas!

  2. So you won’t be uttering a single grandmotherly word to Max and Micah about the inadvisability of taking mountainous shortcuts during the winter. You won’t need to. They will only need to read your blog.

  3. So glad your family is safe. Your story about Yul reminded me of when I lived in Anchorage. Like many boom cities the streets are lettered. In Anchorage you go from I street to K street. No J because the Scandinavians who laid out the city had difficulty pronouncing it.

    You story about Schnebley Hill Rd did indeed have me rolling on the floor. With fright. As beautiful as that drive is, the road is difficult and requires a high profile vehicle in any conditions, much less in Winter. These days it is gated just east of I-17 in the winter months.

    Thank you for such an entertaining blog. I look forward to it every Friday. Merry Christmas.

  4. Truly a miracle that they were all in one piece! I wonder how the canine members of the family will feel about getting in the car for another trip- They may have decided that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to travel-
    My sister who lives in the Bay Area has had several German Shepherds, and has experienced a number of earthquakes- One Shepherd, Taug, was headed across the kitchen when an earthquake struck- From then on he would always leap over the spot where he felt the floor move beneath him whenever he was in the kitchen- No point in taking chances! This is a Christmas Blessing for you and for all of us who know you-

  5. Dear J. A.,
    As the year draws to a close, I wanted to thank you for the gift you and the Blog have given me.
    Like many on social media, I have friends of long standing who I have never met. Most of these friends and I share a fierce love for Scottish Terriers, and we have “met” through these marvelous, quirky dogs. Many of us also like to read. I am not sure how this began, but every Friday when I get your Blog, I share it with a FB friend who lives in Florida ( I live in NC) She has had a facinating life, traveling the world largely through being a Stewardess, back whe one dressed for air travel. She is an artist who has had Scotties, but now has Pekingese.
    Currently, she sells product on the website Zazzle among others sites. So, through our correspondence after we have both read your Blog ( and there are no Spoiler Alerts from me), we discuss, and have gradually learned quite a bit about one another. While we will probably never meet, your Blog has connected us, and encouraged a deeper understanding of one another. A precious gift, for which I thank you very much.
    Best Regards,

  6. We’ve all made stupid choices at one time or the other, it’s called a life lesson. As you said, thank God everything turned out alright. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  7. Good morning, Judy. We’ve all made stupid choices, it’s called life lessons. As you said thank God everything turned out alright and they are safe. May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

  8. Ah, Schnebly Hill Road. Its name is embedded in my mind and I have never been on it. I have listened to Edge of Evil so many times!!!

  9. I loved the morning’s story.
    Isn’t Schnedly Hill Road the place that Joanna Brady’s best friend died when she ran off the road in a snow storm?
    Have a great Lil Yul Aften.

  10. Judith –
    Never discount the feeling of immortality in the young. My version – while not quite as deadly – was the same in origin. Traveling from IU-Bloomington to my home in Fort Wayne, IN is less than 180 miles; easy-peasy and I’d done it a thousand times.
    Most of the road is interstate with a short section a not-too-wonderful state highway. Fog inundated the area, the kind of fog where you can’t even see the hood of your own car. I knew SR37 would be horrendous and drove accordingly and got thru. However, once I hit the interstate, I travelled at full speed, briefly wondering why I was passing so many very slow semis.
    When I got home, my mother sobbed with relief. Turns out there had been 20 or more pile-ups with deaths and untold injuries on the interstate! All she could finally say is that it’s true that God watches out for drunks and fools.
    Thank you for sharing Judith and I hope to read many more Christmas memories; they help me at my most difficult time of the year.

  11. Nancy and Savannah beat me to it, but the minute you mentioned Schnebly Hill Road I realized that it was yet another real-life experience that you had incorporated into a book! You have led an adventurous life, and we readers get to enjoy it!

    I’m glad your family is all safe. ‘Tis the season for dangerous weather and I’m happier each year that I don’t generally have to travel any more. I’ve generally been one to choose well-traveled over shorter, but I’ve also made a few poor choices that I feel fortunate to have lived to regret.

    Happy and Safe Holidays to All!

  12. So glad they’re OK! I lived in Flagstaff until about a year ago and remember seeing the turnoff for Schnebly Hill Road. I never took it, and now I’m glad I didn’t.

