There was no echo in Echo Valley. It was as broad as a valley could be, with its hills and cliffs separated by thousands of acres of farms and ranch land, a wide, winding river, and two small towns named after their founders: Ringerville and Bartlett.
You could stand on the bluff near the Indian reserve and shout as loud and as long as you wanted, and there would be no echo to come back to you, not in Echo Valley. Your voice would not even be carried by the wind; instead the sound would be sucked into the void that was Echo Valley before any person walking by the canal, any cow ready for milking, any stray dog rooting in the garbage, any child sitting in the dark, any sparrow darting into the Russian olive trees, could hear you.
There were no meth labs in Echo Valley, but several parcels of land devoted to marijuana cultivation, from seeds brought north from Chile, proven to thrive if sheltered in the winter, in the varied climate that blessed the region.
Folks in Ringerville looked down upon the folks in Bartlett. They called them Pearheads. They thought Pearheads were too rustic and backward, inbred, religious, and stubborn. The people of Bartlett sneered at their cousins in Ringerville, calling them pretentious and greedy, inbred, godless, and stubborn. Fortunately they were separated not only by fourteen miles of two-lane highway, but also by a bridge that crossed the Echo River as it cut across the valley. This bridge could only accommodate one vehicle at a time, which was problematic in the summer when tourists passed through the valley on their way to more interesting destinations than Ringerville or Bartlett, and were often bottlenecked in both directions at this crossing.
On the Ringerville side, entrepreneurs set up fruit and candle stands, a petting zoo, and brought in three fast food franchises, all with ample parking, free toilet access, and picnic tables.
The Pearheads of Bartlett thought this little town-let was an eyesore and spoiled the rural splendour of Echo Valley. Their representatives spent time at regional meetings trying to regulate business and signage on what they newly dubbed The Scenic Echo Valley Trail.
This disagreement made the national news when someone, presumably a Pearhead, smashed a window at the Dairy Queen with a 12-gauge shotgun, spray-painted Free the Trial [sic] on the side of Juicy’s Apple Stand, and liberated four llamas, 6 goats, two old sheep, and Fancy the Chicken from the petting zoo. Outrage ensued and a search was organized to find the lost creatures.
That’s how The Scenic Echo Valley Trail became so well-known and popular that Virginia and Cash opted for the Echo Valley highway instead of the freeway when they drove to Cash’s parents’ summer timeshare condo in the mountains by Crystal Glacier.
They were held up on the Ringerville side, and could still see the graffiti under a layer of white paint on Juicy’s Apple Stand. Save the Trial. At the Petting Zoo, pictures of the missing animals were pinned to the front entrance, and little bouquets of flowers and a plush sheep were laid at the doorstep. Cash and Virginia overheard a father trying to explain to his tired and cranky daughter why the animals weren’t available for mauling by her.
“They went on an adventure,” said the father.
“I don’t care. I want the goats.”
“You know, like we are on an adventure, to see Grandma.”
“I want the goats!”
“Want an ice cream? With sprinkles?”
“Noooooh!” The voice faded as she was dragged away.
Cash said to Virginia, “Are you sure you want kids?”
As it happened, their child was conceived at the Riverside Motel in Bartlett. In honour of the scenic trail and valley, they called her Echo.