  13. Same here–glad they are all ok, including the dogs. I’m so grateful that our family all live on the west side of Washington as I don’t, even with having a Subaru Forester, do the passes in the winter

  14. there must be a stable somewhere, maybe everywhere, that houses grandmotherly or grandfatherly high horses that have been abandoned by those riders who have lived through similarities of youthful feelings of immortality, (such as taking short-cuts and not heeding published or unpublished warnings). These useless horses are probably basking in the leisure they deserve after having riders who are heavy with their loftiness and know it all attitudes.
    I’m happy that the outcome of the “M’s” and their canine companions was as it was, minimal physical injuries. The mental injuries will take longer, I’m sure. However, I’m also sure they will be comforted by the fact that the high horses are well rested in their permanent paddocks.

  15. It wasn’t winter, but a cool September evening when I decided to take another route home thru the mountains of Central New York after dropping my daughter off at college. It looked shorter on the map. However, the road was full of twists and turns. There was no other traffic and I didn’t see any animals. It was scarry, but I made it to the highway I should have taken. I learned my lesson.

  16. Judy, you always manage to bring up many memories. You know we are traveling right now. No GPS & no cell phone, so you can imagine the fun we’ve had making wrong turns, multiple U-turns, & asking for directions from Tucson to Alabama and now making the return trip. Our kids are begging us to get into the current century. Luckily, I did buy a 2022 edition atlas when we began so we felt quite up-to-date. Let’s just say we’ve had quite an adventure.

  17. I really hope your family are well!!!!! Also. Hope you and your family have a good Xmas and. A. Awesome new year!!!!

  18. Your post brings up two memories:

    1. Regarding wintry short cuts: The highway from northern Idaho to southern Idaho passes over White Bird Hill, an innocently-named but vicious road in the winter. (It was featured in the movie The Long, Long Trailer, many eons ago). My father was teaching at the University of Idaho in northern Idaho, and when Christmas break came the students all headed for home. One, who lived in southern Idaho, went down that infamous highway and stopped at the top of White Bird Hill to brush the snow off his windshield. Whereupon his car started sliding off the side of the hill, took him with it, and he was killed!
    2. My mother was of German extraction. When the time came to baptize her, the family had decided on the name “Ida.” But when they whispered the “what shall she be called’ name to the minister, Ida – pronounced Eda in German – became “Edith,” and that was her name for ever after!

    Bob Glass

  19. I loved your perspective of the shortcut taken but shouldn’t have been. What I found more intriguing is that I was born in Lakeview, Oregon, and see very little of it in print. It’s similar to seeing my own name. My memories are mostly of snow–deep snow! My husband wonders why I’m so cold all the time; I can attribute it to cold beginnings.

  20. I am so glad Max, Micah and the dogs are safe after their accident. The roads in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee can be harrowing in the winter. It reminds me of those spiral multi layer toys that you drop the ball and it rolls round and round.
    My ex-husband and I got caught on one of those roads that had been cleared but had areas that were super slippery as a result of 5 feet tall icicles, a foot in diameter hanging off the mountain side, thawing on the road. If one of those icicles fell on your car or you it would pierce straight through you. The first place we could turn around and got off that road. Not to mention if you went off the road you would have gone off the side of the mountain.
    Made me think that you could kill someone with one of those icicles and they would never find the murder weapon because the weapon would dissappear when it melted!!!
    I hope you, Bill, your family and doggies have a very merry Christmas and a great new year.

  21. Your tale of woe strikes a more serious note here in Montana. And GPS is not a savior. Several persons have died here after following GPS instructions that lead them on logging roads that lead into snow clogged endings that lack cell service. And I will continue to lecture because I really object to people dying because they trust technology. Out here, ask the people who live here how to arrive safely!

  22. At your mention of Schnebly Hill Road I didn’t roll with laughter but I did chuckle out loud. One time, while in Sedona, we asked about driving that road and were told, oh yeah, folks drive that in sedans. Well, we had a SUV (no 4WD) and only made it a few miles in and I made my husband turn around. Those huge boulders we had to navigate really put me on edge. Another time we did take the route you described from Flag and only went as far as the overlook pullout before you make the descent down the hill. Got out, took some photos, turned around and headed back into Flagstaff.
    Luckily all in good weather. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    Hope you enjoy the holidays, Merry Christmas.

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